Navigating Change in the 21st Century: AAA Governance in the Union and Labor Movement 

In 2021 we were commissioned to do research on  AAA Governance in the Union and Labor rights movement. In 2023 ILO published the report “Trade Unions Navigating and Shaping Change” from the research.

The Need for Unions and Labour to Navigate Change  

Unions and the labor rights movement worldwide have been responsible for some of the most fundamental advances in human wellbeing and dignity over the past century. This has included the right to rest (the 40 hour work week), occupational health and safety standards that have saved countless lives and limbs, the right to fair dismissal, the right to organize, not to mention the struggle for fair wages that have lifted countless people out of poverty. The living standards of millions of people worldwide owe much to the work of unions and the union movement in challenging labour exploitation and pushing for better outcomes for workers. 

Over the past 40 years many of these gains have been eroded or even destroyed. Starting with neoliberal privatization in the 1980s, deregulation and deindustrialization, jobs were lost and strong unions suffered membership losses. This overlapped with the rise of the dotcom ICT industry boom which has historically been hostile to unionization. In addition to this trend, unprecedented challenges face a number of industries. Workers in the mining, mineral and manufacturing sectors face the pressures of climate change and the challenge of a just transition to a post carbon world. New technologies are allowing businesses to automate, putting the futures of work in a dozen sectors in question. The future for millions of workers is at a crossroads, and unions and labour rights organizations are at the intersection, confronting the challenge of navigating change in this new context of uncertainty and disruption. 

This is why The Bureau for Workers Activities (ACTRAV) has taken a keen interest in the fields of foresight, innovation and experimentation. ACTRAV promotes the interest of workers and workers’ organizations within the International Labour Office. They are committed to the support, defence and promotion of workers’ rights, working in coordination with the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Governing Body. Given the emerging body of theory and practice in foresight around the world, ACTRAV has developed an interest in how foresight and related approaches can support unions and the labour rights movement in navigating the turbulent and disruptive changes happening around us and into our futures.  

We were therefore commissioned by the ILO in late 2021 to do research on unions, labor rights organizations and other labour affiliated entities (e.g. networks, coalitions, platforms) that were using foresight and other approaches to navigate change. Working with Rafael Peels, Senior Specialist in Workers’ Activities at the Bureau for Workers’ Activities, we did a global scan of work being done or completed, and emerged with 20 short case studies / examples, which are detailed in the ILO report. The report was recently published in May 2023. This is a short explainer on the research and report process and contents. 

Part of the theme of the ACTRAV research focus in the ILO is on trade unions navigating change. “Navigation” is a rich metaphor and encompasses more than envisioning or forecasting change. It also includes sense-making and path-making, the ability for an organisation to make sense of a changing world / context and then to take and make new paths. To this end we used a novel research framework which we called “Triple A Governance” (Anticipatory, Agile and Adaptive Governance).   

Anticipatory, Agile and Adaptive Governance

Triple A Governance was an idea that emerged from work with UNDP Vietnam (Ramos, Uusikyla & Luong, 2020). UNDP has been on a sustained program to develop anticipatory governance capabilities. They had articulated the AAAs as a way to include responsiveness and experimentation with foresight. In this research project we further elaborated the triple As, as per the following distinctions.  

Anticipation is the capability to understand the dynamics of change that may have an impact in the foreseeable future. It allows organizations to be prepared for change by reducing “blind spots” in relation to issues that could have a major impact and by helping them to leverage change so as to take advantage of the opportunities that it creates.

Agility is the capability of an organization to change its mindsets in the light of new information about how the world is changing. Organizations, as everyone knows, are made up of people. Each of these people has a mental image of the future, of how the world is or ought to be. While in most organizations these images will be diverse, together they often make up a shared narrative or model.

Adaptation is the capability to translate shared notions of how the world is changing into actions that will promote the success and viability of the organization. These may be conventional actions, such as implementing strategic plans and human resources / workforce planning. They may also include pilot projects and experiments which allow new ideas for change to be tested and scaled up into working innovations, alongside other reorganization activities such as service (re)design.

The underlying principle within the Triple A Governance concept is that these three form an ecosystem of capabilities that are required to navigate change. There are often people within an organization that are aware of oncoming change, they may even be rigorously informed. Unfortunately many of these people unwittingly become “cassandras”. People who are aware, sensitive, even outspoken about future changes and challenges to an organization’s environment, but they are not listened to or taken seriously. This is why agility as a capability is so fundamental. Agility is the speed and adeptness by which an organization can shift its shared mindsets in the face of new knowledge and information about the future.   What is the point of foresight if new knowledge or vision isn’t translated into organizational learning and new mindsets? This was one of the central concerns of Senge (2006) in his book The Fifth Disciple. 

Equally, navigating change also requires that new organizational learning and mindsets are translated into new activities that allow the organization to adapt. Activity is defined broadly, this can be a social or technical innovation, a new work program, new workforce skills and knowledge, experimentation, campaigns, etc. Again, what is the point of new organizational learning (about the futures) and even new mindsets, if this does not lead to new actions that help the organization to be viable in the changing environment? We therefore consider the underlying principle in the Triple A concept to be the relational dynamics between the three As. This also echoes the work of Stafford Beer and others who have elaborated on the Viable Systems Model, in particular relation to where foresight fits in an organisation (Hayward 2004). 

