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About Strategic Foresight

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Program Manager:
CDR Eric Popiel

Assistant Program Manager:
LT David A. Smith

Strategic Foresight in the Coast Guard

[Adapted from Joseph S. Dufresne and Charles Thoms Project Evergreen's LongRange U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. Aug2014, Vol. 140 Issue 8, p80-82]

In 1998 the Coast Guard initiated an alternative futures, scenario-based strategy development effort aimed at linking Coast Guard strategy to decisionmaking processes. The initiative eventually became what we now call Project Evergreen. Evergreen has been a strategic success on many levels, and the Coast Guard continues to invest in the growth and development of its process.

Background

From its early days, when Evergreen codified maritime domain awareness as a key concept for strategy development, to the more recent manifestations of emerging polar and underwater mission requirements, the Coast Guard has used its insights for guidance in decisions that have strategic impact.  Sometimes the service requires perspective 25 years in the future to understand today's issues and how solutions may play out over time. The Coast Guard has gained significant advantages by innovating the Evergreen process to shift away from discrete time frames and towards understanding strategic impacts of macrolevel trends to all parts of the Coast Guard's mission.

As a result, Evergreen scenarios are not geared to answering one "critical question." Program managers are keenly aware that it is impossible to determine every question and answer about the future or its operating environment. Therefore, scenarios are developed broadly to ensure the Coast Guard critically analyzes future possibilities to current missions and how they might be accomplished. The strategies that emerge from scenario planning are at the same macro level of analysis. In other words, Evergreen cannot say much about what the Coast Guard's next operational asset will look like, but it will have a lot to say about the possibilities on future mission demands.

It was never intended that Evergreen would be the strategic planning process of the Coast Guard, which should be influenced by a host of inputs. Evergreen is only one of many components in the Coast Guard's larger plan, and was designed from the beginning to be the strategy source least influenced by daily activities. Project Evergreen has two primary objectives: to produce innovative strategies that will help the Coast Guard deal with increasing levels of uncertainty and to create an organization that thinks, as well as acts, with strategic intent.

Strategic Needs

Project Evergreen invests time evaluating and understanding future requirements in various possible scenarios by organizing workshops with various stakeholders. The resultant product is not to develop strategies, but to determine robust strategic needs. Instead of identifying a list of things the Coast Guard should do, Project Evergreen develops a comprehensive look at future needs and requirements the Coast Guard will have to meet. This difference is subtle but extremely significant. 

Evergreen results

Evergreen has produced "strategies" that have influenced the course of the Coast Guard: maritime domain awareness; the merger of marine safety and operations into sectors; guidance for the Strategy for Maritime Safety, Security and Stewardship; Arctic mission activities; and underwater mission activities are but only a few examples.  However, results have been experienced across various different agencies around the world.  

Project Evergreen has been used to mentor other organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Border Patrol, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, among others. Initiatives such as these rarely manifest their value through one brilliant report or defining moment. Because senior leadership has continuously supported the project over the years, Evergreen reached a tipping point and became a regular organizational exercise. Through 15 years of rigorous strategic thought, the Coast Guard has invested in the type of analysis that is needed for the inevitable emergencies that arise during times of fiscal constraints. Rather than creating this analysis from scratch, the Coast Guard utilizes the many years of enormous intellectual capital to inform leaders.

Evergreen 101

Introduction to Evergreen. Who we are, and what we do.

The Evergreen Process. How we develop strategic needs: a rigorous and repeatable method.

The Strategy Map. The program's influence on and connection to Coast Guard strategic documents, from Long View through Evergreen IV.

The Workshop Process. Our method for designing and executing Human Centered Design futures workshops.

Vignette Development. How we blend creativity and rigor to produce our alternative future vignettes.