Thinking Ahead: Using Strategic Foresight

Article 5 min
Watch this video to understand how and why strategic foresight is beneficial to the services.

In today's information environment, it's vital to adapt, evolve and have the passion, smarts, creativity and vision to look beyond what's current. Strategic foresight is a future problem-solving framework. It's going beyond commander’s intent for a current situation, and designing scenarios as solutions to that problem and beyond. Strategic Foresight identifies the drivers of change and analyzes them to form the desirable outcome. This way of thinking is vital to maintain an edge over competitors.

To explain this simply, suppose you are looking at an intersection in a busy city. Traffic is safely flowing. But what will this intersection look like going forward? What technology will exist? How will this affect your team? The organization? The community? To make sure this intersection is safe in the future, use strategic foresight. The process looks like this:

Framing is step one. Identify the opportunity or problem. Think: what will this intersection look like 10 or 20 years from now? What will traffic flows look like? What will vehicles look like? How will changes make things better? Or worse? Framing and asking the right questions, will help you get to better outcomes.

Scanning comes next. Collect information about the systems involved, the history, trends, analysis and context. Think: What safety measures exist? How many accidents happen here and at what time of day are they occurring? What needs to be sustained and what will become outdated? What will the projected population growth be? Empathize with your publics and other primary stakeholders being impacted by the problem. During this step, scan for the signals of change. Scanning requires insights. Look at futurists, think tanks and research from academia, industry and military leaders.

Forecasting is coming up with alternative futures and describing the baseline needs for the organization to thrive. At this point, identify potential drivers and uncertainties. Which scenario is the safest or the most cost effective for vehicles and/or pedestrians? Which scenario means our organization will be around, or no longer needed? Think of this as coming up with multiple courses of action, from best to worst-case scenarios. This takes creativity and imagination.

Step four is visioning. Visioning is choosing a preferred future, predicting the implications of forecasts and envisioning desired outcomes. How will your vision adapt for the human variables like pedestrians? What will happen if driverss don't respond in the way you intended and their needs collide with your preferred future? Think about people and what they will be doing in the future and what it will take to make them happy. Think about the best possible outcome for your organization's future. 

Planning comes next. Strategize and organize to achieve the vision by coming up with relevant options, just as you would for any other mission. How will you get funding to change how the intersection flows? How will you inform the community that changes for this intersection are coming? How will you measure the impact of those changes? Make sure there are measures to evaluate your progress and determine what success looks like.

The last step is acting. Implementing the plan and communicate the results of the actions you take. Continue monitoring the safety of the intersection. Create lines of effort and get started. Get to work. Without action you're just imagining with no action.

In each step of the strategic foresight process, keep in mind the 4 Ps: probable, possible, preventable and preferred futures. Think: how to analyze it, how to realize it, how to avoid it and how to obtain it.

These steps can be used in conjunction with any planning process. As communication professionals, we always want to be thinking ahead. This intersection of critical thinking and planning will keep the services innovating, relevant, adaptable and moving in the correct direction.

To learn more go to Foresight University.

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