I wrote a post recently about how much I didn't like being asked for #foresight case studies and examples. Then I had a conversation on a listserv where I was told that people have a right to know that foresight 'works' before they sign on the dotted line. Okay. And then, to my chagrin, I ended up writing two case studies for publication. Talk about eating my words. But I still think I'm right, but right for me in my context, in my work with smaller organisations and individuals. We all know that foresight is a cognitive capacity. Running a good foresight process needs to not only produce good outcomes but to also shift ways of thinking about the future to ensure the outcomes are 'sticky'. I think my problem is that we are focusing on the outcomes = proof of value and not as much about mindshifts = proof of value.
The latter is not easily assessed and therein lies the problem, particularly for organisations still obsessed with data and evidence as the basis for decision making. I always say that if someone's brain hurts when using foresight then I have achieved one of my KPIs - but I can't measure that KPI in a conventional sense because there's no data, nothing is measurable empirically. It's a felt KPI not an observable KPI, and I rely not on data but on the person telling me about their experience.
Success in this work for me comes not only from demonstrating that a process has been run and good and valuable outcomes have been achieved, although I acknowledge that these kinds of success measures are what is required in some places. Success for me also comes from seeing the glimmer in someone's eyes when the foresight light bulb goes on, when I know that person 'gets' it, when I know then that their thinking has changed and that they will never think in the same way about the future again. That's a felt KPI.
But not many people would be satisfied with felt KPIs in the conventional strategy world. People with open minds who can think beyond data to understand the value of challenging assumptions and beliefs that may not be relevant or useful in the future are rare. Even rarer are people who are ready to take a leap of faith, recognising that the value of foresight is only apparent in hindsight. And who are ready to give foresight the time it needs to embed and for value to emerge. Who appreciate the long term view alongside the short term imperatives. Who want to think differently all the time, not just during one project.
In an integral sense, we need success measures focused in the Left Hand quadrants as well the Right Hand quadrants that reflect futures processes that need to happen in each quadrant.
I provide services in the Upper Right and Lower Left to help people change they way they think about change and the future - by having an impact in the Upper Left. Of course, all good futurists and foresight practitioners seek to do this with their work so I'm not identifying anything new. We just lack success measures and proof of validity that emerge from the Left Hand quadrants, from the internal consciousness and worldviews and organisational cultures, as well as from the Upper Right where success of projects and processes can be empirically measured. Evaluation needs to cover all four quadrants.
Foresight processes and on their own aren't guaranteed to generate a shift in how people think about the future. Good processes on any scale can demonstrate that valuable outcomes can emerge from foresight work. But is there a guarantee that good outcomes will be sustainable without that shift in thinking? I don't know the answer to that yet, but more and more I think the field needs to be viewing proof not only in terms of case studies and best practice but also in terms of felt KPIs, that demonstrate intangible shifts in thinking. Both are needed to give the impact of foresight its longevity.