Module 3: Scanning - Presentation

Alternate PDF Version (16 pages, 1.1 MB): 2016-273-presentation-eng.pdf

Alternate PDF Version with notes (27 pages, 1.3MB): 2016-273-presentation-notes-eng.pdf

Horizons Foresight Method

module 3
Summary: Image description

This figure is entitled “Horizons Foresight Method.” See the full description of the figure below in the speaking notes.

SPEAKING NOTES

Guide to Speaking Points:

The following presentation includes a set of speaking points that directly follow the text in the slide.

The deck and speaking points can be used in two ways.

  • As a learning tool to enhance the reader’s foresight literacy
  • As a presentation tool to accompany the facilitation of foresight sessions

The facilitator can be selective when choosing their slides and speaking points to deliver, depending on the needs of the audience.

SLIDE 1

Scanning

The Horizons Foresight Method
Summary: Image description

This figure is entitled “Scanning.” See the full description of the figure below in the speaking notes.

 

Framing:

  • Identify the issue or problem of interest
  • Consider the larger system(s) shaping the issue
  • Prepare a simple domain diagram of what is ”in” or “out” as a guide.
  • Allow it to evolve over the study.

Assumptions:

  • Identify “current assumptions” buried in public dialogue and policy documents
  • Identify key trends people assume are true
  • Summarize key assumptions as a description of the expected future.

Scanning:

  • Scan for weak signals of potentially disruptive changes
  • Conduct interviews and facilitate dialogue to understand the system and develop insights

System Mapping:

  • Identify key elements or nodes in the system
  • Describe key relationships
  • Use a system map to identify where change could occur and direct further scanning for weak signals as needed

Change Drivers:

  • Use insights from scanning to identify change drivers shaping the system
  • Do cascade diagrams to see 2nd to 5th order consequences

Scenarios:

  • Develop scenarios to explore a range of futures
  • Identify potential challenges and discontinuities
  • Test robustness of current assumptions and strategies

Results:

  • Explore policy challenges and opportunities
  • Identify credible assumptions and robust strategies
  • Identify key uncertainties, surprises and emerging issues
  • Better understand how the system or issue could evolve

SPEAKING NOTES

The Horizons Foresight Method – Scanning:

  • This module explains the third step of the Horizons Foresight Method, where foresight practitioners begin to scan for changes in the environment.
  • The main purpose of scanning in foresight is to look for indications of potentially disruptive change. These are called weak signals. At this stage we can also assess relevant trends and forecasts. They help us understand what many would consider the expected future—that is the future that plans are usually built on. When scanning, the main purpose is to look at sources of change that could disrupt that expected future and throw off those plans.
  • Scanning also plays a role in confirming, elaborating and challenging commonly held assumptions.
    • As mentioned in the Assumptions module, often our key assumptions are so ingrained we can’t see them until we are confronted with an alternative. A scanning hit that surprises us (perhaps it suggests a challenge for which we are unprepared or an exciting opportunity) is testing an existing assumption that we have about the future.
  • Scanning is commonly done throughout the foresight process to look for events and context that might add to or revise our understanding of the system.

SLIDE 2

Learning Objectives

  • Understand why and how to scan in foresight
  • Understand how scanning is used in the Horizons Foresight Method

SPEAKING NOTES

Learning Objectives

    • To better understand why and how to scan in foresight
    • To understand how scanning is used in the Horizons Foresight Method

SLIDE 3

The Purpose of Scanning

  • Thoughtful scanning is the foundation of foresight.
  • Scanning is the process of gathering information from a range of sources to:
    • better understand the system and the factors that may shape it
    • identify weak signals that may lead to significant change
    • build evidence to use at each step in the foresight process

SPEAKING NOTES

The Purpose of Scanning

  • Insightful scanning is the foundation of foresight.
    • We all have mental models of the future that we bring to the study. Scanning is a way of gathering evidence to refine those models.
  • Scanning is the process of gathering information from a range of sources to:
    • better understand the system and the factors that may shape it
    • identify insights and weak signals in the present that may lead to significant change in the future
    • build evidence and information
  • Scanning for weak signals must be distinguished from searching for information. In searching, the research scope is fairly well defined, often based on an analyst’s particular interests and expertise on a topic. Scanning looks for new insights outside an analyst’s existing mental model. In scanning, the foresight practitioner does not necessarily know what they are looking for, hence the scope is broad, often shedding light on previously uncharted unknowns.

