Why the Board’s Duty of Foresight Remains a Radical Idea Ten Years Later: Part II

By Jeff De Cagna, AIMP FRSA FASAE • April 30, 2024

AUTHOR’S ATTESTATION: This article was written entirely by Jeff De Cagna AIMP FRSA FASAE, a human author, without using generative AI.

In Part I, in addition to an overview of its origin story, I shared why I believe the board’s duty of foresight was a radical idea when it first emerged in 2014. In this Part II column, I want to share additional thoughts on why the board’s duty of foresight, even after ten years, remains a radical idea today.

Getting to The Next Definition

For more than eight years (2014-2022), I wrote and presented frequently on the board’s duty of foresight using the same definition of the term: the duty of foresight is a shared commitment that association boards make to learn as much as possible with the future. Since the duty of foresight was a direct challenge to association community orthodoxy on boards and governing, I felt strongly that providing a consistent and stable definition was essential to persuading boards and CEOs to pursue this emerging approach. From the outset, the focus on the duty of foresight has been on the vital role that association boards must play as committed champions for the adoption of next practices, both inside their organizations and across the various connected human systems for which they have responsibility.

In 2018, in collaboration with my Association Adviser colleagues, I released an eBook, Foresight Is The Future of Governing, which was centered on the board’s duty of foresight and extended the challenge to association boards to “use foresight to reinvent governing and themselves.” Just a little less than one year later, “The Duty of Foresight: Five Years Later,”  was published in this space and included the following warning to our community:

…we are less than six months from the start of 2020 and the beginning of the 21st century’s third
decade. These next 120 months, which I am calling The Turbulent Twenties, will be a period of
accelerating and relentless disruption that will create profound societal upheaval and irrevocably
transform our world, for better or worse.

We all know what happened next. After more than two years of human and societal pain and suffering, I began to think deeply about an update to the definition of the board’s duty of foresight that would take into consideration the enduring impact of the pandemic and its myriad consequences. In my September 2022 column, “The Next Definition of the Board’s Duty of Foresight,” I offered the most significant shift in my thinking about the term since its origination more than eight years earlier.

Why the Duty of Foresight Remains a Radical Idea in 2024

My intention in updating the duty of foresight’s definition in 2022 was to ensure that it remains fit for purpose, not only for the rest of this decade, but also as we begin to prepare for The Threatening Thirties which, as of this column’s publication date, will begin in just 2,072 days. Even though the duty of foresight is now on its second iteration and has ten years of history behind it, there are three more reasons why I will continue to advocate for it as a radical idea in 2024 and beyond:

  • The duty of foresight prioritizes our successors—During the worst of pandemic lockdown, association boards and CEOs had no alternative but to confront orthodoxy and make difficult yet future-focused choices. By 2022, however, the return of more familiar conditions led many association decision-makers to turn back toward complacency and short-term thinking as embodied by a misguided focus on relevance. In the fall of that year, I proposed the six toughest decisions that association boards must make, including “when will we choose to care more about our successors than ourselves?” The duty of foresight is the only practice in the world of association management that insists boards put successors first as a matter of ethical purpose, moral obligation, and fidelity to our shared humanity.
  • The duty of foresight demands unique board work—From what I have observed over the last ten years, the association community’s most detrimental orthodox belief about foresight is the choice to regard it as merely an input to strategy. This way of thinking encourages a narrow perspective on the necessity of foresight at the worst possible moment. As the midpoint of The Turbulent Twenties draws closer, the most important work of association boards as human systems (with the support of staff partners) is to steward the human systems for which they are responsible into the future. The duty of foresight is the only practice in the world of association management that demands boards broaden their view and dedicate themselves to this distinctive and crucial responsibility.
  • The duty of foresight moves with the larger world—The duty of foresight is a “next practice,” which I define as a forward-looking approach designed to challenge and liberate associations from their orthodox beliefs while deepening core convictions and creating new habits of mind among association decision-makers. As I wrote in September 2022, “to have their desired impact…next practices cannot be static.” Today and in the years ahead, as accelerating and intensifying forces of turbulence exert tremendous pressure on association boards to set a higher standard of stewardship, governing, and foresight [SGF], the duty of foresight will remain dynamic in its orientation and fully focused on learning what is required to shape a better future for association community stakeholders and successors.

Next Column

In my next column, I look forward to sharing stewardship-situated principles that will enable association boards to act with the highest capacity and intention on their duty of foresight. Until then, please stay well and thank you for reading.

About The Author

Jeff De Cagna AIMP FRSA FASAE, executive advisor for Foresight First LLC in Reston, Virginia, is an association contrarian, foresight practitioner, governing designer, stakeholder and successor advocate, and stewardship catalyst. In August 2019, Jeff became the 32nd recipient of ASAE’s Academy of Leaders Award, the association’s highest individual honor given to consultants or industry partners in recognition of their support of ASAE and the association community.

Jeff can be reached at [email protected], on LinkedIn at jeffonlinkedin.com, or on Twitter @dutyofforesight.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this column belong solely to the author.