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Foresight is the systematic analysis of potential future outcomes to make adequate preparations.
Foresight does not make exact predictions about the future but, rather, it provides critical information to minimise and mitigate against unexpected developments.
Just as the Oracle is interdisciplinary, so is the field of Foresight. It transcends domains including science and technology, management, economics, the humanities, and the social sciences. Given its importance, Foresight has a great many monikers including Horizon Scanning, Forecasting, Predictive Analytics, Scenario Planning, Futurology, and perhaps even the bygone term of Prophesy. That said, the Oracle certainly needs no recourse to the occult. Rather, the key to our success is resolute adherence to rigorous systematic approaches including our own proprietary Oxford Oracle Method™.
While the term Foresight is sometimes used interchangeably with Forecasting, we make the following firm distinction:
While Forecasting may rely on past and present data to predict future outcomes, Foresight explores possible future scenarios without being constrained by likelihoods. Foresight also explicitly identifies actionable measures for each scenario.
Strategic Foresight is Preparedness
Foresight is invaluable when analysing complex subject areas involving a high degree of uncertainty or when there is potential for societal controversy. To ensure preparedness, Strategic Foresight ensures thoughtful and critical examination of the future and potential developments. It is imperative that the Strategic Foresight process be conducted in an open-minded, interdisciplinary, and participatory manner that involves a diverse group of stakeholders. When executed in this fashion, Strategic Foresight can assist leaders and policymakers in anticipating potential future developments so that they can proactively address possible future adverse consequences by envisioning them in advance.
Strategic Foresight is a framework for identifying and evaluating future possibilities while, correspondingly, also determining and preparing the most suitable courses of action.
Strategic Foresight is thus a critical input to planning. Like no other tool, it reveals opportunities and threats that conventional processes overlook. To generate and explore valuable ideas concerning the future, Foresight employs these methodologies:
(1) Backcasting: A desired future is specified in detail. The Oracle’s expert fellows then work with key stakeholders to create actions and plans that will lead you to that desired future.
(2) Horizon Scanning: Horizon scanning involves methodical data collection and analysis to uncover initial indicators of potentially significant developments, including the identification of emerging trends. Using expert knowledge, experience, interviews and desk research, our horizon scanning provides a comprehensive understanding of forthcoming shifts. It aids in formulating strategies that are in sync with anticipated changes and serves to pinpoint nascent trends which may subsequently be incorporated into scenario planning.
(3) Scenario Planning: The Oracle’s scenario planning allows clients to anticipate shifts, develop responsive measures, and to construct resilient strategies. We merge clear and uncontended information regarding operational landscapes with uncertain elements related to future conditions. Subsequently, a set of these uncertainties or change drivers are selected and they are transformed into multiple alternative narratives or scenarios. Each scenario captures plausible development trajectories. Over time and via team exploration, certain paths gain credibility as being more feasible while others diminish in likelihood and/or importance. Frequently, the future materializes as an amalgamation of these various pathways and the time spent on advance exploration is show to have been exceedingly well spent.
(4) Simulations: Expertly facilitated strategic games that deal with possible changes to key future events. In business contexts, the key focus is usually changing competitive contexts and both expected and unexpected acts on the part of competitors. In policy contexts, the focus is usually both likely and unlikely (but potentially significant) future circumstances.
(5) Roadmaps: Creation of detailed maps setting projected milestones and implications concerning the development of innovations.
(6) Black Swans: Black Swans (also sometimes called Wild Cards) are events with low probably but very high impact. They can be either good or bad. Their potential occurrence is examined and steps to either encourage or discourage this are explored. Action plans are created to either maximise the benefit or to minimise the detriment of encountering one or more Black Swans.
(7) White Swans: White Swans are events of moderate probability and significant but not extreme impact. They are usually considered as significant weak signals which are especially important to examine in the context of their contribution to meta-trends or to emerging issues.
(8) Trends Analysis: Trends analysis is a systematic approach that involves the gathering of data and the diligent examination of this data to identify recurring patterns. The Oracle particularly seeks to elucidate regularities seen in data. This process extends beyond merely recognizing these patterns; it also encompasses an exploration of the ramifications and consequences they may have over time.
(9) Emerging Issues Analysis: Emerging Issues are distinctive events that appear to defy alignment with established patterns. These issues have the potential to create novel patterns or to disrupt existing ones, effectively reshaping the landscape. Emerging Issues Analysis serves as a catalyst for change by explicitly exploring uncertainties and consequently instigating the formation of plans to best adapt to potential new paradigms and trends. While Trends Analysis elucidates data regularities, Emerging Issues Analysis focuses on data anomalies and seeks to adapt to evolving dynamics.
(10) Delphi Technique: The Delphi Technique is a systematic and dynamic predictive process that relies the iterative insights of a panel of experts drawn from the Oracle’s international network and potentially also based on client recommendation. These experts engage in a multifaceted exchange involving the completion of questionnaires and the articulation of varying viewpoints. The Oracle manages this exchange through a number of rounds both in real-time and asynchronously. As the technique is iteratively managed, the spectrum of responses gradually contracts through the consensus re-evaluation of arguments. In the conclusive round, the assembly of experts converges towards a conclusive and presumed most-correct projection of the future.
(11) Oxford Oracle Method™: Our proprietary foresight method, the Oxford Oracle Method™, assigns priority to the values of (i) anonymity, (ii) data/analytical merit, and (iii) the pre-eminence of high-quality ideas. It melds the iterative consensus options of at least two independent and anonymous panels with meta-analysis of the outputs of tools 1–9. Superlative foresight is assured; indeed, it has been repeatedly proven.
The Oracle’s Foresight activities have pivotal relevance to long-term public policy as well as to long-term business strategy. We are particularly proud of our ability to harness scientific foresight to explore hypothetical future scenarios to inform present-day policy and management decisions. Ensuring these decisions are correct is the critical basis for a bright future.
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