SLIDE 4

Look Beyond the Expected Future

cone of plausibility
Summary: Image description

This figure is entitled “Look Beyond the Expected Future.” See the full description of the figure below in the speaking notes.

 

  • Organizations need to prepare for the expected future. But many futures are plausible.
  • Scanning for weak signals identifies low probability, high impact events that are often ignored. Foresight explores how they may interact to help us anticipate surprises.
  • Adapted from Original: Charles Taylor, Army War College

SPEAKING NOTES

The Cone of Plausibility - Scanning for Weak Signals

The cone of plausibility is a useful concept that illustrates several important ideas in scanning and foresight.

  • Looking at the diagram … the present is in the middle. On the left is the past. The future is on the right.
  • First, let's look at the past. This is the realm of data and evidence. It is important to note that all data reside in the past. There are no data on the future. Data help us understand the present.
  • Notice the line called the "expected future." The expected future is the future that many people consciously or unconsciously expect to happen.
  • It consists of people’s interpretations of facts, beliefs, assumptions, trends and ideas that are thought to be important to the topic under discussion.
  • Often, these perceptions are part of, and shaped by, everyday conversation. They shape our thinking and analysis but may not have been critically examined.
  • Generally, our perceptions of the expected future assume the future will be familiar. It will be like the recent past or an extrapolation of the recent past.
  • One approach to thinking about the future is to take data and our understanding of the past and project it into the future (i.e. forecasting) using a range of tools from simple extrapolation to complex simulations and even informed expert judgments.
  • Some aspects of the expected future do occur. At its best, the expected future correctly identifies the high probability, high impact developments that are coming at us. We need to think about them and be prepared for them. We look fairly silly if we don't prepare for the obvious.
  • However, more often, the expected future does not occur exactly as anticipated. We are caught off guard by some unexpected development. Usually, it is something we were not paying attention to, or have not thought through, that causes the surprise.
  • At a time of dramatic social, economic and technological change, forecasting tools don't take into account that many dimensions of underlying systems are changing.
  • Drawing conclusions based on extrapolation of data may give us an incomplete picture of the future.
  • Looking at the diagram … on the right are a range of plausible futures, including the expected future. We could find ourselves living in any one or combination of potential futures going forward.
  • The edges of the cone delimit the zone of plausibility. Plausibility is determined by data, evidence, logic and judgement. This may bring in personal biases, but the foresight process aims to examine these biases to assess plausibility.
  • Remember, we don’t have data from the future, and extrapolation models are incomplete in helping us understand plausible futures – so what do we look for? We scan for weak signals.
  • A weak signal is a sign that change may be underway. Something different is starting to happen and could have a disruptive impact on the system.
  • For example, consider an expected future based on the extrapolation of past population data: it excludes the potential impacts of future medical technologies. The 3D printing of organs (a weak signal) could potentially extend life and disrupt our current expectations of how the system would evolve.
  • One test of whether or not something is a weak signal is when people say things like, “if that happens again, we will be out of business” or “we will have to change our plan.”
  • The interesting question is why are we surprised? Why did we not see a disruptive change coming? Because we are not challenging our perceptions of what is important to pay attention to.
  • It’s not hard to imagine slight changes from the expected future (e.g. the decline in fertility rates), where we have a good sense of how the change could directly impact the system (we know enough about the system to see connections and how it might behave).
  • However, as we move closer to the edge of plausibility, we are moving into the unknown. We may not understand the weak signal and how it could disrupt the system. There are levels of unknown: unknown to us, unknown to experts in our domain, unknown to everyone. We tend to ignore or discount weak signals (at our peril) because we don’t see the pathway by which they will impact the system.
  • Good scanning looks for possible disruption across the zone of plausibility. We do this by scanning broadly.

