Dr. Wendy L. Schultz,
Infinite Futures (copyright © 1997)
Fan: Systemic Approaches to Foresight
Workshop presented at the request and with the assistance of Ayesha
Dost (NHS), 10 November 1997
Part of the King's Fund European Symposium, "Health Futures: Tools
to Create Tomorrow's Health System,"
London, 10-11 November 1997
Welcome to the workshop on systemic approaches to foresight. Many
of the workshops available to you during the two days of this conference
focus on one foresight technique, walking you through specific steps
and example applications.
This workshop will,
we hope, help you apply the various foresight techniques as they
should be applied: not singly, but in concert. Foresight requires
futures-focussed thinking: a worldview which consistently looks
at the long-range options, that considers alternative possible futures
which may confront our goals, and that helps to articulate goals
within the framework of a vision which describes the future we most
want to create. The futures-focussed worldview sees past, present,
and our possible futures as created by interlocking systems. What
we have prepared for your use today is a mnemonic device that helps
you consider your critical decisions in the context of those interlocking
systems, using a systemic foresight approach.
My name is Wendy Schultz,
and I am currently a visiting Professor with the Master's program
in Studies of the Future at the University of Houston - Clear Lake;
prior to that, I spent fifteen years working with the Hawai'i Research
Center for Futures Studies.
Our agenda for the next
two hours is fairly simple: participant introductions; followed
by about forty-five minutes of presentation, in which Ayesha and
I will discuss the "Foresight Fan," and how it can help you design
your foresight approach and use appropriate methods; after which,
we will break up into small working groups, which will work for
forty minutes or so to create a foresight project for a critical
issue using the "Foresight Fan;" ending with about twenty to thirty
minutes for reporting back and questions.
-- we would like to get to know who you are, by spending a few minutes
having each of you introduce yourselves briefly. Tell us your name,
your organizational affiliation, and -- in one sentence! -- the
critical question to which you would most like to apply foresight.
We want to focus on two sets of systems in this presentation: the
set of systems that make up the internal and external environments
in which we work and plan, and the set of method systems that make
When we are teaching
futures research and foresight, we first emphasise the concept of
alternative futures: the idea that "the future" cannot be
predicted, but alternative futures may be imagined, explored,
and assessed for plausibility and probability. These alternative
futures arise out of the trends of change and emerging issues
we can observe in the present; we can explore them by extrapolating
the extent of their growth as well as their potential impacts on
various systems in the macroenvironment.
Foresight thus begins
with the identification -- and monitoring! -- of trends of change
and emerging issues. Insuring that we are considering all possible
sources of change requires a "360-degree view:" we must consider
changes insocietal and individual systems; in ourtechnological
systems; in oureconomic systems; in theenvironmental and
natural systems; and in political and regulatory systems.
Changes in each of these
systems in the macro environment will affect the local working environment
of your profession, the internal environment of your organization,
and any decisions and actions you take with regard to your critical
The figure above graphically
portrays how the impacts of trends and emerging issues in various
systems move inward to structure the opportunities and constraints
affecting the critical decision issue.
For effective change
management, practitioners today may choose among an array of foresight
methods and techniques. These can be loosely grouped according to
the five primary activities of foresight and futures thinking:
- identifying and
- considering and
critiquing the impacts of change;
- imagining alternative
- visioning preferred
- planning, team-building,
and implementing desired change.
monitoring change involves assessment of patterns of change
in the past as well as collecting baseline data on current conditions.
