Analysing potential futures to support decision-making today is an approach increasingly used in a world characterised by rapid, volatile and complex change. More and more organisations, including EU bodies, are now integrating foresight methods into their activities. Against this backdrop, and dynamic developments in the drugs field, the EMCDDA conducted its first futures exercise between 2019 and 2020. A new report out today The future of drug monitoring in Europe until 2030, summarises the findings and lessons learnt from this initiative.
Organisations with a futures-oriented mindset are likely to be better placed to respond more quickly to events, even when unforeseeable. The purpose of the EMCDDA ‘Futures exercise 2030’ was to inform strategic reflections on how to improve the European drug monitoring system’s response to an ever-shifting drugs situation and information environment.
The exercise aimed to pilot a foresight approach and test its usefulness in transforming the agency and its monitoring activities into a more sensitive and agile system. This, in turn, could help increase Europe’s preparedness to face future health and security challenges.
Throughout 2019 and 2020, the EMCDDA organised a series of events bringing together some 350 people to contribute with their views on the future of the drugs field and evolving information needs. These included: a thematic track at the Lisbon Addictions 2019 conference (30 sessions and 60 presentations), and four futures workshops involving researchers, professionals, policymakers, the Reitox network, international organisations and members of the EMCDDA staff and statutory bodies.
Participatory horizon-scanning exercises were carried out to study events, issues and trends that may affect the drugs field. The major drivers of change considered as potentially having an impact in this area were classified as being social, technological, economic, environmental/ecological or political in nature (STEEP). These were divided into three main domains: megatrends, emerging trends and weak signals (potentially emerging issues).
Five megatrends were identified as potentially being the most significant for the drugs field and future EMCDDA work. These were: accelerating technological change and hyperconnectivity; diversifying inequalities; shifting health challenges; population change (including migration, urbanisation and demographic imbalance); and climate change and environmental degradation. Emerging trends and weak signals in the drugs field were categorised in the following areas: shifts in drug policy and drug laws, in the discourse of addiction, in drug markets and in drug services.
New information needs, and the implications for the European drug monitoring system, were also pinpointed in a co-creation process with various stakeholder groups. These were analysed under the following headings: scope and framework (e.g. holistic view of drug situation); methods and tools (e.g. futures-oriented monitoring); communication and dissemination (e.g. data platforms and dashboards); and mindset and partnership (e.g. consumer protection, co-creation, inter-sectorial cooperation).
The exercise was intended to inform current practice based on a consideration of possible future developments, as opposed to trying to predict future events. Among the lessons learnt was the greater understanding of the potential role of futures- and foresight-oriented activities in informing the EMCDDA’s ongoing work. Also noted was the value of creating a repository of methods and tools to support similar exercises. This resulted in the development of an EMCDDA online foresight toolkit to make the learning from this initiative available to other stakeholders intending to implement their own futures analyses.