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Towards a Sustainable Future: Applications & Sectors of Anticipatory Governance

Updated: Jul 30, 2022

Uncertainties aren’t necessarily bad. Anticipatory mechanisms can be used to leverage them in the face of climate change.

In an increasingly uncertain world, there are few tools that help institutions be prepared to face the unknown, and anticipatory governance is one of them. Known as a combination of systems and processes, anticipatory governance is a decision-making and planning approach that helps different institutions incorporate expertise from different stakeholders to harness the wisdom needed to meet developmental goals strategically. In other words, it means involving key stakeholders in the decision-making process to devise current policies while projecting and keeping in mind future trajectories. The goal behind doing so is to leverage emerging opportunities and have the plans and tools in place to deal with its consequent short-term and long-term effects. Anticipatory governance is proving to have its merit in light of the same for how it allows responsible authorities to build resilience and take better, foresighted decisions.

Given its holistic nature, the practice of anticipatory governance incorporates a range of predictive and preventive measures with big data and field expertise to meet any given goal. As a result, the process is often an amalgamation of foresight, interdisciplinary collaborations, strategic investments and mutualising commons. By combining these, anticipatory governance can be used to respond to potential threats early on, build capacity, and create sustainable future plans. Instances where authorities have employed this approach are increasing and can be seen across sectors such as health, science and technology, environment, and public welfare, amongst other things. Within the ambit of environmental policies and governance, it can be seen actualising in the following areas; although, it is not limited to these.

Water-Related Issues

The city of Denver blended scenario planning and the integrated resource planning approach to mitigate growing threats of reduction in streamflows and existing surface water supplies in the west and southwest. This resulted in the formation of the “Denver Water” public utility facility, which is responsible for serving nearly 1.5 million people today. Comprising a system of reservoirs and connected by tunnels and canals, the water utility services an area of over 335 miles. To do so, it utilises scenario planning efforts to prioritise factors contributing to future uncertainty and performs an extensive future analysis to explore potential climate change impacts on the facility. The two together have led to Denver Water’s approach owing to its decision-making framework and a pool of short-term and long-term plans and activities.

Similarly to allay the challenges posed by droughts, the City of Phoenix Water Services Department formulated the “Water Resources Plan 2005”. It accounted for possible future conditions under the influence of delivery of surface water supplies, growth and development patterns and water use behaviours that could impact their water supplies and demand. By considering different levels of customer water use on the basis of past and possible future trends, they generated one hundred and forty-four scenarios along with both short-term plans and worst-case scenarios for each. In the process, they could build a comprehensive archive of mechanisms and infrastructure for drought response in each case.

Climate Change

New York City, too, initiated an assessment and action plan to build resilience for water, wastewater and flood control systems in face of climate change while forming the NYC Climate Change Adaptation Task Force (NYCCATF). The same secured funding from the Rockefeller Foundation for their plan. The resultant climate change adaptation plan consisted of four phases which required the NYCCATF to (1) quantify climate change’s impacts, (2) identify its impacts on the city and develop strategies to alleviate the consequent risks, (3) launch a citywide strategic plan, and (4) work with vulnerable neighbourhoods to develop site-specific adaptation strategies. Doing so helped the relevant authorities in coming up with priorities to guide their short-term decision-making while obtaining ample room for flexibility and adaptation.

Food Security

In order to effectively prepare for and alleviate growing threats of food insecurity in Central America, the CGIAR research program in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCFAS) conducted and published a series of studies covering the same. One of the initiatives it analysed was Honduras’ National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for the Agri-Food Sector for 2015-2024 (ENACCSA). Devised in 2014 by the Technical Committee on Climate Change and Risk Management from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (SAG), the plan combined multiple anticipatory techniques to inform its actions. It utilised the IPCC and national climate scenarios and multiple environmental and vulnerability assessments to gauge the ramifications of climate change on agri-food livelihoods, ecosystems and food security.


The above-mentioned examples demonstrate the potential of anticipatory governance in helping policymakers and stakeholders craft plans and policies that meet current needs while securing room and resources for future consequences. Not only that but it changes the narrative of uncertainty by illustrating how it can be used to our advantage and build resilience for myriad possibilities. Put differently, anticipatory governance may not be just a tool but THE tool to guide our future actions towards a sustainable future.


Heo, K., & Seo, Y. (2021). Anticipatory governance for newcomers: lessons learned from the UK, the Netherlands, Finland, and Korea. European Journal of Futures Research, 9(1).

Muiderman, K., Zurek, M., Vervoort, J., Gupta, A., Hasnain, S., & Driessen, P. (2022). The anticipatory governance of sustainability transformations: Hybrid approaches and dominant perspectives. Global Environmental Change, 73.

Quay, R. (2010). Anticipatory Governance. Journal of the American Planning Association, 76(4), 496–511.

Ramos, J. (2021, December 13). Anticipatory Governance — A Primer. Medium.

Veeger, M., Muiderman, K., & Vervoot, J. (2021). Anticipatory climate governance in Central America. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).


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