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Anticipation: A Strategic Function of the Dutch defense organization

18 January 2011

In 2010, the Dutch Ministry of Defense published a strategic foresight document assessing the future of the Dutch Armed Forces. Future Policy Survey: A new foundation for the Netherlands Armed Forces concluded that the ability of the Ministry to anticipate future events has become increasingly important.

This study addresses the question how a new strategic function Anticipation can be given shape. This is done on the basis of a two-pronged research question: which existing and new instruments will enable the Ministry of Defense to (better) anticipate an uncertain future; and how should these instruments be positioned within the organization?

To anticipate means to be prepared: knowing what new threats and opportunities may arise in a fast changing environment. But it is just as important to have the organizational agility to take adequate steps, pro-actively as well as reactively, in response to these changes. Anticipation thus combines ‘knowing’ and ‘acting’. The first component is based on a permanent process of identifying and analyzing trends, developments and possible futures. The second component focuses on increasing the flexibility and adaptability of the defense organization, enabling it to remain relevant in a dynamic, complex and thereby fundamentally uncertain security environment. By bringing these two components together, a powerful Anticipation function would directly influence policy, investment decisions and organizational change. The capability to anticipate is already present within the defense organization.

What is lacking however, is an overarching process dedicated to structuring and overseeing Anticipation, facilitating a fluid interface between a dynamic environment and the changing roles, responsibilities and partnerships of the defense organization (defense policy writ large), as well as the structure, processes and capabilities of the armed forces (defense planning). The Future Policy Survey was a one-off iteration of such an overarching process. Giving shape to an Anticipation function intends to institutionalize this effort, creating a continuous forward-looking process involving a broad range of stakeholders from within and outside the Ministry of Defense. On the basis of a literature review into organizational adaptability and agility, an analysis of Anticipation in different countries, historical experiences with foresight and anticipatory processes, and a concise understanding of the current defense organization,
lessons can be drawn how an Anticipation function can be given shape within the Ministry of Defense. This study presents the outcome of this research effort.

Experts on this report

Director of the Security Program

Frank Bekkers

Frank Bekkers is Director of the Program Security. He is also theme leader of the Strategy and Change Program.

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