One final note: in organizations the priority is on high probability, high impact developments.

  • People who do the important scanning at the edge of plausibility are often thought to be crazy or wasting their time. They often perform this function without recognition or support.
  • Learning to do scanning and foresight in an organization often requires cultural change to embrace disruptive ideas.

SLIDE 5

When to Scan

  • Scanning happens at different phases of the foresight process:
    • Beginning: broad scanning to understand the system
    • Middle: more focused scanning to understand what is changing
    • End: specific scanning to find evidence to support or challenge the elements of the foresight study

SPEAKING NOTES

When to Scan

  • Scanning happens at different phases of the foresight process:
    • Broad scanning is undertaken at the beginning of the process to better understand the system under study.
      • Some initial questions to consider during this phase include: What are the boundaries of this topic? What are the current issues? What are some key assumptions?
    • As the foresight practitioner develops a better understanding of the system, more focused scanning is undertaken to explore what is changing, novel and may have significant impacts on the system as a whole.
    • As the project winds down, specific scanning is conducted to find more evidence that supports or challenges the elements of the foresight study, as needed.
    • Throughout the foresight process, it is important to remain attentive to new information that may support or challenge key assumptions.
    • At any point in the scanning process, new sources of change or new uncertainties may surface that had not been previously considered.

SLIDE 6

What to Scan for

  • Weak signal: a sign that a disruptive change could be underway.
  • 1 or 2 incidents or data points indicating that a change could be starting or underway and that it could be significant for the system under study
  • Examples:
    • Russia wants to expand energy infrastructure and sales to China
    • Russia is building new special economic zones to expand ties to the far east
  • Insight: inference that fundamental change is or could be underway; how it could generate structural or system-level change and why it could be significant for the system.
  • Weak signals or expert opinions support the insight
  • Example: Russian geo-economic strategy is shifting to Asia 

SPEAKING NOTES

What to Scan for

Weak signal: a sign that a disruptive change could be underway.

  • A weak signal involves the identification of one or two incidents or data points indicating that a change could be starting or underway and that it could be significant for the system under study.
  • Examples:
    • Russia wants to expand energy infrastructure and sales to China
    • Russia is building new special economic zones to expand ties to the far east
  • In all cases, there is evidence of weak signals of a change that may be significant to the system under study. Areas of possible impact may be suggested at this stage, but it is not necessary to perform a full analysis.

Insight: inference that fundamental change is or could be underway; how it could generate structural or system-level change and why it could be significant for the system.

  • This is a more thoughtful reflection on the changes being observed.
  • An insight draws on some evidence and considers potential consequences of the change through conversations with others. (At Horizons, the cascade diagram process is used to brainstorm both the broad impacts and the potential consequences further into the future.) Example: Russian geo-economic strategy is shifting to Asia
  • Usually weak signals and/or expert opinions are used to support insights.

SLIDE 7

Characteristics of Useful Weak Signals and Insights

  • Significant – it could cause significant, disruptive change to occur in the system if it happens
  • Novel – it is new to the audience or has not been factored into their thinking yet.
  • Plausible – it is possible to describe one or more pathways through which it could change the system
  • Timely – it is likely to occur within the timeframe of the study.

SPEAKING NOTES

Characteristics of Useful Weak Signals and Insights

  • Significant – it could cause significant, disruptive change to occur in the system if it happens.
    • This could be a very large change for one domain (e.g. the manufacturing sector)
    • Or it could be a change with broad, sweeping implications, (e.g. across STEEG categories: Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Governance)
  • Novel – it is new to the audience or has not been factored into their thinking yet.
  • Plausible – it is possible to describe one or more pathways through which it could change the system (more on next slide).
  • Timely – it is likely to occur within the timeframe of the study.
    • At Horizons, consideration is given to changes that are likely to have an impact in the next 15 years.

SLIDE 8

Build an Insight

building an insight
Summary: Image description

This figure is entitled “Build an Insight.” See the full description of the figure below in the speaking notes.

