9 May 2013:
A recent article from the president of the World Future Society (Mack 2013) describes the challenges of foresight, including data management, scenario building, qualitative data/methods and weak signals management:
1: Discovering the meaning and gaining insight from data continue to challenge organisations
The expanding dynamics and mainly quantitative capability to capture, process and report data in light of qualitative weak signals is seen as a key issue. Hence, there is a need to “cross the bridge between quantitative and qualitative analysis (aka, creativity) in order to integrate multiple insights and come to a holistic and useful set of conclusions”. The main challenges are the presence of large data sets (through growth of sources), the ability to build connections/interactions between signals, data lags (delays in response between cause and effect) and the skill of data translation (especially because cross-analysis between different disciplines can be complicated). Unfortunately, foresight data has many variables and cannot be reduced or simplified. The author suggests trying to understand and monitor the foresight data and prioritise the critical factors.
2: Scenario building to educate and foster dialogue
The scenario building process is suggested, with its primary benefit being to educate managers about systems dynamics through dialogue and “… drive leaders and decision makers to challenge their present assumptions and ask questions that they had not previously thought to ask”.
3: The need for qualitative data and analysis
Since organisations need to include “soft” (or qualitative data, weak signals) from the environment (including political behaviour, market dynamics and cultural currents), a new toolset of qualitative methods is required. Suggested methodologies include judgmental or intuitive analysis and pattern recognition. The author concludes that “this higher level of complexity suggests that both qualitative and quantitative approaches will need to be synthesized and melded in new ways to reach necessary levels of understanding”.
4: Tapping the power of weak signals
The critical contribution of weak signals poses a challenge to organisations as the recognition, interpretation and incorporation of weak signals insights in decision-making systems are difficult but essential. This process requires time, focus and resources. The author suggests treating weak signals as another type/source of raw trend material, i.e. incomplete and fragmented data that may suggest trends. He provides two methodologies for weak signals management:
1) early sharing of the raw information across a network of specialists/future agents and prompt collection of their feedback (distributed intelligence); and
2) the development of special-interest groups for some areas, to extend the organisation’s “senses and periphery” (communities of practice).
Mack, Timothy C. 2013, “Foresight as Dialogue”, Futurist, March/April, vol. 47, no. 2, pp. 46-50.
Link to full text article: