Strategic Foresight and Futures In Practice

Sep 27, 2021

Read examples of how futures and foresight have shaped real-world action and futures Helping people in humanitarian crises means making tough choices as the emergencies we respond to are complex and ever-changing. Our decision-makers have to plan, act and adjust using the best possible information and methods.

So how can you be sure that strategic foresight and futures literacy will be a valuable approach? Why would you choose to dedicate your valuable time to these tools and ways of thinking? How might they help you enhance your impact and deliver new solutions?

A recent study published in the European Journal of Futures Research shows “that foresight-oriented NGOs are more creative than NGOs that do not apply foresight”.

The analysis “also hints that foresight-oriented NGOs experience growth more often than NGOs not applying foresight”.


Strategic foresight and futures examples

We have collected case studies to show how strategic foresight and futures have helped other organisations. We hope that by seeing the real-world impact, you can better understand how this approach could help people in crisis.

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence itself, but to act with yesterday’s logic.”

Peter F. Drucker (1980)

“These humanitarian sector examples illustrate how foresight was used in response to the Covid emergency. They are drawn from the International Civil Society Centre

Scanning the Horizon report, with kind permission.

Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) created a dedicated ‘scanning team’ from April to July 2020. This team developed three types of scenarios to identify what was needed to sustain operations in the present versus the future ‘disrupted state’, and the critical path between the two.

One scenario exercise explored the shift from a COVID-‘only’ response to a ‘COVID + disaster’ response in a country like India, and how the government might respond in the wake of a dual crisis.

This scenario raised questions regarding the scale of disaster that would trigger a major response from HFHI, along with the fundraising and operational shifts this would involve.

Islamic Relief Worldwide sensed that the pandemic was a big risk as early as November 2019.

Short, simple operational scenario guidance was quickly developed and shared with all country teams and global business functions. The analysis was completed by the end of February 2020, just as the pandemic quickly spread globally.

This operational scenario guidance was for three situations – not being able to travel at all, only being able to travel to one part of the country, and mobility largely unaffected.

The learning is helping the development of vaccine rollout strategies, as different countries have cycles of release-lockdown-release or vaccine/variant.



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Future intelligence

World Vision International (WVI) used a mixture of internal and external analysis. Global scenarios were produced to support teams, building on World Bank economic data, trajectories for the pandemic across the world, vaccination prospects, McKinsey scenarios, and data from WVI’s Office of Corporate Security.

Country offices were supported with scenario planning for rapid fragile/peacebuilding context analysis. This was adapted for use online, so it could digitally draw together the views of a wide variety of internal and external stakeholders, including local community members, as the ‘Good Enough Online Context Analysis for Rapid Response’ (GEOCARR).

Early analysis from country teams’ conversations with community leaders identified quickly that the biggest impact of the pandemic would be as a livelihood, and not just health, crisis.


 “It takes deliberate mindfulness to keep observing…notice subtle cues… see our old and persistent issues with new eyes…[and] keep a lookout on connecting seemingly disconnected dots.”

Hodan Abdullahi and Najoua Soudi (UNDP)


Reimagining society 

Strategic foresight and futures are used in many sectors. According to one study “future-prepared firms outperformed the average by a 33% higher profitability [and] a 200% higher growth” (Rohrbeck and Kum).

But beyond financial performance and market share, these tools are helping governments and civil society reimagine our world.

They are helping corporations focus on sustainability and social impact. They are spurring researchers and activists to open new frontiers and develop new approaches.  

Nordic Cities: Beyond Digital Disruption. A pioneering collective of cities, companies, universities and think tanks reimagined the future of urban development.

They argue that “radical changes in structures of economy and work, our need to drastically cut our greenhouse gas emissions, the emergence of the sharing economy, and many other strong drivers are changing the way we live”.

Their work “demonstrates how built environment actors can use emerging trends to their advantage – steering the development of our cities in a desirable direction”.


Sustainable futures

National governments and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many countries use foresight and futures exercises.

For example, Costa Rica’s national development plan was created in concordance with the SDG 2030 vision.

Throughout the creation of this national development plan, Costa Rica engaged several other actors – from regional governments to citizens – in a foresight process. They explored alternative and desired visions of the future, drivers of change, risks and opportunities facing the country from many different perspectives. (Learn more)

Heath services and companies use foresight and futures to examine the public health against a backdrop of shifting demographics, environmental challenges, new technologies, and other urgent trends.

They are developing new care models, funding streams and treatments by examining and anticipating future needs.


 “Speculating about the future, even if it is far-fetched, can help people and institutions cope with what comes next.”

Alex Henke of The Economist.

Find out more about how the Solferino Academy can help your National Society use foresight and futures practice.

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