SPEAKING NOTES

Build and Insight

This slide describes how to turn good weak signals into an insight:

  • As information is gathered about weak signals, it may be blended with other knowledge about the system (facts, evidence, etc.) to identify where some significant new shifts are or could emerge—this is the insight. Ideally the focus is on plausible, disruptive change that is under-discussed and could occur in the next 10–15 years. These are the 4 criteria (mentioned on the previous slide):
    • Plausibility: The change should be considered relatively plausible if all the weak signals and system knowledge add up, although neither a guarantee nor a long shot. Remember that plausibility is determined by data, evidence, logic and judgement. This may bring in personal biases, but the foresight process aims to validate or challenge these biases to assess plausibility.
    • Novelty: The change must be novel—it’s a potential change that decision-makers and mainstream media aren’t talking about, or have not fully considered.
    • Significance: The implications suggest some significant impacts to the system under study, which are either disruptive or suggest a discontinuity.
    • Timely: The implications will not necessarily be seen next year, but fall approximately over the next 10–15 years.

Helpful hints for developing insights:

  • Put insights in context: An insight may be new to you (personal insight), new to your audience or new to the world.
  • Know the audience: Insights can be well-researched, but new to senior policy decision-makers.
  • Validate insights: Triangulate with others to determine how new the insight is and how others see the topic.

SLIDE 9

How to Scan

  • Interview knowledgeable people, engage in insightful discussions, listen to media (e.g. Ted Talks), read (reports, books, news, social media).
  • Surprise comes from unexpected areas. Scanners should look beyond their system at issues not directly related to their subject
  • Scanning can be organized into a taxonomy that works for the scanner (e.g. STEEG – social, technological, economic, environmental and governance issues).

SPEAKING NOTES

How to Scan

  • Interview knowledgeable people, engage in insightful discussions, listen to media (e.g. Ted Talks), read (reports, books, news, social media). Informal discussions and targeted interviews with experts and remarkable people are a good way to quickly identify what is important and isolate signals of change from the usual noise.
    • Additional tips about sources:
      • Talk to people with a diverse range of knowledge and experience of the system
      • Review a range of sources - from mainstream media (e.g. newspapers) to fringe sources (e.g. blogs)
      • Review futures/foresight research and insight databases
      • Use social media or other knowledge-sharing tools to see what people are talking about
      • Take advantage of artificial intelligence to cut down the time (i.e. smartphone newsfeed apps)
    • Scanners should explore beyond their system and regular information sources, as surprise comes from unexpected places. An event that would surprise the general public is often foreseeable by an expert somewhere.
    • Scanning can be organized into a taxonomy that works for the scanner (e.g. STEEG – social, technological, economic, environmental, and governance issues). This is a systematic way to give breadth to a scanning activity.

SLIDE 10

Where to Scan

where to scan
Summary: Image description

This figure is entitled “Where to Scan.” See the full description of the figure below in the speaking notes.

 

SPEAKING NOTES

Where to Scan

  • This chart helps explain where it may be useful to scan for weak signals. The purpose is to try to identify the source of potential change before it is well established.
  • The occurrence and awareness of an event is presented here in the form of an adoption curve (e.g. adoption of new technologies normally follows this pattern).
    • The vertical axis represents the number of incidents and the degree of public awareness. The horizontal axis represents time.
    • The main task is to capture signs of a change before they are well established—when there are only a few indications available.
    • Front-line workers and people knowledgeable about the system are good sources.
    • As there are more instances, the change starts to get attention; it may be discussed in social media.
    • By the time it has reached mainstream news, it is an emerging issue, a subject of wider awareness. Finally, it becomes a subject of public policy. At this point, the opportunity to effectively respond to the issue may be more limited.
    • Catching a potential issue when it is still a weak signal provides an advanced opportunity to consider options.

