Foresight Tools and Techniques to Tackle Your Next Challenge

Strategic foresight causes some confusion among those new to the concept, let alone applying specific foresight tools and techniques. The best way to conceptualize foresight broadly is as a set of activities used to think systematically about the future and how it might impact your organization. It is particularly useful for kicking off a strategic planning effort. 

Foresight methodologies and approaches can be tailored to specific concerns and priorities for organizations – not every foresight effort will look the same. For example, companies developing strategies to compete in their market in 5 years based on changing technologies may choose a different set of methodologies than a political office concerned over how policy making should be adjusted for those same trends. Different contexts require different approaches, and therefore differing foresight methods.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the “backbone” techniques used in foresight and discuss how you can use them to help your organization plan its future. We’ll also touch on how the Strategy Connections App can help your team collaborate and tailor a foresight project for your needs.

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Strategic foresight fundamentals

Before diving into any of the foresight methods, we should take a brief conceptual overview of how and why they are applied. There are multiple approaches to conceptualizing the activities of a strategic foresight effort. Here, we’ll use one developed by Rene Rohrbeck, which establishes a nice balance between being both simple and comprehensive. Then we’ll briefly discuss characteristics that the vast majority of these frameworks tend to share.

Foresight Activities

Regardless of the particular foresight methodology you end up applying, each will tend to fall into one of three categories of activity. They are:

Perceiving.

Actions aimed at detecting changes in the strategic environment. Activities here would include scanning for weak signals of change, identifying early indicators, and categorizing trends that may strengthen or weaken this change. Techniques typically include horizon scanning, brainstorming, and trend identification. The intent in this phase is to build your base of knowledge for later analysis.

Prospecting.

Efforts to begin to make sense of those patterns of change. Activities would include identifying potential consequences of change (good and bad) for both the organization as well as the broader market or competitive environment. Techniques might include cross impact analysis, trend analysis, and scenario planning. Prospecting helps convert build on your knowledge of the future and begin to determine how specific events might impact you.

Probing.

Activities designed to translate the collected information into actionable insights and building concepts about how to respond. This step provides the bridge to strategic planning which will help allocate resources, mitigate risk, and seize opportunities. Probing helps build the framework for understanding possible strategies in a range of futures.

Foresight Characteristics

While each of the specific techniques might be categorized into one of the three above, the entire effort tends to share some common characteristics across applications that answer the “why strategic foresight?” question. These are important to keep in mind when building your own. These characteristics of foresight are that it:

1. Emphasizes multiple possible futures. Creating a specific forecast is impossible, so the way to arm organizations for such uncertainty is to consider, and prepare for, multiple possible futures.

2. Tailors the meaning of those futures. Broad proclamations about how an industry will change are not useful unless the meaning of those changes is grounded in an organization-specific perspective.

3. Aims at reducing bias. We are all victims of the bias generated by our experiences and our specific roles. The way to mitigate the detrimental effects of such bias is to deliberately seek out more diverse and dissenting inputs into the process.

4. Is meant to generate action – typically actions that are a change from the status quo. Admiring problems isn’t helpful, so foresight activities should be outputting insights designed to guide actions.

5. Must become ingrained. Isolated events that focus on the future are stimulating, but are quickly forgotten once completed. To make foresight methods effective, they should become a regular part of business practices with senior leader involvement to influence employees and emphasize importance.

Foresight methodologies

While the specific combination of foresight methods may vary according to your requirements, there are a set of “backbone” techniques that tend to be used more often than others.

Brainstorming

While this technique is pretty well-known, it is worth mentioning given its wide variety of applications with foresight at every stage of the process. Brainstorming is most often used to help identify new ideas among a group and is intended to help overcome reluctance to speak up among the group and challenge biased assumptions in the accepted narrative.

It tends to be used at the beginning of a process, but can also be used in a variety of other contexts with foresight. For example, it can be used to develop new ideas, identify possible indicators of change; identify wild cards, nominate trends that should be explored, and others.

In the Strategy Connections App, users are able to tag, sort, and use the generated brainstorm cards to kick off one of the other techniques.

Trend Analysis

The concept of trend analysis tends to vary by domain, but at its base, it builds upon present observations and patterns and make projections about the direction of those trends in the future. The analysis can combine elements of quantitative and qualitative data, though qualitative information will tend to take center stage when talking about the future.

This foresight method can be combined with efforts to detect weak signals of change as evidence to determine the direction and magnitude of various trends as the futures project unfolds. Typical emerging trends companies will be concerned about are in the areas of technology, socio cultural, market dynamics, and changing consumer preferences.

In the Connections App, users can describe trends within the constraints established by an admin, vote on those that are most important to the organization using one of four voting methods, and use them to create an alternative futures matrix or full planning scenario.

Alternative Futures

The alternative future method is a type of cross impact analysis that explores four possible futures created by the interaction of two future trends. The trends are described in their extremes (high vs. low, strong vs. weak, etc) and participants describe in each of the four possibilities how the future might be shaped by those two trends.

When combined with the horizon scanning and evidence gathering, it is possible for teams to narrow in on a few possibilities they should be most concerned about, and plan appropriately.

The Connections App allows users to flesh out these four quadrants with multiple combinations of trends you are most concerned about, vote within your group, and determine which futures require more comprehensive development.

Scenario planning

In a sense, developing scenarios is the fundamental foresight methodology, and is informed by each of the methods described above. A scenario consists of a more detailed description of the futures of concern, along with some discussion of how that future will impact the company (or NGO, or government agency, etc).

Scenario planning is an effort to describe an entire system of future events that can help you identify opportunities, risks, points of leverage, and threats. Clearly, this is the key link to a thorough strategic planning effort.

The Connections App provides you with the ability to flesh out these elements of multiple futures which can be developed by a single team effort, or in multiple parallel team efforts to generate a comparison of what life will be like in various futures.

Develop a Foresight Program with SC

This is clearly not a comprehensive list. Futures work can also include surveys using the Delphi method, backcasting, and others. Choosing particular foresight methodologies, again, will be driven by the objectives of the effort. Maintaining a record of your analysis and research will provide and evidence base to return to for additional work when new circumstances require a change in your strategy.

The Strategy Connections App provides the methods discussed above in a single tool for conducting your futures work collaboratively with relevant stakeholders – and build it in to your routine business practices. You can use it to create your own foresight framework to inform your strategy, mitigate your risks, and help navigate to your own desirable future.

Reach out at the link below to learn more, or head over to the contact page if you have specific questions.

Want a Free Trial? No Card Needed...

We’re beta testing our foresight app. Click below to sign up for a free account for you to use with up to 10 teammates for an 8-week trial. In exchange, we’ll just ask for some feedback on how we can improve!