Much policy advice is formulated implicitly assuming that the future can be predicted. A static policy is developed using a single ‘most likely’ future, often based on the extrapolation of trends; or a static ‘robust’ policy is developed that will produce acceptable outcomes in a range of plausible future worlds. However, if the future turns out to be different from the hypothesized future(s), the policy might fail. Furthermore, not only is the future highly uncertain, the conditions policymakers need to deal with are changing over time. I will begin by defining what I mean by ‘deep uncertainty’. I will then describe a new approach for planning under conditions of deep uncertainty that is based on creating a strategic vision of the future, committing to short-term actions, and establishing a framework to guide future actions. A policy that embodies these ideas allows for its dynamic adaptation over time to meet the changing circumstances.
Warren E. Walker is an emeritus Professor of Policy Analysis in the faculty of Technology, Policy and Management at Delft University of Technology. He has a Ph.D. in Operations Research from Cornell University, and more than 40 years of experience as an analyst and project leader at the RAND Corporation, applying quantitative analysis to public policy problems at the local, regional, national, and international levels. His recent research has focused on methods for dealing with deep uncertainty in making public policies (especially with respect to climate change), improving the freight transport system in the Netherlands, and the design of decision support systems for airport strategic planning. He is the recipient of the 1997 President’s Award from the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) for his "contributions to the welfare of society through quantitative analysis of governmental policy problems."