SLIDE 11

Role of the Scanner

  • Identify and clarify what is changing or new in the system.
  • Distill the key or useful information from primary sources, wherever they may be:
    • Don’t warehouse information or bring dozens of documents to the table.
    • The goal is to be as succinct and strategic as possible.
  • Value is added by extracting the salient points, facts, data sources and graphics to enable others to gather the gist of the source without having to sift through tons of information.
    • Some documents contain many weak signals and insights. Pull out the key ones.

SPEAKING NOTES

Role of the Scanner

To summarize, the role of the scanner in foresight is:

  • To identify and clarify what is changing or new in the system.
  • To distill the key or useful information from primary sources, wherever they may be:
    • Don’t warehouse information or bring dozens of documents to the table.
    • The goal is to be as succinct and strategic as possible.
  • Value is added by extracting the salient points, facts, data sources and graphics to enable others to gather the gist of the source without having to sift through tons of information (e.g. re-reading a whole document or watching a long video).
  • Some documents contain many weak signals and insights. Pull out the key ones.

SLIDE 12

Why Horizons is Cautious About Trends

Definition: A trend is a long-term, continuous change

The concept of trend does not have a large role in the Horizons Foresight Method for three reasons:

  • People take the concept very casually. Everything is a trend or trending. It is hard to distinguish the significant from the fad.
  • A significant trend has a lot of data to support it. It is probably well known and has already been factored into decision-making. It can help define the expected future.
  • Calling something a trend seems to give the statement undue importance. At a practical level, it can be difficult for a group to see beyond the seeming certainty of data. At a time when the underlying system is transforming most trends are also changing and uncertain, as a result all trends should be treated as assumptions.

Horizons systematically examines a “trend” and treats it as a weak signal, insight or driver - if it has a strategically useful impact on the system.

SPEAKING NOTES

A definition: A trend is a long-term, continuous change*

The Horizons Foresight Method is cautious about the use of the word trends for three reasons:

  • People take the concept very casually. Everything is a trend. It is hard to distinguish the significant from the fad.
  • A significant trend has a lot of data to support it. It is probably well known and has already been factored into decision-making. It can help define the expected future.
  • The term gives a statement an undue importance. At a practical level a group can be so overwhelmed by the scientific certainty of data that they are unable to see beyond the expected future. People think because it is a trend it must be important. It must be a certain. At a time when the underlying system is transforming most trends are also changing and uncertain, therefore it is safer to treat a trend as an assumption.

Trends do play a role in some foresight methods. The Horizons Foresight Method takes a different approach. There is a process to filter statements for their significance to the system.

It is better to treat the trend as an assumption, insight or a driver, that way the essential uncertainty is acknowledged.

* Peter Bishop, Strategic Foresight Training Material

SLIDE 13

Scanning Tools and Resources

Scanning databases:

  • Shaping Tomorrow, Trend Watching, Fast Company, McKinsey Insights
  • Social media – Twitter, YouTube
  • Major news services – NY Times, Financial Times, The Economist, etc

Tools for organizing and gathering insights:

SPEAKING NOTES

Scanning Tools and Resources

Scanning databases:

  • Shaping Tomorrow, Trend Watching, Fast Company, McKinsey Insights
  • Social media – Twitter, YouTube
  • Major news services – NY Times, Financial Times, The Economist, etc

Tools for organizing and gathering insights:

  • Pearl Trees - http://www.pearltrees.com/
  • Paperli - http://paper.li/
  • Flipboard - www.flipboard.com
  • There are a number of scanning services (some free, some have a fee) that are quite helpful. For example, Shaping Tomorrow draws on a community of futurists around the world and the scanning results are quite good.
  • Competition in the news industry has meant that major news services like the NY Times are getting a lot better at catching early indicators as well.
  • Pearltrees is a bookmarking tool with a social media angle. Users save articles in files viewable to an online community, and these files are searchable and linked to other users with related content. This provides a shortcut to places on the web you may not have looked. Paperli and Flipboard are tools that can be used to gather articles of interest that could be sources of insight.

The next module will describe the next step of the Horizons Foresight Method, which is about visualizing systems.

SLIDE 14

Information

Policy Horizons Canada
Horizons de politiques Canada
www.horizons.gc.ca

2018-09-12