Strategic Foresight Tools for Planning and Policy

Strategic Foresight Tools for Planning and Policy

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3473-1.ch056
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Today, companies can no longer assume that the past will be a good predictor of the future; Those that fail to prepare for radically new possibilities may face sudden irrelevance. Strategic Foresight, aka, Futures thinking, provides a structured approach enabling people and organizations to overcome cognitive biases and think more realistically about change. It helps to uncover blind spots, imagine radically different futures, and improve decision-making. Climate disruption, artificial intelligence, and automation are quickly transforming the landscape for business and sustainability. This chapter will review the Strategic Foresight tools used to embed long-term strategic thinking and planning concerning policy and strategy.
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Many people in organizations believe they can foresee developments in their industry or sector. Yet, the most critical threats or greatest opportunities often emerge in other industries or sectors. Brand new trends, developments, or phenomena can emerge in adjacent fields or in society at large. Although in the beginning they may seem disconnected, they are often the drivers of change that will eventually affect one's own future, in dramatic ways.

Organizations from both the private and public sectors must improve strategic decision making to succeed in the challenging environment of today to overcome emerging complex problems, for success in an increasingly uncertain future. Strategic Foresight enables organizations to envision a range of possible future environments. Scenario-based planning then enables organizations to develop an adaptive strategy for success as the actual future unfolds.

.Major corporate companies have been leveraging the power of Foresight for years. During the oil crisis of the late 1960s, Shell altered its strategy and successfully propelled itself to the top of the industry, a move credited to the use of scenario planning. Today, organizations like Intel, Ford, and Disney have joined Shell in employing futurists to leverage foresight tools for organization-wide strategy development and innovation.

Most recently, Foresight has emerged as a key instrument for the development and implementation of forward-looking research and innovation policies. Some activities show an interesting mix of approaches combining three types of elements: prospective studies of long-term opportunities and alternatives, participatory networking, and policy orientation

Strategic Foresight is well-established in many advanced economies, including the European Union, Japan, and Singapore. Among the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), Foresight programs at the government level are increasingly common.

Moreover, Strategic Foresight is about improving a leader’s decision making and their ability to implement change. The practice of Strategic Foresight affects the behaviors of planning goal setting and decision-making.

Strategic Foresight enables organizations to envision a range of possible future environments. Scenario-based planning then enables organizations to develop an adaptive strategy for success as the actual future unfolds.

This paper will examine the Strategic Foresight and Scenario Planning.


Strategic Foresight is a branch of strategic thinking, which have long been practiced in military, politics and business management for as long as the disciplines existed (Kuosa T. 2016).

The beginnings of strategic foresight military planning, strategic study and planning can be considered one of the central branches of politics and political theory. Niccolo Machiavelli can be considered as one of the first modern political strategists.

Strategic foresight was held in high esteem in Sun Tzu’s book “Art of War” when he wrote, “Foreknowledge enables a wise general to achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men”.

The use of Strategic Foresight and Scenarios, in particular, to explore the future goes back to the work of Herman Kahn at the RAND Corporation in the 1950s. Kahn used scenarios to investigate different military strategies for engaging the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He became known for communicating about the future through stories told in the future.

Scenarios have been famously used to guide government policy and plans. In 1991-1992, the Republic of South Africa engaged a team from RDS to help them envision the future of RSA post-apartheid. Named after the resort where the exercise took place, four Mont Fleur scenarios were developed. The team then reverse engineered (or backcasted in futurists' terms) the decisions required along the way to achieve the future state most preferred by all stakeholders.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Strategic Foresight: Also known as Futures Studies, is discipline organizations use to gather and process information about their future operating environment. This information can include, for example, trends and developments in their political, economic, social, technological, and legal environments

Lame Duck: An outgoing politician is an elected official whose successor has already been elected or will be soon. The official is often seen as having less influence with other politicians due to the limited time left in office.

Scenario Planning: Also called scenario thinking or scenario analysis, is a strategic planning method that some organizations use to make flexible long-term plans. It is in large part an adaptation and generalization of classic methods used by military intelligence.

U Process: Developed by Otto Scharmer to provide a language for exploring different ways of being in the world. To transform your habitual ways of doing things you have to see them differently with an open mind and open heart. At a point of quiet, deep reflection where we become totally focused on being present and available to our intuition or inner voice.

Backcasting: A planning method that starts with defining a desirable future and then works backwards to identify policies and programs that will connect that specified future to the present. The fundamentals of the method were outlined by John B. Robinson from the University of Waterloo in 1990.

Wild Cards: In futurology, future research, horizon scanning, and foresight, wild cards are low-probability, high-impact events. This concept may be introduced into anticipatory decision-making activity in order to increase the ability of organizations and governments to adapt to surprises arising in turbulent (business) environments.

Horizon Scanning: A systematic process that serves as an “early warning system” to inform decision-makers about possible future opportunities and threats. It identifies technologies, innovations, and trends with the potential to cause future disruptions, both positive and negative.

Black Swan: An event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that would be extremely difficult to predict.

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