Usually, in a Foresight exercise different methods or sets of methods are employed at different stages of the process. Finding the appropriate sequence of methods is often one of the most delicate design steps. The methodological framework (i.e. the sequence of methods) needs to evolve and might be re-defined and refined throughout the process depending on your approach to design decisions. It needs to be discussed with the sponsors, the team and other stakeholders.
As a first step it might be useful to distinguish some of the different functions that need to be performed in different phases of your exercise:
Assigning sets of methods to various functions
The following functions can be distinguished in a Foresight exercise:
- Diagnosis: Understanding where we are…
- Prognosis: Foresighting what could happen…
- Prescription: Deciding what should be done…
These functions might relate to specific phases of the process or they might come up at more than one point in time during the exercise. You may want to assign specific methods to fulfill specific functions.
Selecting and combining the methods
Apart from the methods you use to carry out the various functions involved in the exercise, a number of other factors need to be taken into account when you decide the specific methods to use.
Each method has its specific features and its strengths and weaknesses. Each method also implies a series of steps to be carried out.
See also: there is a table summarising some established Foresight methods in the section describing the main methods.
Finally, methods can be classified based on a number of criteria which should help you to tailor the methods to your purpose.
Why use "formal" methods?
The use of methods is the backbone of any Foresight exercise. After all, the structured collection of anticipatory intelligence is what differentiates Foresight from loose reflection on the future. Furthermore, some of these tools are very valuable communication devices. For instance, some methods yield graphs as outputs, others produce bullet-point lists or the narrative visions of scenarios. Other techniques are useful for identifying points at which further knowledge is required. Finally, some of these methods serve to constitute mixed forums for interaction and communication between the various actors that are involved and can benefit from the Foresight process, thereby generating the informal outcomes many exercises aim for.
Finally, the use of established methods can help lend an exercise more legitimacy than is forthcoming for material that is presented simply as a synthesis of participants' views.
There is more information on the methodological framework in some of the example cases:
Background note - Some unavoidable definitions ...
We are well aware of the fact that the differentiation between methods and methodology is of utmost importance within academic circles and often causes furious debates. Therefore, although this guide does not primarily focus on definitions, we feel that it is necessary in this case to specify the use of terms within this guide that was decided in a pragmatic attempt to maximise consistency and clarity.
In this guide the term method refers to a series of defined steps to reach a certain objective. In Foresight it is sometimes referred to "formal methods" to distinguish methods that are established and described in the literature from "informal methods" that are used only once on the spot. This guide describes a number of the "formal" methods commonly applied in Foresight.
The application of a single Foresight method does not make a Foresight exercise. Usually different methods are used to perform specific functions at different stages in the process. Furthermore, methods are combined with each other and tailored to perform these functions in an optimal way. This leads to a specific arrangement of methods within each exercise. We refer to this overall arrangement as the "Methodological framework". Our aim here is to offer some guidance on how to arrive at the methodological framework of your exercise.
Methodology is understood here as the attitude towards knowledge generation that underlies any research activity. So, for example, "constructivism", "empiricism" or "positivism" are defined methodological orientations. A certain methodological orientation will lead to a preference for certain methods (e.g. quantitative over qualitative ones). In Foresight the methodology is rarely spelled out explicitly but often just tacitly assumed. Nevertheless, we consider the question of methodology to be important for Foresight as it is especially critical to be clear about methodology when attempting to create an understanding of the future. For instance some methodological considerations might give guidance on why participation is needed to state anything relevant about the future or what it means to be an "expert" etc.). Although it is important, we consider the issue to be beyond the scope of this guide. Nevertheless, we do feel that a more in depth discussion of methodological considerations would be useful for the Foresight community to better understand the nature of the knowledge that is generated by Foresight.
More information on recent methodological developments in the following anchor paper presented at the 2006 FTA Seminar:
- Michael Rader and Alan Porter: "FTA Assumptions: Methods and Approaches in the Context of Achieving Outcomes"