top of page

4 Approaches to Anticipatory Governance

Updated: Jul 30, 2022

Read this research paper summary to get an idea of how anticipatory governance can be executed through diverse approaches.

The sustainability of the future of civilisation, societies and livelihoods has become a pivotal component in policy-making and academic conversations. Today, a myriad of processes are used to anticipate future events and generate appropriate strategies. Formal methods of anticipation include quantitative and qualitative scenario planning, horizon scanning, vulnerability and impact assessments, etc.

In the research titled ‘Four approaches to anticipatory climate governance: Different conceptions of the future and implications for the present’, conducted by Karlijn Muiderman, Aarti Gupta, Joost Vervoort and Frank Biermann, they look at the plethora of perspectives that engage with anticipatory practices, to discover a more diverse set of approaches to anticipatory governance and what is means for our present and the future. The paper is based on a descriptive and interpretive analysis of existing literature around anticipatory governance and forecasting in social and sustainability sciences. The study deals with those concepts regardless of whether or not they are explicitly mentioned in the text.

The authors, after conducting a detailed review of the implicit and explicit understanding of anticipatory governance, extract their findings from it, in the form of similarities and differences across these. The pillars of the findings are:

  1. Conception of the future,

  2. Actions to be taken in the present,

  3. The ultimate goal to be realised.

Let’s have a look at the key findings of their study.

Approach 1: Probable futures, strategic planning, and risk reduction

This approach of anticipatory governance primarily focuses on assessing probable and improbable futures and prioritising strategic planning in the present. This approach argues that future risks are preventable.

  • The conception of the future pillar of this approach assumes that future risks can be made known to people to some extent by reducing scientific uncertainty. These events can be identified using past patterns to understand future trends, while also maintaining the focus on low probability events.

  • In the present, the actions to mitigate the risks should follow a ‘mission-oriented’ policy action approach i.e., strategically prioritising the future in the present and protecting long term societal interests.

  • The ultimate is to reduce future risks by designing policies that mitigate high risk scenarios.

Approach 2: Plausible futures, enhanced preparedness, and navigating uncertainty

The second approach puts emphasis on listing out several plausible future scenarios and emphasising on capacity building and preparedness in the present in order to navigate such scenarios.

  • The conception of the future in this case happens with the understanding that some events are more fundamental and unavoidable than others and this opens several other possibilities that can not necessarily be ranked or rounded off to one single event.

  • Present actions call for active engagement with the future and including the concerns and hopes of the common public who can support the construction of socially robust infrastructure and adaptation planning.

  • The ultimate aim of this approach is to enhance capacity building and endurance of systems against future risks.

Approach 3: Pluralistic futures, societal mobilisation and co-creating alternatives

Visualising various pluralistic futures to drive societal stakeholders to co-create desired futures is the idea behind the third approach to anticip[atory governance.

  • The conception of the future under this approach looks at probability and plausibility based events that are looked at as very limiting. All knowledge of the world is interacted with and interpreted by the people in different ways , and hence, different societal notions reflect different pluralistic futures.

  • Actions in the present should advocate a prioritisation of visualising and developing pluralistic pathways and mobilise the stakeholders to co-create desirable futures through social processes.

  • The ultimate goal of this approach is to create transformative futures by bringing together societal actors for change.

Approach 4: Performative futures, critical interrogation and political implications

This approach to anticipatory governance tries to look at what impact do certain future imaginaries have over present governance trajectories. It interrogates the performative power of governance authorities in engaging with the future.

  • Future conception here hinges on the understanding that the future is uncertain and that any attempt made to manage it would lead to rise of certain privileges and priorities. Future images may be made with misinformed conceptions of society and any action made to curb their future impacts can lead to socially problematic solutions in the present.

  • The key action about this approach is to identify the nuanced effects of future scenarios formulated through anticipatory practices and to analyse how they exert their influence on the present day realities.

  • The ultimate aim of this approach is to study the performative and political effects of anticipatory governance in the present by diverting the attention from the future

The identification of these four approaches to anticipatory governance open doors to a better critique of anticipatory policies in climate change mitigation and sustainability sciences. More deliberate and diverse approaches can be identified in future studies that deal with these approaches intermingling or interacting with entirely novel variables.

Check out the full-length paper here for a more comprehensive understanding of these approaches.


Muiderman, K, Gupta, A, Vervoort, J, Biermann, F. (2021) Four approaches to anticipatory climate governance: Different conceptions of the future and implications for the present. WIREs Clim Change.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page