These efforts provide a context within which you can look for ongoing
cycles, trends, or emerging issues of change, such as technological
innovations or value shifts or climatological aberrations.
critiquing the impacts of change means assessing both the
effects that cascade from ongoing change throughout our macro environment,
and also evaluating what impacts those effects have on us: how will
our day-to-day life change? who has been newly advantaged or disadvantaged
by the advent of change? what trade-offs might we face as a result
possible futures follows naturally from the extrapolation
of trends and the consideration of the long-term effects and empacts
of emerging issues of change. Scenario building and analysis serves
two purposes in foresight. One, scenarios of alternative futures
allow us to explore possibilities and uncertainties so that we may
create contingency plans for the surprises the future might fling
our way. Two, exploring alternative possible futures heightens the
creativity and flexibility with which we imagine our preferred future:
understanding potential alternatives helps us create richer visions.
futures -- creating models in our minds of the ideal future
we would like to create -- is the first step in transformational
planning and in leadership. It requires careful explicit articulation
of our long-term ideals and goals, and the values that contribute
to them. The act of visioning is an excellent start to team building
and community building.
and implementing desired change requires, first of all,
a commitment to act. A corollary is a commitment from the highest
levels of the organization to champion actions which contribute
to creating the vision, and supporting the team in finding the resources
to implement the plan which will create their preferred future.
These five separate
activities are interrelated: data and actions flow from one to the
next, and they are most effective when performed in concert, progressively,
and continuously. Once the team has devised the strategies to create
the vision, they must monitor their progress, which in turn means
monitoring the changes they are deliberately creating, and monitoring
emerging issues of change which might either accelerate or constrain
the plans they have made. Thus the five activities link back to
create a full circle of foresight activities, an infinite loop.
Furthermore, as practitioners
we assume that the more stakeholders you involve in all parts of
the process, the more support you will garner for your vision and
any actions required by the plan to create it. Thus team building
via participatory processes, while mentioned explicitly only in
the fifth activity, actually can -- and should -- occur throughout
your foresight activities.
An array of research
approaches, statistical techniques, and group processes exist to
support foresight efforts. Often the difficulty is choosing among
them, and applying them, in a coherent and systematic fashion. This
workshop sorts a variety of documented tools (see Dost, Foresight
in Health, Parts I and II, NHS Executive, Leeds) according to
both their placement on a continuum from "hard" quantitative techniques
to "softer" qualitative and group process techniques, and to their
specific usefulness within each of the five foresight activities.
Some of the tools may be useful across several of the foresight
activities -- this workshop merely presents an initial
roadmap to assist your first foresight projects, with the understanding
that as you become more comfortable with foresight in general and
these techniques in particular, you will find creative ways to apply
Foresight is often called
upon with regard to a particular critical issue. Visualising our
five key activities with regard to the critical issue-and operating
systems map we considered earlier produces the following:
We can now use each
"rib" of the foresight fan as a sort category for our research tools
and techniques. The axis or pivot point of our foresight fan remains
the critical issue or question; next we review the tools available
for each foresight activity vis-a-vis the data available and the
number of stakeholders we wish to involve in the process; and finally,
we allocate our time, staff, and research resources among the methods
we have chosen within each foresight activities.
Due to space limitations,
this merely exemplifies the basic idea of the foresight fan -- over
the next thirty minutes we shall briefly review the different methods
available for use within each "rib" or basic foresight activity;
compare them and offer some criteria for choosing among them; and
finally present three case studies of project design using the fan,
one from outside the health field and two from within it.
and Skills Required
Foresight -- or futures thinking -- is, first and foremost, a transdisciplinary,
systems-science-based approach to considering alternative
possible futures and planning to create a preferred future.
The systems perspective is second only to the emphasis on thinking
about the future. Changes occur as new properties and possibilities
emerge from the complex systems of the natural environment,
of society, and of our technologies. Those changes cascade outward
to affect other systems; our responses are themselves changes which
create answering waves which ripple back through all the systems.
Technological innovations, new policies, programs, and regulations,
or changed societal values can act as strange attractors triggering
emergence of chaotic dynamics within systems. Using
systems approaches such as the models provided by studies of punctuated
equilibrium, complex systems, and chaotic systems, helps us consider
both problems AND prospective policies wholistically.
Also, let us emphasise
what might be obvious to some: data-intensive methods require not
only statistical sophistication and computer literacy, they are
often expensive in terms of staff time as regards data collection
and verification. On the other hand, the "soft" methods also have
some essential requirements in terms of active listening skills,
group process and facilitation skills, and team-building skills.
