Overview of Methodologies

 

Future-oriented methodologies and techniques can be used individually or in combination, inside or outside scenario development. Each has specific advantages for developing perspectives and insights that contribute to systematic examinations of the future. Here is a selection of a few major methodologies.


The Delphi method

The Delphi method facilitates the location or construction of consensus among experts on predictions concerning a specific issue. It follows a structured and iterative process of brainstorming, and involves sending a series of questionnaires to selected experts in order to collect their predictions on various trends. Each new round of questionnaires includes all of the participants' earlier responses, presented anonymously, and lets the participants modify and adapt their own statements.

This usually leads to a consensus forecast on future trends, as the expert opinions converge on a single position. A monitor filters and analyzes the questionnaires to control interaction among the participants. Each round of questionnaires is based on the analysis of the responses to the prior one. By presenting the perspective of one group of stakeholders, the Delphi method promotes scenario development and enriches multidisciplinary efforts to identify trends.


Horizon scanning

Horizon scanning is a technique for detecting early signs of potentially important developments through a systematic examination of potential threats and opportunities, with emphasis on new technology and its effects on the issue at hand. The method calls for determining what is constant, what changes, and what constantly changes. It explores novel and unexpected issues as well as persistent problems and trends, including matters at the margins of current thinking that challenge past assumptions.

Horizon scanning is often based on desk research, helping to develop the big picture behind the issues to be examined. Desk research involves a wide variety of sources, such as the Internet, government ministries and agencies, non-governmental organisations, international organisations and companies, research communities, and on-line and off-line databases and journals. Horizon scanning can also be undertaken by small groups of experts who are at the forefront in the area of concern: They share their perspectives and knowledge with each other so as to 'scan' how new phenomena might influence the future.

A solid 'scan of the horizon' can provide the background to develop strategies for anticipating future developments and thereby gain lead time. It can also be a way to assess trends to feed into a scenario development process.


Trend impact analysis

Trend impact analysis is a simple forecasting approach that extrapolates historical data into the future, while taking into account unprecedented future events. This method permits an analyst to include and systematically examine the effects of possible future events that are expected to affect the trend that is extrapolated. The events can include technological, political, social, economic and value-oriented changes.

The point of departure is the 'surprise-free' projection based on historical data, assuming an absence of unprecedented future events. Expert opinions are then used to identify future events that might cause deviations from the surprise-free projection and calibrate their likelihood and potential strength. A 'high-impact' event would strongly affect the trend, positively or negatively, compared to the surprise-free projection. By combining surprise-free extrapolations with judgments about the probabilities and impacts of selected future events, trend impact analysis provides a solid basis for building scenarios.


Overview: The different poles in approaches

Although a future-oriented methodology may combine multiple aspects or be adapted for specific purposes, each methodology has specific, dominant characteristics.

Futurists distinguish normative forecasting from exploratory forecasting. Normative work is based on norms or values. Hence, normative forecasting addresses the question: what future do we want? Exploratory forecasting explores what is possible regardless of what is desirable.

A second clear dichotomy is between qualitative ('soft data' such as interviews, discussions, reports) and quantitative ('hard data' such as figures, data, statistics) information, which can be combined and help orient, for instance, a scenario approach towards convergent and divergent thinking: Divergent thinking is the intuitive approach that involves a creative elaboration of ideas. Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is the goal-oriented, analytical, observational and deductive process. The goal of Futures Thinking design in scenario development is to combine creativity with rigour, hence a balance of qualitative/quantitative and divergent/convergent approaches.

The table below informs which of the above approaches a range of methodologies is more likely to facilitate. It also indicates whether the approaches are appropriate for stimulating stakeholder engagements and spotting the unexpected.





 

Quanti-
tative

Qualit-
ative

Norma-
tive

Explora-
tory

Engage-
ment

Testing
robust-
ness

Spotting
the un-
expected

 Scenario
method

 x

 x

 x

 x

x

Delphi
method

 

x

 x

 x

 x

 

Horizon
scanning

 x

 

 

 x

 

 

x

Trends
impact

 x

 x

 

 x

 

 

 


Sources: Foresight Toolkit U.K. and The AC/UNU Millennium Project

 

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