Both practice frameworks and the literature propose conducting scenario/future workshops to present, discuss and enrich scenarios, understand potential consequences, create future action plans and trigger foresight thinking. However, foresight experts and case study research supplemented the best practice framework by providing some suggested methods for collaborating with stakeholders as part of a bottom-up approach to foresight. The need for the bottom-up approach is indirectly confirmed by the literature, as effective strategy formulation and decision-making arises from the free flow of information and unfettered communication between employees.
During the workshops, the scenarios will be discussed with management, strategists, marketing managers and other stakeholders in order to foster strategic conversations and help to build an organisation which can successfully operate in future landscapes. The implications of each scenario need to be identified and appropriate actions described. Finally, scenario drivers (or leading indicators and signposts) should be selected for monitoring purposes, in order to increase the level of certainty regarding the possibility of certain scenarios becoming reality.
Combining scenario building with the decision-making process of strategy development (common terms are scenario learning or scenario thinking) can help organisations to understand how to manage their future strategically. For example, stakeholders will be asked to describe the future market positioning of their business unit, product etc. under each of the presented scenarios. In so doing, they defend the current strategy as well as products, services, channels and brands in the presented scenarios and define projects/actions necessary to minimise the risk and/or benefit from the new market opportunities.
One of the aims of a successful foresight process is to challenge and change established norms. In organisations adopting a foresight framework, this bottom-up component of foresight requires a heterogeneous group of people to discuss and potentially oppose the scenario, with the result being enriched and robust scenarios, the identification of knowledge gaps, and stress tests for current strategies (to determine how they would react in each situation) and an adapted, or even new, strategy approach. Both positive and negative situations should be discussed, but with a strong focus on mitigating threats, building organisational defence mechanisms and identifying growth opportunities. In addition, the conversation will be enriched and informed by reference to strong signals, and will recognise the potential impact of strategic surprises or wildcards requiring agile strategic responses. These workshops are also preparation for the annual strategy development process.
In addition to the main scenario workshops, case study research has shown that mini workshops should be held with members of every business unit to enrich the scenarios. It is recognised that foresight and scenario thinking must occur at all levels of the organisation: open discussions between all levels in the company ensure that employees understand how other departments perceive the future, which in turn encourages more open strategic conversation. This is a very important step, as a successful organisation’s approach is not only focused on the analysis itself, but also on emphasising across the company that foresight thinking is a priority. In addition, it allows the organisation to gather signals from the company base and via different channels and sources, and for the employees to be actively involved in the future of the company.
Once more, support from senior management in this process is important. In the example of the case organisation, the executive team acknowledged and approved the proposed scenarios and used them as a basis for testing the organisation’s strategic plans and readiness for change. Debates and elaborations on scenarios are tools to eliminate complexities and misunderstandings in final strategic analysis, decision-making and strategy assessment. Organisations utilising a foresight approach acknowledge that due to the subjective nature of foresight research, the goal of foresight cannot necessarily be reduced to producing direct monetary results (the value of these workshops is not quantifiable). Instead, the goals of foresight include encouraging employee participation in the long-term strategic planning process and in turn, building an innovative culture and creating a flat hierarchy in the organisation, to facilitate employees’ interaction and connection. Foresight experts conclude that scenarios help to prototype the future in order to formulate communication plans in anticipation of future changes within the organisation. They support the view of the case organisation that scenarios developed from foresight activities are a process of social construction of knowledge, and recognise that this is the most important methodological issue.
Scenario workshops are the foundation for open strategic debate (and thus more divergent scenarios) and aid in preparing an organisation for the future via the identification of gaps and definition of actions for future strategic projects. Workshops are key contributors to an innovative culture and mind set in the organisation, and will potentially allow and deliver game changing initiatives which stimulate high growth opportunities. Traditional strategic planning methods will most likely deliver organic incremental growth. Again, user friendly methodologies are important to the communication and sharing of foresight insights with employees and the subsequent further enrichment of the scenarios. The proposed qualitative methods (supported by both practice frameworks) are creative future workshops, open discussions, focus groups, future testing, market trials, stress tests, creative conflicts and war gaming. As future knowledge is widely distributed and available in the organisation, potential future changes, scenarios and action plans are available and well-known and their drivers and signpost are recognised, it will allow the organisation to decide on strategic decisions with a higher degree of certainty and flexibility later in the process as strategies are being implemented.
Practice Implications Derived through the Research
Discussions of scenarios within a foresight framework, and the testing of current strategy and organisational capabilities against those scenarios, are important steps. This will result in more divergent scenarios, but it is not anticipated that foresight will itself identify immediate opportunities for new ventures or projects; rather it will deliver new thoughts and additional ideas for the company to consider in its strategy and decision-making processes. In the stress test, the organisation compares scenarios against current strategies and shares findings with the relevant departments. In workshops those departments will then be asked to define the consequences of such a scenario and provide possible solutions or responses. Scenarios will again be enriched with feedback from workshops and utilised in strategy development. Methods and processes are well chosen if outputs from foresight help to enrich the strategy development process with insights and influence and prioritise company goals and projects. It is important that the scenario building methodology allows multiple iterations, with both top-down input from senior management and bottom-up modifications and enhancements by business units and team members. The scenario workshops make the information more manageable, bringing it away from an abstract level and enabling team members to visualise the future.