They can be equally expensive in terms of staff and stakeholder
time engaged in the ongoing process. In either case, the first true
requirement of any successful foresight effort is the presence of
a foresight project or process champion at the upper levels of management.
and Extrapolating Trends of Change
First we must recognize current patterns of change, and anticipate
potential change on the horizon. The "hard" tools used in foresight
for identifying change all involve statistical techniques for identifying
rates of change and patterns of change in data on various sectors
of the micro or macro environments.
here about Time Series Analysis [II.7], Multivariate Data Analysis
[II.17], Life-table Methods [II.18], Data Envelope Analysis [II.39],
are similar to content analysis: trained teams of readers scan a
wide variety of news sources for information suggesting shifts in
values, lifestyles, and environmental patterns, or new inventions
or regulatory regimes or policies. The database created is thus
anecdotal rather than statistical, but often depict potential effects
impacts more richly than statistics alone could. This technique
of looking across a wide variety of disciplines, professions, activities,
and news sources for symptoms of change is called "environmental
scanning" [II.40]. A particular subset of it is "emerging issues
analysis" [II.50] in which scanners search for the beginnings of
trends on the fringes of social issues, in scientific theories challenging
current paradigms, and other unpopular places.
Two group approaches
to scanning include, first, the DELPHI technique [II.49], which
polls groups of experts to elicit their opinions as to what the
emerging issues of change are, and how quickly they are in fact
emerging; and second, QUEST [II.44], which uses "in-house" expertise
in the agency, organization, or community involved, asking participants
what they think the most critical issues of change are, based on
their own knowledge of current events. It uses structured brainstorming
to elicit the soft data.
and Critiquing the Impacts of Change
Ethical change management requires considering and critiquing the
impacts of change -- evaluating how both unintended and intended changes
affect the people, structures, and systems around us. As trend extrapolation,
alternative futures, preferred futures, and planned change strategies
all imply change, critique must occur as an adjunct to each of the
other four critical foresight activities. As might be imagined, several
useful approaches to this critical activity begin with a systems science
about Whole Systems Thinking, or SSM & Rich Pictures, or Learning
Other potential approaches
include assembling groups of stakeholders and repesentatives of
those communities potentially affected, and engaging in Listening
Exercises [II.51] to determine how the groups most likely to be
affected by change evaluate the impacts of given changes on their
lives. If you have established a Learning Organization culture within
your agency, organization, or community, listening exercises would
simply be part of your ongoing processes.
Another approach to
elicit and evaluate potential effects of change is Inayatullah's
Causal Layered Analysis [Web], a post-structural approach which
deconstructs the language and symbol sets used to describe a given
change, working down from the "litany" of cliches commonly used
with regard to the critical issue, through the social causes --
including economic, cultural, and political factors -- past the
worldview and cultural structures that support the existence of
the critical issue, until reaching the deepest symbolic level, of
metaphor and myth. This is a formal structuring of the same sort
of critiques informally accomplished by viewing change and the critical
issue through the lenses of Multiple Ethical and Philosophical Paradigms.
Alternative Possible Futures
Having identified both current trends of change, and emerging issues
which will potentially drive change, and having critiqued their potential
impacts, foresight next requires that we extrapolate those trends
and emerging issues to create scenarios of alternative possible
futures. These scenarios answer the question, "what if?" They help
us explore the conditions we might face in the future, the range of
opportunities and threats. The various mathematical techniques of
extrapolation provide a support that connects the first rib of our
foresight fan -- identifying change -- through the second rib to the
third rib -- imagining alternative futures.
of the simulation models, systems models, and stochastic models
provide trend extrapolation output which highlight the boundaries
of alternative futures.
models, decision making under uncertainty, and morphological analysis.]
In addition, a variety
of tools approach exploration of possible futures through narrative.
