There are a range of futures methods available to use. The links below will take to you information about methods that have been organised using the Generic Foresight Process, developed by Dr Joseph Voros. Joe describes the model helps to identify and separate out the stages that precede decision making about possible strategic options - that is, the strategic thinking hase of strategy development. The model highlights the need to use four stages, each with its own methods, in strategy development:
- input methods (what is happening out there?),
- analytical methods (what seems to be happening?),
- interpretive methods (but…what’s really happening?), and
- prospective methods (what might happen?).
Only if each of these four stages are considered in the development of strategy can we begin to say that we have considered the future. Most strategy involves environmental scanning, most involves analysis, and most involves interpretation or contextualising the information analysed for the particular organisation. But…most strategy work – at least in universities – does not yet include the prospective step in any systematic and continuing way.
It is the combination of input, analysis, interpretation and prospection that helps to build a foresight capacity. Using one method on its own – without a futures framework in place – may be useful in the short term. Many organisations and universities do environmental scanning, but the focus is often mainstream rather than the periphery, where future trends emerge. I know many people in universities who have picked up a book on scenario planning, followed the steps, and run a successful process. Using these methods in isolation will probably be interesting and challenging, but will contribute little to the building of an organisational foresight capacity.
Choosing A Futures Method
The choice of methods is pretty much a personal thing, but you need to be conscious of both why you prefer certain methods, and what methods will be useful in a university or organisational setting. Futures practitioners need to build up a toolbox of methods that suit both the context they are working in, and the purpose of the particular activity being undertaken.
For example, I like scenario planning, which is a prospective method for exploring the future, because it is quite structured in its approach, yet flexible enough to be adapted to suit particular contexts.
I also like Causal Layered Analysis as an interpretive method, since it is more exploratory in terms of allowing folks to drill down and think a bit more deeply than the often superficial ‘litany’ we encounter in everyday life. Both methods have structure - which is important for my brain – which ensures that outcomes can be achieved, but both can be used in ways that rely on participants in workshops or activities to provide content. That is, the way I use these methods means that there are no agendas or pre-conceived notions in their use. Discussions held during workshops need to drive outcomes, rather than the other way around. This, then, is an inductive approach - to see what emerges during a workshop or activity and only then work out what needs to happen next.
Practitioners also need to continuously consider how they can contribute to the development and strengthening of futures methodology by adapting and improving their preferred methods based on experience and their own learnings. For example, I am presently working on seeing how integral futures approaches might be integrated into scenario planning processes. It is also important not to become wedded to a method so that it is applied uncritically. The best futures practitioners are constantly ‘checking in’ to make sure that the choice of method is appropriate to the context and that the method is actually working in practice.
Resources on Futures Methods
Sohail Inayatullah, in his book Questioning the Future: Methods and Tools for Organizational and Societal Transformation, gives a good overview of the types of methods available to use in futures processes. Richard Slaughter has a book entitled Futures Tools and Techniques. Futuring: The Exploration of the Future by Edward Cornish includes a section on methods which might be useful. And, the AC/UNU (American Council for United Nations University) Millennium Project’s Futures Research Methodology is a comprehensive overview (although you need to buy this one through their website).