1. To build foresight literacy in general and to explain the Horizons Foresight Method in particular. As foresight research is still relatively new in the Canadian government, this guide was written in part to address a gap in foresight literacy among government analysts.1 It will address how foresight research differs from other social science research methods and how foresight findings could complement other knowledge currently informing the policymaking process. The primary focus, however, is on understanding the foresight method practised at Horizons. It further clarifies the purpose of Horizons’ foresight studies and describes how analysts can use the findings in their own work. We believe incorporating more foresight thinking into the government policy-making process could lead to more robust policies.
2. To build foresight capacity within Horizons, the federal government and other organizations. This guide is also a facilitation toolkit for staff at Horizons and others interested in practising the Horizons Foresight Method (or parts of it) in their own organizations. For those new to foresight, the manual provides a detailed description of the concepts and processes. The manual is also modular, so facilitators can build their own events. They can select the presentations, facilitation activities, handouts and posters they want and then customize the package to suit the time available, number of participants, topic and foresight experience of the group. Facilitation design takes time. By providing detailed steps for facilitation and addressing foresight learning goals (such as how to define a weak signal), we aim to give foresight facilitators some starting material to help them plan. For experienced facilitators especially, this should allow more time to explore the subject matter that may be generated: to consider questions like “what kind of assumptions do I think participants might generate?” and “what system elements are they likely to identify?” Horizons analysts in particular need to be able to handle a variety of subject matter, ready for a conversation about, for example, labour markets, energy or governance. Subject matter familiarity, while not always essential, helps facilitators draw out participants’ aha moments.
For readers simply interested in building some foresight literacy and knowledge of the Horizons Foresight Method, we suggest reading the overviews on their own. They introduce the reader to core concepts in foresight and summarize activities used at Horizons without getting into specifics of workshops. For more detail, consult the foresight presentations and speaking notes, which were also written as a conceptual guide to the Horizons Foresight Method.
For readers interested in developing their scanning and foresight capacity (and perhaps that of their colleagues), we suggest reading either the full manual or the relevant modules in entirety. While most analysts will not have the mandate or capacity to deliver a full foresight study, they can leverage a few activities in the guide to great benefit. In particular, the assumptions, scanning and systems modules offer ways to inject a little foresight activity, even for those with little experience with foresight or facilitation.
1 Readers interested in learning more about the field of foresight generally (beyond the Horizons Foresight Method) might consider the following books: The Art of the Long View (Schwartz), Futuring: The Exploration of the Future(Cornish), Thinking about the Future: Guidelines for Strategic Foresight (Bishop and Hines), 4 Steps to the Future(Richard A. K. Lum), and Foresight Infused Strategy (Maree Conway). In a government context, some other online foresight guides include The FOR-LEARN Online Foresight Guide(link is external) (European Commission), The GCPSE Foresight: The Manual (link is external)(UNDP), and The Futures Toolkit(link is external) (UK government).