Rounding off the Retreat

We’re just looking back at the SOIF2019 Retreat, which was held at Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire at the beginning of the month. Below are some more notes from Chris Skelly, one of the facilitation team, on what policy-makers and practitioners learnt during the week about using futures to improve outcomes. 
But first—an example of the visual facilitation done by facilitator Pupul Bisht during the week, summarising some of the Retreat themes. Pupul won our Next Generation Futures Practitioner award in 2018, and it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with her during the Retreat.
SOIF retreat 2019

Chris Skelly writes: Complexity is the primary intellectual challenge for everyone. Experts and leaders too. It is making the achievement of “long-term goals in a shifting pluralistic, ambitious and novel world” increasingly more challenging.

Where experts feel safe: The familiar, predictable, and known.

Where leaders add value: The unfamiliar, uncertain, unknown.

Successful leadership and decision-making is required to shape the future. You want to shape the future, because this is the best way of getting to your desirable future, i.e. achieving your strategic vision.

This requires us to combine creative and analytical thinking.

It is not easy or natural for most of us.

A good way of thinking about foresight is that it is composed of 3 components:

  1. Trends — long rolling processes (think big waves as you swim to shore), ageing population, environmental degradation, climate heating, ageing infrastructure…
  2. Events/ideas ‘coming at us’— cyber systems, big data, CRISPR technologies…
  3. Decisions we make — this defines our ‘degree of agency’, it is worth thinking explicitly about this (I never have).

Foresight tools

  • essential for strategic insights
  • provide space for discourse
  • bring attention to ideas, trends, developments that are not in daily sight
  • However — this is mostly about a process, a journey, that you take clients from the ‘familiar’ to the ‘unfamiliar’ — moving them and you from comfortable zones of discussion to areas of discomfort.

Foresight — as a process of thinking— challenges conventional thinking and it involves four stages:

  1. scoping — divergent exercise creating choices
  2. ordering/prioritising
  3. implications — convergent exercise is about making choices
  4. integrating futures

Don’t mix divergent and convergent exercises; you don’t want to start reducing options before you have got them all out on the table.

Creating impact

To create impact with foresight, like all other decision-supporting activities of any importance, it takes time (you need thinking time and time to work with your clients — internal or external), resources (staff time in particular) and political capital (to bring people and organisations along with you , or even to the table for the first time).

One of the discussions identified that:

  • making change is challenging when there aren’t clearly defined goals
  • when mental models remain hidden
  • when there isn’t any ‘space’ discourse in the decision-making process it becomes hard to shape it and focus in a useful way

These problems are common to most organisations, and it often relates often to leadership style. For example, a leader may say that “they will not take this legislation forward unless you can explain it to the public”. Without a process for building a common discourse between ‘they’ and ‘you’, you can get stuck quite quickly.

There’s more on our Medium account. Chris’ full report on Days 2 and 3 can be found here; Day 4 and Day 5 is here.
Main image by Pupul Bisht, CC BY-NC-ND. Featured image, top right (c) Krystel Van der Elst.  

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