This study identifies four scenarios (Figure 1) that describe the digital marketplace for public services such as healthcare, education, transport, policing and other services in Queensland by the year 2025. The scenarios are designed to inform strategic planning by Queensland’s service-delivery organisations in both the public and private sectors. This will help Queensland continue along a pathway of improved customer experience, effectiveness, efficiency and overall quality of public services.
The scenarios are defined using a process of strategic foresight developed by CSIRO. This involves the identification of two axes capturing continuums of plausible outcomes. The axis endpoints are extreme possibilities. Each axis is relatively independent of the other. The axes rest on a set of geopolitical, economic, environmental, social and technological trends compiled and synthesised by the research team. When the two axes are combined, four scenarios are generated.
The horizontal axis relates to the extent of technology transformation of the service- delivery environment. It is stressed that at both endpoints (shallow and deep) technology has greater power, capability and adoption within the service- delivery landscape than today. Neither axis identifies a future with less technology as this was deemed not plausible.
However, at the shallow endpoint, cybercrime, privacy concerns, interoperability constraints and user rejection of online interfaces have made the adoption of digital technology patchy, uneven and shallow. As a consequence, many of today’s service-delivery systems still outperform technology-enabled models. At this endpoint, digital systems have improved and changed public services but only to a modest extent. Much of what the public service-delivery system does today also happens in the year 2025 at the shallow endpoint.
In contrast, the deep endpoint describes a future where the stumbling blocks of digital technology have been adequately addressed by scientific and business-process innovation. At the deep endpoint, most citizens have become ‘digital natives’ in an ecosystem of automated systems, data analytics, computing power and device connectivity (that is, the Internet of Things) that has surpassed many forecasts. Much of what is done via conventional means today can be handled more efficiently by computers and robotic devices. There is also widespread acceptance of (and preference for) online interfaces among diverse customer demographics.
A scenario is a plausible and evidence-based story about the future. Because the future is uncertain, there are multiple paths leading to multiple scenarios. Scenarios may describe futures that we would like to happen or would like to avoid. The aim in scenario planning is to be objective and inform decision makers so we can identify, select and implement optimal strategies to achieve a better future.
The vertical axis relates to the extent to which institutional structures change within private, community and government organisations (at local, state and federal levels). As with the horizontal axis, there is change from the current situation at both endpoints. However, the extent of change varies considerably.
At the limited endpoint, institutional structures of the year 2025 are much the same as they are today. The peer-to-peer economy (for labour markets, transport, accommodation, banking and finance and so on) hasn’t expanded much beyond its current-day envelope and the same structures are used for governance within large organisations. The move towards matrix-style and networked organisational structures hasn’t happened much and today’s hierarchical models are commonplace.
At the substantial endpoint, there is much change in the way markets, organisations and society are structured. At this endpoint the peer-to-peer economy has taken hold in transport, accommodation, banking and finance, and labour markets. Many existing business models and incumbents have been replaced by the new agile and networked market entrants. There is also much change to governance structures. Trusted relationships and information flows are reshaped as the one-to-many (or few-to-many) governance structures of the past become the many-to-many governance structures of the future. Organisational models become more matrixed, networked and agile as traditional hierarchical structures hold less relevance.
From the two axes there are four scenarios: Heritage, New Order, Turbocharge and Stargate, as described in the quadrant diagram. These four scenarios represent a generalisation of a much more complex array of future possibilities. As with any model, scenarios must simplify a more complex reality in order to inform decisions. By capturing a range of plausible future scenarios, it is possible to ‘wind-tunnel test’ strategic plans for public service delivery (Figure 2).
A strategy involves choosing actions to achieve a desired future, given the range of uncertain possible outcomes. If a strategy is found to deliver a desired future with an acceptable level of residual risk (that is, risk that cannot be completely extinguished via mitigation options) under all four scenarios, it can be considered resilient. However, if a strategy fails to achieve acceptable performance under one or more scenarios, it is not resilient. Under this circumstance the strategy may need to be redesigned and re-evaluated against the scenarios.
In real-world planning problems, an organisational strategy will seldom perform equally well under all scenarios. Choosing the best strategy from a finite set of candidate strategies is a multi-objective decision problem with trade-offs. One approach is to generate strategic options, test them against the scenarios, measure their outcomes against agreed performance criteria and then choose the strategy that provides the best overall outcome.
There are plausible futures in which the landscape for public service models in Queensland is substantially reshaped and barely recognisable from today. While this is not the only possible future, a substantial shift fits within the envelope of plausibility. This is largely due to the accelerating rate of technology advance and adoption by consumers.
The Queensland government has seven departments spending over $1 billion and delivering 1,600 unique services that have an impact on all citizens and visitors to the state to some extent. Entertaining plausible futures for service delivery and subsequently identifying, implementing and improving service-delivery models holds vital importance for the future well-being of Queensland.
We have reached the point where a confluence of trends, digital disruption, shifts in the locus of economic power, globalisation and demographic change – each of which on their own would rank among the strongest economic forces the global economy has ever seen, are casting our world into a completely different reality … My contention is that, given the disruption of a hyper-connected world, many of our policy settings are simply not fit for purpose.
Catherine Livingstone, National Press Club Address, 29 April 2015
Rudd, L., Hajkowicz, S., Nepal, S., Boughen, N., & Reeson, A. (2015). Fast Forward: Scenarios for Queensland in the year 2025 describing the marketplace for education, healthcare, policing, transport and other public services. A CSIRO consultancy report for the Queensland Government Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation. CSIRO, Australia.