Foresight, that is the ability to foresee how the future will unfold, is a desirable management capability which can be developed through engaging with strong and weak signals in the emerging environment. The foresight process provides strategic guidance through identifying critical turning points in the evolution of the environment. The importance of foresight in strategy development will increase as the likelihood of market pressure and dynamics remains the same or even increases, which will lead to stronger competition and a need for long-term innovative planning capabilities.
The literature does not provide an overall best practice foresight framework, as the investigations that have been completed are specifically focused on weak signals management, environmental scanning, strategy adaptation or scenario management, or an incomplete combination of the above. Having examined existing literature on strategic planning, strategic thinking, envisioning and innovation, it is evident that an integrated strategic foresight framework from signals collection to scenario building and strategy implementation has not been built and the impact of this approach on business practice is yet to be articulated. The development and empirical investigation of a contemporary, foresight driven approach to strategy development is the core of the Future Screening research project. Based on the conclusion from the literature review, the research question can be formulated as “how and why can strategic foresight, based on the integration of strong and weak signals methodologies, enrich the strategy process in a dynamic and changing environment?” Or in other words, how does a contemporary best practice framework for advancing strategic corporate foresight need to be designed so it is applicable and value generating in a real business environment?
The synthesis of literature informed the development of a theoretical framework. This framework was augmented by the research, as guided by hypotheses addressing weak and strong signals, the qualitative methods required to build scenarios capturing weak and strong signals and the application of scenarios in strategy planning. From this work, the basis of an overall framework for advancing corporate foresight was developed. Based on additional insights and results of case study research with two organisations (one of which has a new approach to foresight) and a survey with independent foresight experts to enrich and validate the theoretical model, a new contemporary framework for foresight and long-term strategic planning was constructed.
The foresight process that emerged from the research involved engaging with relevant stakeholders (e.g. strategy, corporate development, marketing and product managers) in workshops, and challenging current assumptions with regard to long-term opportunities and threats for their strategy and/or products. The outcomes flowing into the strategy development and implementation process lead to the development of an innovation portfolio designed to meet immediate, medium and long-term organisational objectives. While literature describes methods for interrogating the environment and building econometric scenarios, there is a paucity of research that utilises methods for integrating qualitative foresight signals into scenarios. This research has addressed this practice challenge.
The research will enrich discussion of the immature field of weak signals management and help to understand the benefits and implications for corporate foresight. The outcome of the project is to encourage companies to shift from a traditional approach to strategy development to an integrated framework that improves strategy decisions in corporate planning and innovation management. It will foster strategic conversations and the building of foresight knowledge which will help companies to stay flexible in terms of their strategies and future initiatives based on a future oriented culture, and ultimately lead to more flexible decision-making in relation to forthcoming opportunities and threats.