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Using Collaborative Working Practices in Foresight

By Rohit Talwar and Steve Wells

How can a collaborative approach to foresight help ensure a more robust and representative assessment of future opportunities and challenges?

One of the core themes to be explored during Fast Future’s London Futures Week is the role of collaboration and partnership in shaping the future. Here, Steve Wells introduces a fundamental; framework for collaboration and how it can be used in a foresight context.

One day, perhaps collaboration will genuinely be at the heart of interaction between intelligent machines and humans. But right now, collaboration is largely a human trait underpinned by behaviours, so most true collaboration happens between people and not between people and machines.

Setting the Context

The world is increasingly subject to significant change and the focus is often on exponential technology developments like artificial intelligence, robotics, adaptive manufacturing, and immersive technologies such as augmented and virtual reality. However, other critical developments are also happening at break-neck speed, such as political, economic, and social change. This range of future forces acting on life, society, and business adds to our personal and organisational sense of complexity and uncertainty.

In the past, we have been confident in our predictions about how the external environment is changing and been able to come to consensus about the way ahead. Increasingly we are far from certain about how the external environment is changing and are less able to reach consensus about the way ahead. It’s this situation that often calls for a collaborative effort to align different stakeholder groups.

A Framework for Collaboration

Successful collaboration is an intervention based on an existing relationship, a process and an agreed outcome in addressing a shared business need; for example, to understand a particular aspect of the emerging future. Through collaboration, we can generate insight and create ideas that we might not be able to do by working alone.

  1. A quick Google search reveals a number of different, but similar, frameworks to support collaboration. One such model – the four-step Collaboration Cycle of connect, contract, collaborate, and close – helps individuals and teams navigate their way through the collaborative working process. The framework emphasises paying attention to the nature of the relationship, conversations, and activities that need to take place to ensure the desired outcomes are achieved. These are the critical components:Connect – Initially we should share our perspectives on the issue the collaborative effort is seeking to address, considering the organisational context – the degree of support or resistance to collaboration – and setting the tone for a collaborative relationship. In a foresight context, the key here is around clarity on the specific topic(s) or theme(s) around which we want to build a body of collaboratively assembled future insights.
  2. Contract – Step two should focus on understanding the wants and offers of both parties, gaining consensus on how the parties will work together, agreeing what question(s) the parties are answering, establishing the desired outcome, and defining the specific activities to be undertaken. The outcomes may include “how” the collaboration is to be conducted as well as the specific desired business results. This agreement on the steps in the foresight process and the timeframes to be considered helps ensure all parties are aligned on looking at the same future horizon – albeit in different ways.
  3. Collaborate – In collaborating, the parties should share understanding and experiences, and be prepared to ask and answer challenging questions. As the collaboration moves forward the parties should consider the experiences gathered and lessons learned and be prepared to continuously re-contract. This exploration and respect for multiple perspectives is vital in collaborative foresight as it helps ensure that emerging developments are examined through the different but equally valid lenses of all involved.
  4. Closing – In closing, the parties should collectively make sense of the information gathered and the outcomes achieved in the same spirit that the work was conducted. As well as focusing on the content, it is also important to take time to consider how the wants and offers shared by the parties have been met and to agree any next steps. This is a crucial part of collaborative foresight – condensing a wealth of analysis into clear insights and next steps suggestions that take account of the different stakeholders that were involved or represented in the process.
The Power of Collaboration in Foresight Work

In foresight work, collaboration is increasingly seen as enabling different perspectives of the emerging future to emerge to enrich plausible scenarios. Different perspectives are crucially important when we try to envisage different possible futures. They help ensure that we don’t re-create our potentially institutionalised views of the past or simply extrapolate a trend-based future. The trick can often be to manage the creative tension between the collaborators, valuing difference as well as similarity, to help ensure that we create something that neither party would have created alone.

  • What challenges or opportunities is your organization facing that might benefit from a collaborative foresight approach?
  • What is your experience of collaborative working – particularly in a foresight context?
  • What skills and experience do you and your team have that help to enable effective collaboration generally and specifically on foresight projects?
  • What are you and your organisation prepared to concede to ensure an effective outcome from collaborative foresight?

Steve will be addressing the issue of collaboration and partnership in foresight at Fast Future’s London Futures Week. Visit the event page at to see more information and book tickets.

This article was published in FutureScapes. To subscribe, click here.

Image: by geralt


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