"When something is urgent, it's already too late", as Talleyrand said, thus stressing the value of monitoring and anticipation as aids to decision-making and action; they are even more valuable today, when decision-making and action are so important for the future of our societies. Monitoring and anticipation by the state, even if in France its room for manoeuvre is increasingly limited by the twin factors of globalisation and devolution, is especially critical - whence the need for the public authorities to demonstrate that they are vigilant and, more than others, to make use of thinking about the future as a field both to be explored (forecasting and futures studies) and shaped (planning).
The ups and downs of efforts along these lines with regard to the public authorities in France are well known. But how much do we know about the way such matters are conducted in neighbouring countries: the structures and procedures for studying the future, the key topics addressed, the links maintained with public decision-making bodies? We do not know much and yet we could benefit enormously from a better understanding of how such thinking about the medium and long term is organized in other countries.
This is the aim of Bruno Hérault's article on forecasting and futures studies by public authorities in Germany, which is the first in a series to be published by Futuribles, under the guidance of Bruno Hérault, project leader at the French government's Commissariat général du Plan (Aleph group) and a member of the editorial board of this journal.
Benchmarking is currently fashionable. We hope that readers will find something of interest in this series of reports on the way that future studies geared to the needs of public authorities are conducted in different countries.