Defining the time horizon

Online Foresight Guide

Carefully defining the time horizon of the Foresight exercise is essential:

Criteria for defining the time horizon

The time horizon of a Foresight exercise should lie beyond the normal planning horizons of the players involved but close enough that it could still be influenced by today's decisions. In other words it should be far enough to allow changes to be possible but not so far away as to seem irrelevant.

This criterion depends very much on the sector. Within the public sector, the time horizon usually tends to vary from around 10 to 20 years. But in the case of infrastructures (like power stations, transport networks, etc.) the time horizon might be 30 to 50 years. Within the private sector, the normal planning is generally one generation of the product or service ahead, thus a good time horizon for corporate Foresight might be two generations of the products and services. Nobody is yet working on products and services two generations ahead, so whatever the outcome nobody's current work will be disrupted.

An exercise which is more action-oriented will tend to have a shorter time horizon. A 5-year time horizon tends to be used in technology-oriented exercise in fields where technologies are developing very quickly (e.g. Information & Communication Technologies).

An exercise which is more vision- or creativity-oriented will have a longer time horizon. A 20-year time horizon is necessary to take into account longer-term changes such as demography, social values, the rise or decline of economic powers, environmental degradation, global warming.

Other factors that should be taken into account when defining the time horizon:

In the end, there is no secret recipe. Common sense and pragmatism are needed when choosing the optimal horizon.

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