Scanning and Foresight

Process graphic. The past. Now. The future.

We anticipate emerging policy challenges and opportunities in a rapidly changing and complex world. Through scanning and foresight we monitor and explore social, economic, environmental, and technological changes in Canada and around the world. We then look at how these changes may come together in the future.

Each year we examine a theme or set of related topics. The results of this work are communicated through our MetaScan, foresight projects as well as other publications. These help federal organizations to take a holistic, longer-term approach while they are dealing with their short-term priorities.

What is Scanning and Foresight?

  • Scanning identifies changes in the domestic and international environments that could affect government policy and programs.
  • Foresight explores how these changes may evolve and interact to create new policy challenges and opportunities.

It can be challenging for organizations to address longer-term policy issues when faced with many pressing short-term priorities. We use these processes to help in that regard. We use them to identify issues that could shape the policy agenda over the longer term.

We are not trying to predict the future, but to explore the range of plausible futures that may emerge. This information can be used by federal organizations to develop policies and strategies that mitigate threats and take advantage of opportunities.

We are experimenting with scanning and foresight processes. Our current process is designed for a policy environment where the focus is on testing assumptions, understanding the system and identifying emerging challenges and surprises.   

Current process:

  • Assumptions
    • Interviews and reading to frame and understand the problem
    • Track core assumptions to test
  • Scanning
    • Identify insights/weak signals that change is occurring
    • Assess relevant trends
    • Elaboration of commonly-held assumptions
  • System mapping
    • Identify key elements in the system
    • Describe key relationships
  • Change drivers
    • Describe change drivers shaping the system
    • Influence maps of second and third order consequences
    • Preliminary examination of the interaction of drivers
  • Scenarios
    • Scenarios to explore range of futures
    • Identify potential challenges and discontinuities
    • Testing for robust assumptions and strategies
  • Products
    • Credible assumptions and key uncertainties
    • Policy challenges
    • Emerging issues
    • Data needs