'Has Hong Kong lost its 'mojo', its almost magical ability to grasp problems and deal with them?' asks former senior civil servant Rachel Cartland. That question spurred Mrs Cartland and several like-minded individuals to launch the Hong Kong Foresight Project, the newest kid on the local civil society's block. The project is aimed at providing 'a neutral space' where people concerned about issues facing Hong Kong could get involved early in finding solutions and developing policies. The group's inaugural event last Saturday was a seminar on future thinking attended by about 60 people. Supporting groups included The Professional Commons and the University of Hong Kong's Poon Kam Kai Institute of Management. The project's founders say they are concerned that Hong Kong has 'lost the ability' to engage stakeholders at an early stage 'and that policymakers seem to lack both the belief in the importance of building consensus and the political skills to do so'. Mrs Cartland, a former assistant director of social welfare, said policies now tended to be either dropped on the community as a 'surprise', like the suspension of the employment levy on maids, or to 'bubble along' for years. For historical reasons, she said, Hong Kong had been left with a difficult and unwieldy governmental system. 'It's neither an old colonial system nor a fully fledged democracy. So in a sense I feel, perhaps rather cheekily, that the government needs all the help it can get,' said Mrs Cartland, who left the civil service in 2006 after more than three decades as an administrative officer. She now runs a consultancy. 'We want to be positive, progressive and practical, really solution-finding rather than providing a soapbox,' she said. 'We don't want issues where people are so polarised they're not willing even to consider there might be some common ground or where they just think the worst of people on the other side and suspect their motives.' Rather than be another think-tank, said Mrs Cartland, the Foresight Project wanted to be a 'do-tank', building on the research of think-tanks and bringing civil society groups together. 'We've very much been inspired by what happens in Scandinavia, where they have these future centres,' she said. 'There they have an established building and they bring together stakeholders to discuss all aspects of a particular problem.' Joseph Chan Cho-wai, director of HKU's Centre for Civil Society and Governance, said retired former civil servants could play a constructive role as policy brokers or 'policy entrepreneurs'. 'That person has got to have good networks with civil society leaders and professionals so that they are perceived as being able to appreciate diverse values from different sectors. Then he or she could somehow bring the two sides closer to each other; bridge the gap,' said Professor Chan. 'If there are people of this kind, then I'm sure the engagement process would be much more effective.' He added that 'not just any retired civil servant' could perform that role, as it required the building of trust and standing outside, as well as inside, government.