Article, 100th Anniversary

The futures of animal health and welfare: leveraging foresight for strategic thinking 

foresight project at WOAH_middle eastern kind looking at the camera
What challenges and opportunities await animal health and welfare in the coming decades? For its 100th anniversary, WOAH engaged over 70 participants from around the globe to take part in a collective foresight project. Together, they explored changes, envisioned possible futures, and learned how to act in anticipation of what lies ahead.  

What if artificial intelligence were used as a response to the global shortage of the  veterinary workforce? What kind of challenges would rapidly rising water temperatures pose for aquaculture and fishing in general? Turning 100 seems like another perfect opportunity to take a step back and reflect on what comes next.

From September 2023 to January 2024, the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) led a foresight project which brought together more than 70 stakeholders from the animal health and welfare domains. The goal: to leverage foresight methods to imagine possible futures and gather insightful ideas to make informed decisions and strategies.  

Why is WOAH using foresight? 

Interest in foresight is growing as more individuals and organisations acknowledge that embracing uncertainty and analysing multiple futures is crucial to navigating the challenges of the 21st century. In this context, Members asked WOAH to establish foresight initiatives at regional and global level in 2019. The goal was to navigate, plan for and adapt to uncertain futures. 

As a response, WOAH started using foresight methods to raise awareness of prevailing or emerging changes, opportunities or disruptions, within the animal health and welfare sectors and beyond. These methods include the examination of the consequences of trends and emerging issues, such as climate change, through scenarios that can guide decision making and policies, by helping test existing strategies and develop new ones. Foresight fosters our capacity to embrace uncertainty, rather than seek to eliminate it. This empowers the Organisation and its Members to look at the present through a different lens. 

From the eco-revolution to space exploration: five animal health scenarios 

For WOAH’s 100th anniversary, a participatory foresight project was organised in a series of consecutive workshops. To ensure a youth perspective, members from the International Veterinary Students Association (IVSA) participated, alongside experienced animal health and welfare professionals. They explored current and emerging trends and drivers for change, such as the rise of AI, biothreats, medical advances or climate change, to build a range of possible futures scenarios. 

Five scenarios were drafted: “Eco-revolution rising” explored food system impacts of climate change and proliferation of biotechnology. “In WOAH we trust” addressed the impacts of misinformation and erosion of public trust in the context of a food system crisis. “Hangry games” described a food system collapse following political and economic tensions, in a context where artificial intelligence has become central to addressing animal health and welfare challenges.  

“Animal health from the bottom of the oceans to the stars” explored technological developments in animal production intersecting with the growing space industry, leading to the first off-planet satellite farms. “Farming for resilience” described the effects of polycrises on farming, the diversity of farming practices from small-scale cooperatives to robot-led farming, as well as the release of multispecies superbugs upon the world by the dark side of science.  

Foresight_the future of animal health_Eco revolution rising
Scenario One: Eco revolution rising
Foresight_The future of Animal Health In WOAH we trust
Scenario two: In WOAH we trust
Foresight_The futures of animal health_Scenario Three Hangry games
Scenario three: Hangry games
Foresight_the future of animal health_from the oceans to the stars
Scenario four: Animal health from the bottom of the oceans to the stars
Foresight_future of animal health_farming for resilience
Scenario five: Farming for resilience

During the last series of workshops, participants developed innovative strategies to address the challenges described in these scenarios. Each participant contributed with their priorities in mind and discovered additional ones in the process. Solutions were considered collectively, ranging from  greater exposure of young children to science and experimentation, to training on innovative technologies for all veterinarians, and a global step up of the One Health approach.  

Fostering long-term vision and current action 

What main challenges are animal health and welfare facing in the coming years? Participants of the foresight project representing the youth shared their views. For Anandu Rajaji, IVSA member from India, “the surging popularity of meat and milk replacers necessitates comprehensive research”, and the rise of antimicrobial resistance demands urgent action. For IVSA Animal Welfare chair Anna Wilson from India, “the root causes of many emerging diseases, climate changes, human-animal conflicts, and other environmental problems, are deforestation and pollution”. “The enormity of our challenges has become more apparent to me,” she adds.

While the foresight project has confronted each participant with the reality of the challenges lying ahead, it also fostered dialogue and collective brainstorming.

The future now presents exciting challenges, brimming with opportunities for positive change.

Marta Masserdoti,
One Health chair at IVSA, Italy.

A committed animal health and welfare community 

The importance of the animal health and welfare sector and the responsibility of its stakeholders in addressing present and future challenges now appears clearer than ever. “It is becoming increasingly clear that animal health is interconnected with the biggest issues facing the world today. It is precisely their magnitude that should instill in us an unwavering hope that the world, especially the youth, will come together to address them”, states Mehdi Amrani Souhli, an IVSA member from Morocco. 

Faced with the numerous possible outcomes of today’s trends, participants in the foresight project found comfort within this community. As collective images of the futures appeared, the group developed common perspectives on what is possible, and a shared sense of identity and possibility. 

My vision of the future changed for the better when I realised there are like-minded people out there trying to make fundamental changes to the systemic challenges we face.

Lisa Buren, a member of the IVSA from the Netherlands.

What is foresight? 

Foresight is a field of study that consists in identifying emerging trends and issues in the present, and using this insight to map out possible futures. The possible futures aim at supporting decision-making in the present. It draws on the use of strategic thinking skills to make strategic decisions. Foresight may involve a wide range of techniques.

Have you read?