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ESPAS conference 2016

December 21, 2016

ESPAS, the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System, is a unique inter-institutional project aimed at strengthening the EU’s efforts in the crucial area of forward planning. ESPAS brings together the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Secretariat General of the Council of the European Union and the European External Action Service to strengthen the Union’s collective administrative capacity to identify and analyse the key trends and challenges, and the resulting policy choices, which are likely to confront Europe and the wider world in the decades ahead.

I was invited to the second ESPAS conference, on Global Trends to 2030 – Society and Governance, held In Brussels on 16th and 17th November.

The first day was held in Berlaymont and was exceptional – arrangements, presentations, participants. Outstanding presentations from Geoff Mulgan of Nesta and Aaron Maniam from Singapore. The thrust of the day was: we are living in uncertain times – no longer Business As Usual – so what can we do to understand what is happening and act effectively? The video can be found at

foxOne contribution I particularly picked up on was from Nic Gowing, who with Chris Langdon has interviewed leaders globally and found a disturbing lack of capability to tackle uncertain times – they suggest that having the conformity that gets you to the top prevents you being able to see change, or to deal with it. The analysis of the interviews is in a number of reports on their web site . This reminded me of the work we did for the book “Beyond Crisis” in which we analysed the behaviour of leaders under the headings of (borrowed from Isaiah Berlin and Greek Mythology) hedgehogs and foxes. The Fox knows many things, but the Hedgehog knows one big thing. In the book we also developed a framework for harnessing the foxes in the organisation to drive change.

The second day was held on the fifth floor of the European Parliament, in the Library Reading Room.hedgehog

One session interested me in particular, on cities in the 21st century, picking up as it did on some of the ideas in “In Safe Hands”, which asks – how might our society reconfigure after a crisis, maybe into city regions with very individual brands, or maybe into amorphous geographies populated by Affinity Groups with strong ethnic, religious or language ties across the globe.

The second day finished with contributions from Klaus Welle, Secretary General of the European Parliament, and James Elles, a former MEP and chairman of ESPAS, both of which are on YouTube: ,

In conclusion, asking how ESPAS should tackle the new world order, the discussion also revisited Foxes and Hedgehogs!

With that thought, I wish all our readers a Happy Christmas and a New Year that starts to tackle the challenges thrown up by 2016.

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow and CEO.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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