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  • Lamlela Plaatjie (South Africa)

An anticipatory approach to policymaking



During periods of unprecedented uncertainty, alternative approaches to policymaking provide pathways for creative interventions. Frontier technologies emerging from the fourth industrial revolution are accelerating changes in all sectors of the economy, distinctly evident in international labor markets. Volatile and rapid changes in economic landscapes would benefit from anticipatory policymaking approaches. The impacts of the forthcoming changes are unknown in magnitude and intensity, and cannot be addressed solely by traditional frameworks. The main focus of an anticipatory approach is to provide an adaptive capacity to governance and policymaking by prioritizing exploration and experimentation. By anticipating disruptions it enables clearer navigation of crises and efficient use of resources, relieving the intensity and magnitude of impacts. This approach is proactive in nature and considers the uncertainties and complexities of future events.


Risks vary in probability and impact, this variance in intensity and predictability needs to be accounted for within detailed action plans. There are novel risks that have emerged along with disruptive technologies and shifts in a societal organization, these have been identified as frontier risks. They are particularly threatening because of their unknown impacts and the unknown likelihood of their occurrence. Predicting frontier risks is difficult as there is no available history of behavior that can be used to determine future events, there’s also the additional implication that expertise will be limited to a niche group thus limiting technical capabilities to develop effective interventions. With an increase in occurrences of natural disasters due to the climate change crisis, anticipatory approaches mitigate the devastating consequences of these events. Anticipatory action frameworks are commonly used by humanitarian organizations as practical guides that provide foresight and proactive responses for mitigating the impacts of predicted shocks. The objectives of an anticipatory approach are to expand capacity and build agility and resilience to external shocks by preserving assets and livelihoods.


An enabling environment for anticipatory policymaking requires comprehensive disaster risk management systems. Up-scaling disaster interventions involve mobilizing investment in the short and medium-term to contribute toward the overall long-term goals. Risk financing is typically ex-post, but anticipatory action demands financed actions to be ex-ante. Forecast-based financing (FbF) is funding that is sourced well in advance that goes into effect following an action plan that explicitly includes predetermined trigger events. A trigger event is a forecasted event that is pre-emptive of an impending crisis, it is a critical detail that should be included in an anticipatory action plan as it is the threshold that triggers the enactment of risk response strategies.


A solid disaster management system is the foundation for strategic anticipation, supported by coherent legal and policy frameworks. Legislation is key for ensuring institutional accountability and for the facilitation and coordination of responses. For more efficient and cost-effective delivery of crisis relief, the use of pre-existing systems and structures can streamline processes. An example of social protection systems; is effective long-term tools that can be adapted and scaled up during times of crises within anticipatory action plans. Humanitarian organizations have been increasingly relying on anticipatory action to respond in times of crises, optimizing anticipatory action requires the proactive involvement from national governments in the uptake and up-scaling of action plans. The first responders during crises are local organizations and people on the ground, therefore it is imperative that strategic anticipation involve and include all stakeholders to ensure an inclusive, well-informed, and human-centered approach.


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