So much exciting technology exists today and it’s coming at a faster and faster pace. But when it comes to a new technology, our governments react too slowly and are often behind the times. Take the auto industry as an example. Car makers are working feverishly to bring driverless cars to our streets. This advance should rightly force us to pause, but if we pause too long, the opportunity to properly shape and regulate this technology may be lost. Right now, our government is not leading the conversation regarding the ways that these cars might be used to safely improve our communities. When facing the unknown, how does a government balance the benefits of new technologies with the laws and controls needed to keep our citizens safe?

To be fair, the impact of new technology can be challenging for any government. GPS is great when I need to find a restaurant or get directions. But GPS is horrible when it allows people to track your every move. Facial recognition at an airport may make us safer. But using facial recognition to randomly profile citizens is a dangerous and slippery slope that magnifies the divisions in our communities. The impact of technology is no longer something that we can take our time with. Can a futurist help?

Corporations have used futurists for many years. (What the hell is a futurist, you ask? A person that explores predictions and possibilities to try to predict social change and the direction that an industry may take as a result.) Corporations rely on futurists because they know that if they simply waiting for new trends, they will be far behind the eight ball. To be on the leading edge, companies think proactively about not only the challenges they may face, but also the future that want to create. Futurists help market leaders influence their industry and shape their own future.
How can a futurist help our governments and our communities? By helping us understand where we could go and embracing all of the possibilities that exist. By helping us understand and acknowledge the forces of change and stepping into a leadership position. They can challenge our leaders and officials to think about the broader picture. They can ask the right questions and make sure our conversations don’t center only around misperceiving dilemmas or a single solution. And they can help cultivate a futurist mindset in our public agencies. With this approach, we can begin to adopt new future-focused tools and methodologies that help us better shape the future.

And that brings us to our own role in creating a better government and a better society. As citizens, we have pushed our governments and elected leaders to be ultra conservative when it comes to change. We are so hypercritical that our leaders and public officials will not risk even one wrong step. But while an ultra conservative approach might have been sufficient when technologies came at a slower pace, we are continuing to get further behind the eight ball. We need to encourage and allow community leaders the opportunity to openly imagine the future. Yes, they will likely have to guess at some pieces. We need to give them room to make a mistake when their intentions and efforts are in our best interest.

Technology is not going away and it’s only going to get better. Let’s encourage our government leaders like we do our children and tell them “Try it. If you fail, we learn and are better off for the next attempt”. Let’s allow them to work with futurists to understand the social changes that are coming at a pace much faster than our antiquated systems can handle. By expanding our minds, we can all work together to create a better and stronger future.