Scenario Identification [Web] identifies, collects, and content
analyzes existent scenarios of alternative futures in the social
environment. Scenario Incasting [Web] is a participatory technique
which allows groups to extrapolate specific details relevant to
an identified critical issue, given an array of more general alternative
Several approaches exist
to help researchers and work groups build scenarios suitable to
their planning needs: the "Serious Futures" approach of DEMOS [Web]
assumes exhaustive research into the critical issue's context, and
then uses a complex Issues Matrix [II.43] to generate alternative
scenarios; the Schwartz-GBN [Web] model maximizes the scenarios'
relevance to the issue by limiting the change drivers to those with
greatest potential impact on the issue; the Schultz-Manoa [Web]
model maximizes the degree of difference from present-day conditions
by using at least three trends to stimulate expansive brainstorming;
and Causal Layered Analysis maximizes the mythical and metaphorical
depth of the scenarios produced via a post-structuralist approach.
But no matter what the
approach, the goal is the exploration and critical evaluation of
possible conditions that might obtain, across an array of different
futures, with regard to the critical issue.
Visioning is the normative aspect of foresight; it is the keystone
of planning; it is the heart of leadership. As Clem Bezold puts it,
scenarios are futures for the head; visions are futures for the heart.
Scenarios answer the question, "what if?" and visions answer the question,
"what do we most want?" More specifically, most communities, organizations,
companies, or agencies, are asking, "what is the best that we can
Thus all true visioning
techniques are qualitative and participatory. Senge points out,
in The Fifth Discipline and The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook
[pp. 312-326] that the level of participation within a company or
organization will depend upon the levels of leadership, direction-setting,
and learning capacity within the organization as a whole. As those
levels increase, a leader may go from "telling" employees the vision
["We've got to do this. It's our vision. Be excited about it, or
reconsider your vision for your career here."], to "selling" employees
the vision ["We have the best answer. Let's see if we can get you
to buy in."], to "testing" the vision with employees ["What excites
you about this vision? What doesn't?"], to "consulting" with employees
about the vision ["What vision do members recommend that we adopt?"],
to "co-creating" the vision, in true learning organizations ["Let's
create the future we individually and collectively want."]. This
perspective reflects very pragmatically the realities of what you
might actually be able to do in your organization.
However, if you think
your colleagues are ready to act like a learning organization, a
number of workshop approaches exist to co-creating vision. Weisbord
and Janoff's Future Search Conferences [II.56 and Web] have proven
popular in communities, and have also been widely used in the U.S.A.
for corporate visioning and planning. A use warning: Future Search
requires that all participants in the process not only be stakeholders,
but stakeholders who have an established history with the organization
endeavoring to create the vision.
Warren Ziegler's community
visioning technique is quite straightforward, has no particular
requirements with regard to participants, and is perhaps most notable
because Elise Boulding has adapted it to create the "Imaging the
Future as a World Without Weapons" Workshop, a three-day visioning
process specifically tailored for peace activists. Robert Jungk
and Norbert Mullert developed their "Future Workshops" visioning
approach specifically for marginalized and disempowered communities
which had the desire and energy to create positive change. As it
tackles the challenge of choosing practical strategies for communities
with practically no resources, it is in many ways the ideal pragmatic
approach for any present-day government agency.
All well-designed vision
workshops contain several common elements. For example, most contain
a catharsis exercise, or statement of worst fears for the future.
Second, most approach articulating the vision in stages, perhaps
beginning by brainstorming general characteristics of a preferred
future. Third, most workshops give participants time to fully articulate
their individual visions for the organization, and then merge the
individual visions either into common vision themes, or a common
vision statement. Finally, almost all end with a "mini-plan," some
brainstorming on goals and objectives, allies and stakeholders,
and initial strategies.
