Top insights and provocations from SOIF’s April 2018 Alumni Event: Reflections from the afternoon

Following my first blog on our Alumni event, here are some insights from the afternoon session:

  1. I left with an intention to integrate a conversation about the future of the foresight discipline into the Next Generation Foresight Practitioner Prize discussion. This was of interest in particular to the younger practitioners in the room.  A specific point that was raised in discussion was how we ensure standards and maintain ethics of the field…? This is a question that has been an integral aspect of the foresight and leadership debate for decades:

[Foresight] is the central ethic of leadership. The failure (or refusal) to foresee may be viewed as an ethical failure, because a serious ethical compromise today (when the usual judgment on ethical inadequacy is made) is sometimes the result of a failure to make the effort at an earlier date to foresee today’s events and take the right actions when there was freedom for initiative to act. The action we label unacceptable in the present moment is often really one of no choice.  Robert Greenfield 1977 “Servant Leaders

And the debate is evolving in order to confront new realities of current world:

  • As commercial actors start delivering strategic foresight services in the field of development, public policy and social transformation, they may bring different values and motivations to the sector.
  • The growing use of strategic foresight approaches by a growing number of proto-authoritarian governments poses new questions and dilemmas around how practitioners maintain values of public purpose and participation.
  • Exploring the ethics of innovation, and exploring the role of strategic foresight in imagining and developing governance responses to the distributional and other ethical impacts of emerging technology (Floridi is especially vocal on this:, at the Alan Turing Institute’s Data Ethics Group and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation).
  1. Listening to Professor Kerry’ Brown’s talk of the Future of China, I was reminded of the paramount power of the intangible drivers in shaping a society’s future: values, cohesion, spiritual meaning, loneliness, mental health, all components of the human condition…  One of the key ways we – as foresight practitioners – can contribute to our communities’ and organisations’ conversations about the future, is to ensure that the space is made to include an exploration of these intangible drivers.  His talk was also a powerful reminder of the power of narratives about history and the shapes and dynamic of the past, in shaping the mental map we have of the future from our vantage point in the present.
  2. The importance of demonstrating the impact of Strategic foresight was another big theme for me. How do we measure the indicators of short-term success of these interventions – including improvements in decision-making and governance – as well as longer-term resilience and growth? Our instinct at SOIF – which drives a lot of the research we do – is that we need a combination approach: using case-studies including senior-level testimonials describing success, identifying metrics of impact and performance, and building innovative new products that enable us to capture this qualitative and quantitative richness (we have a Beta version of an organisational SF audit that we are testing). I have also committed to developing further clarity on what SOIF calls “strategic navigation” – the process of senior board governing into the future by understanding assumptions and scanning trends and upcoming disruptions, instead of using rear view mirror of past performance and historic trends.
  3. We offered to share the various reports we mentioned: DCDC GST6 is available from October but in the meantime GST5 is found here, the Chilcott inquiry has some nice references to the importance of integrating strategic foresight and horizon scanning into operational decision-making, do use the SOIF toolkit to refer to the very different foresight tools and techniques that can be used depending on time, resources and culture; and take a look at Pandora’s cell – the Danish Emergency Cell’s example of using Foresight techniques under crises and in very time pressured situations.

My final insight was how rewarding and rich these exchanges always are…MANY THANKS for joining us if you were there – and we hope you can join us next time if you weren’t!

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