Three basic functions of Foresight methods can be distinguished:
- Diagnosis: Understanding where we are…
- Prognosis: Foreseeing what could happen…
- Prescription: Deciding what should be done…
These functions may be confined within particular phases of the exercise so e.g. diagnosis will often be carried out in the beginning while prescription will be done towards the end of an exercise so an exercise might involve the following phases:
- a phase to understand the current situation (Diagnosis);
- to continue with a phase to explore what can happen (Prognosis); and to end up the exercise with
- a phase to define recommendations about what can be done (Prescription).
However, particular functions could also take place during several phases.
For each of the functions you may have to choose among a variety of available methods such as those outlined below. In each phase there are several possible ways of combining the methods. For example, the choice between the rigour of quantitative methods and the qualitative insight into social processes and structures can be avoided by a judicious application of each, most commonly the latter providing the framework, and the former generating relevant empirical data.
Diagnostic methods are not specific to Foresight but are also used in strategic analysis.
Prognosis forms the 'core' of forecasting and future studies methodological toolbox. Foresight is not aiming to predict future developments but to think about possible futures and their different implications. However within some Foresight exercises it is aimed to develop insights into distinctly different possible futures to help decision makers to base their decisions on an informed anticipation of possible future challenges. This can be supported by Scenario Building.
On the other hand methods are needed to animate participants to adopt a future oriented mindset. For this purpose Creativity methods, such as time journeys, are useful.
Finally prognostic methods from other fields such as simulations or statistical predictions can well serve to animate the discussion within a Foresight event like a panel meeting.
If there is value in testing the findings of possible futures against a larger audience and generating more quantitative estimates, a Delphi survey would be appropriate. Results from Delphi studies can also be used to provoke discussion within a Foresight exercise.
Prescription methods originated in strategic planning.
If a clearly preferred future can be established, a roadmapping tool may be the most appropriate means of sketching the route to follow to achieve it. Backcasting can also then be applied to identify the nature and timing of key decision points. But if there is a large variety of possible routes, modeling and simulation are likely also to be useful. Scenario building can also be useful to show how different actions today influence the future and thereby inform the prescription phase.
In a situation where there is a high level of interaction between a set of possible futures, cross-impact analysis can provide a structured analysis of their interaction.
It is becoming increasingly common good practice in Foresight not to rely on a single tool, but rather to employ an appropriate mix of methods to address an issue and achieve the desired outcomes. Whereas a lot of material exists on the use of each specific methods, relatively little has been written on combining them. For instance, a Delphi survey can be used to extract the driving factors to be used as the main dimensions of a scenario building.