Fluent Visioning [Web],
the approach I developed at the Hawai'i Research Center for Future
Studies, contains these common steps to visioning. In addition,
it includes three other activities: a review of current trends of
change and emerging issues; a brief incasting exercise to explore
alternative possible futures; and the specific inclusion of a "past
successes" brainstorm to balance the "deepest fears" discussion
(Weisbord and Janoff include similar balance by their lists of "proudest
prouds" and "sorriest sorries"). We found in our visioning projects
that exercising people's imaginations with an exploration of possibilities
enriched their resulting vision.
Team-building, and Implementing Desired Change
Despite the fact that many visioning processes end with backcasting,
an initial statement of stakeholders, allies, and resources, and a
few suggested strategies, they by no means produce complete, workable
plans. That happens afterwards, as a separate but related process.
What visioning does do is contribute strongly to the creation of team
spirit and a sense of community -- but even this must be nurtured
by commitment and reward mechanisms for initiatives undertaken and
Multi-Criteria Decision Making, Soft Systems, Cross-Impact, or Planning
Strategic Planning as
developed by Ching at Hawai'i [Web] takes a compact, participatory
approach to vision-centered planning: it explicitly explores emerging
change in the external environment; considers changes the organization
has experienced internally; allows space for participants to vision
a preferred future and articulate a mission statement; reviews strengths,
weaknesses, opportunities, and threats; identifies strategic issues
and points of leverage; lists and prioritizes goals; and develops
a detailed action plan for implementation. This participatory planning
workshop seems to include a little bit of everything, but in fact
focusses on issues of implementation: what, who, when, what resources,
what obstacles, and how evaluated.
Here the foresight process
turns in upon itself in an upward spiral: as an organization or
community begins the process of planned and intended change, it
should monitor its own success in attempting to direct change, and
also keep a weather eye open for change sweeping across the horizon.
Thus the cycle begins again with the techniques to identify, observe,
and track change.
Study: State of Hawai'i Office of State Planning
For a non-health-related example of using the foresight fan to design
a complete foresight project, let me tell you the story of Hawai'i's
state foresight project. First, it wasn't designed: it emerged in
increments. Initially, it was an innovative environmental scanning
project, involving various state officials as volunteer scanners,
who would meet once a month to share scan results, discuss the potential
emerging issues, and forward the most significant in a memo to the
governor. The governors generally found this interesting, but weren't
sure exactly what to do with the information.
So the scanning team
came to the Hawai'i Research Center for Futures Studies and asked
what else they could do with their scans. Build scenarios, we replied,
for use in an integrated foresight/planning process. So they asked
for training in scenario building -- a scenario building process
that would let them incorporate consideration of issues strategic
to Hawai'i's development, as identified by public commentary and
focus groups. By this point they had a pretty good grasp of foresight,
and decided that the consideration of possible futures could be
followed by a visioning effort that at its best would culminate
in benchmarking and goal-setting, as a precursor to actual policy-formulation
by the governor.
So we helped them design,
facilitate, and document a visioning process, that even included
a wide variety of stakeholders from around the state, with some
of the people who had been involved in the issues identification
focus groups. It was a wonderful day -- exhausting, but productive
-- and people left feeling really good about the dialogue in which
they had participated.
Why was this an example
of how NOT to build a foresight project? At the structural level,
because -- despite the fact that they WERE the Office of State Planning
-- they were missing a strong objectives identification, strategy
formulation, and resource commitment activity. That is, they had
failed to design implementation into their foresight project: the
fifth rib was empty. Which of course meant the sixth rib never materialized.
Their other over-arching
error was the failure to have identified an enthusiastic champion
of the process. Many people at the upper levels of state government
found the scanning reports interesting, but none thought of them
as critical. The death knell was sounded at the last gubernatorial
election, with the accession to office of a governor who declared
outright that he didn't believe in planning. Needless to say, the
Office of State Planning no longer exists as an entity within the
Executive of the State of Hawai'i.
her case study.]
Think long-range; think in terms of systems; find a process champion;
remember that team-building and group process skills are critical
to ensure maximum stakeholder participation, which will in turn heighten
stakeholder support for any resulting policies. Good luck.