5 Tips to ensure your foresight project has impact

How do you ensure that your foresight project really has an impact? In future studies and foresight endeavours, creative thinking and imagination are central. Often, the process itself provides insight to the people directly involved in the project. But how do you transfer your results into the rest of your organization? Research has shown that for many people it is difficult to make the step from future thinking to concrete applications or decisions for their business*.

All methods of foresight serve as a tool and not an end in itself. A foresight project is conducted to make strategic choices, to better understand a complex subject or to develop innovative concepts. Getting inspiration alone is not sufficient for a successful project.

In this blog, I give you five tips to ensure that you can have a real impact with your foresight activity.

Reserve time and money to distribute and communicate your results and use your tools
Ensure that the research question is well defined
Choose the right method
Involve the right stakeholders (and timely)
Too big for the desk drawer


1. Reserve time and money to distribute and communicatie your results and use your tools

A common ‘pitfall’ in foresight activities is that 80% of the time and budget are spent on making products. For example, the development of scenarios, a trend presentation or a report. Too little time and money is set aside for disseminating the results and to ensure that they are useful for people who were not directly involved in the project. This can cause people who have not been involved in the process wonder “what use the foresight exercise is” or “what this projectgroup has been doing all this time.”

Make sure you deliver useful products and have enough time to put the tools you have developed to use in various departments of your organization. Or develop tools that people can easily use themselves.

  1. Ensure that the research question is well defined

Defining the research question is a crucial component for a successful project, but is often something that too little time is spent on. Not surprising, as it can take time to really formulate a sharp and appropriate research question. A good research question for a foresight project is relevant and recognizable to the organization, but also challenges to break the current (known) ideas and gain new insights.

If no clear research question is formulated, it is difficult to determine at the end of a project whether the right results are achieved. The research question also determines which method is most suitable for your project: you might need scenarios, trend analysis, a roadmap, science fiction prototyping, or – as is usually the case – the right combination of several methods. Also the research question, in combination with the chosen methods, determines which stakeholders you want to involve in your foresight project. Do not economize on the time required to formulate a clear research question.

  1. Choose the right method

    Not only the research question determines which method you should use for your foresight project. A method should also fit the culture of the organization you work for. Are there positive or negative experiences gained with certain methods in the past? Are people excited about creative, free form work or do they need structure?

    On the one hand you want to take into account what goes well with an organizational culture. On the other hand, it is recommended to work with a method that is new to your organization. This encourages freethinking and makes it clear that foresight is not business as usual.

  2. Involve the right stakeholders (and timely)

    It can be challenging to disseminate the results of foresight project beyond the group of people who were directly involved in the project (see point 1). So try to involve the relevant stakeholders, experts and creative thinkers in your project from the start. Not everyone can be involved in the whole project, but there are many different moments and roles in a project for which you can consult different stakeholders.

    Think carefully about who you can engage at a certain time in your project and what role you give that person. Involving the people who ultimately have to make decisions based on the results of the project (officers or directors) can especially be a challenge. They often have little time. So be timely with your invitations to meetings and try communicating interim results. This way, all the important players get a chance to think along and give their input.

  3. Too big for the desk drawer

    Make sure to produces a physical result. And ensure that the result is too large to fit in a desk drawer, or disappear underneath a pile of paperwork. A simple solution is the visualization of the (partial) results of the foresight project. For example, the scenarios that you’ve developed, the main trends or wild cards, or the conclusions that came from the project. Make a poster or info graphic, print it poster-size and hang or put it in a place where people often come along. For example, at the copier or at the coffee machine. This keeps people reminded of the project and it is easy to refer to your work.

    * For example:

  • Calof, J., Smith, J. E. (2012),”Foresight impacts from around the world: a special issue”, Foresight, Vol. 14 Iss: 1 pp. 5 – 14
  • Calof, J., Miller, R., Jackson, M. (2012),”Towards impactful foresight: viewpoints from foresight consultants and academics”, Foresight, Vol. 14 Iss: 1 pp. 82 – 97

This post was also published on the SchoolofForesight website in English and Dutch

About Silke de Wilde

I am a foresight-expert and practitioner. As a freelancer, I help organisations think about the future and how to get there, for example by trendanalysis and scenarioplanning. As a facilitator I give workshops to inspire and help people think out of the box. I'm one of the co-founders of the Dutch Future Society. I also organise training in foresight at the School for Foresight. And in the time that's left I like getting into science fiction and working on my phd-research: Cities constructing futures. Yes, you might say I'm a future-fanatic, and I'm grateful that I'm able to make a living out of doing what I love. Thank you for visiting Futurista and please don't be a stranger!
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