The UK's National Audit Office issued a press release today on their report on "Forecasting in government to achieve value for money" .
The report says "Forecasts are predictions of future requirements under differing scenarios, based on data and assumptions about influencing factors".
It followed that definition up by pointing out that forecasts inform a range of decisions on costs, income, resources and demand.
All of which got me thinking about how far local churches do and should use forecasts to inform the decisions they make on their ministry. If you want to prompt that debate with yourself or the church you attend here are 5 simple questions that might help ....
1) Has your local church council looked at the forecasts your local government is using as concerns the population of your area in terms of characteristics like: age; gender; ethnicity; education; % in each socio-economic category; employment status & location; health and physical mobility?
2) Qualitatively - what are the 5 biggest changes that you would say (or have heard from others) have occurred in your area in the last 30 years and what does that tell you about the possible scale of change likely in the next 30 years?
3) If your answer to 1) was largely NO then find out what forecast information is available from your local government (or what forecast they are getting from others and using) and identify which elements will undergo the biggest changes in the next 30 years or so. Then ask what implications those forecast changes will have in terms of how your church needs to change.
4) If you have looked at some of the aspects of population forecasts as listed in 1) - what changes is your church going to make to how it does church?
5) What forecasts is your area or national organisation making in terms of finances and ordained and lay resources and what implications do they have for your church?
Once you've started the forecasting conversation it might also be worth considering these other aspects of what the NAO report said:
Most frequently cited failings - what they found was:
- limited or poor-quality data;
- unrealistic assumptions and optimism bias;
- a lack of forecasting or modelling;
- inadequate sensitivity and scenario analysis.
Good forecasting - what they concluded was that this happens when:
- all parties agree the aims of a forecast, what outputs are required by when and how these requirements will be met;
- sufficiently skilled resources are available to produce the forecasts and quality assure them;
- data quality and assumptions behind the forecasts are clear as is the sensitivity of the forecasts to changes in such;
- graphical presentation of forecasts is used rather than tabular - using ranges rather than point estimates - and via such uncertainty and trade offs are made clear;
- leaders actively support the use of forecasts.