Two archetypes of change

We also considered the dynamics of the operating environments for unions and labour rights organizations and came to the conclusion that there was a great variability in the conditions unions operate in. There are industries and sectors that are stable and experiencing continuity. Then there are industries and sectors experiencing turbulent and rapid change. We felt that these differences needed to be accounted for, mainly because trade unions use different strategies to navigate change depending on the dynamics of the operating environment. Drawing on the complex adaptive systems research of Gunderson and Holling (2002), we simplified their more complex model into a research framework that distinguished two archetypes:

  1. Growth, stability and conservation – for instance, the long-term stability in energy and mining sectors that are increasingly challenged by climate change and energy transition needs. Our examples show unions using anticipation capabilities and, in some cases, methods to anticipate change and avoid rigidity.
  1. Rapid reorganization and redesign – for instance, in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Our examples show unions rapidly adopting technologies and new modes of engagement during the crisis.

These two archetypes try to capture the how the dynamics of the operating environments union exist in can be different, and which require different strategies to navigate. For example in the mobility / transport sector, new technologies disrupted the taxi industry, more often than not ushering in unwaged / commission based and underregulated workers. Any organization in this disruptive environment (archetype 2) is dealing with rapid changes that require unique strategies, especially if we are considering how they apply foresight or even Triple A Governance. 

Many other sectors and industries are in a conservation phase (archetype 1), but there may be a tsunami lurking on the horizon. The oil, coal, mineral and gas exploration sectors are well developed with a relatively stable business model. But the threat of climate change and challenge of decarbonization implies a radical energy transition. This has implications for millions of workers in these sectors and for how a Just Transition for union workers, not just a green transition, can be achieved. 

Snapshot of the Cases 

The 20 cases are divided into the three categories of anticipation, agility and adaptation. Examples that were explicitly and formally associated with strategic foresight methods were documented in the anticipation section. This includes cases on the South African Typographical Union, the Italian Confederation of Trade Unions, the International Federation of Professional Footballers Associations, and the European Trade Union Institute. 

The capability of agility, which focused on organizational learning and the ability to socialize foresight and shift mindsets may or may not use explicit foresight methods, but they are implicitly about translating knowledge about future change into a future ready culture and outlook. This section included cases on the Singapore National Trade Union Congress, Congress of South African Trade Unions, IndustriAll Global Union, the Georgian Trade Union Confederation, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and some related campaigns that aimed to shift public awareness. 

The capability of adaptation, again as defined in our report, is about translating organizational knowledge and learning about the future (new mindsets) into actions and activities that make the organization viable and successful into the future. Most of these don’t use formal foresight methods at all, but express creativity and innovation in bringing forth new capabilities for unions. This is often through the ability to experiment, employ new technologies, create innovations in governance, engage younger workers, and create new connections and networks. Cases in this section include UNI Global Union’s Young Workers Lab,, actionnetwork and, the Palestinian General Confederation of Trade Unions, Prospect Union, Building and Woodworkers International, Unidapp Colombia, and a number of tech prototyping and innovation initiatives. 

Together, the 20 cases provide a rich overview of how different unions are navigating change through anticipation, agility and adaptation. They provide examples that other unions and labour rights organizations can draw from and learn from. 

Insights from the Report 

Despite the dramatic changes and great challenges facing unions and the labour rights movement, there are only a handful of unions and other organizations employing foresight methods. In addition to this most of the organizations that did employ foresight methods reflected the first archetype of change, they existed in a relatively stable sector where changes are more gradual. They were therefore using foresight to disrupt and challenge themselves as a preparation for the future.

This makes sense from our experience in the field of organizational foresight, as organizations that are beset by disruption become too mired in reacting to change to think long-term. This again highlights the need for unions that consider themselves in stable environments to question how long that stability may last, and to use the opportunity of that stability to think long-term and prepare for the future. 

We also saw that as industries shift, trade unions are being challenged to reconsider their identities, and what kinds of new members might form that union. The skills of agility, being able to question the future and identity of an organization, the ability to rethink the story or narrative of an industry or organization, and the ability to dialogue and create meaning out of the complexity of a situation, these are essential capabilities in an era that is demanding greater flexibility and responsiveness. 

On the other hand, when beset by disruption after disruption, we witnessed how unions and labor rights organizations used the capability of experimentation, prototyping, service design, networking and the employment of new technologies to solve the practical dilemmas and challenges they faced. Sometimes we just need to be nimble and creative in the moment.

Concluding Thoughts

Our hope is that the Triple A Governance concept is useful in showing how there is a logical continuity between anticipating change, organizational learning and mindset shifting, and acting that generates new outcomes and future viability. We see this continuity as an important part of navigating change in the 21st century. The report and the cases do not necessarily show unions expressing all three of these capabilities at once. But in showing that all three are in effect in different circumstances and contexts and unions, there is an opportunity for unions and labor rights organizations to design more deliberately for future viability and success by bringing them together.

To this end, we conclude the report with an overview of methods in the three categories of anticipation, agility and adaptation, that organizations can review and combine to find the right mix that will support them to navigate change. We understand that trade unions, labor rights organizations and other types of organizations exist in very different circumstances, so this mix between anticipation, agility and adaptation will be different for every organization. But understanding the contextual conditions and dynamics of change, and putting in place the mix of capabilities to navigate these changes can make for a world that is better for workers and for all people. 


Gunderson, L. H., & Holling, C. S. (Eds.). (2002). Panarchy: understanding transformations in human and natural systems. Island press.

Hayward, P. (2004). Facilitating foresight: where the foresight function is placed in organisations. Foresight, 6(1), 19-30.

Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. Broadway Business.

Ramos, J., Priday, G., Browne, R., Chimal, A. (2023). Trade Unions Navigating and Shaping Change, International Labour Organization and Bureau of Workers’ Activities (ILO/ACTRAV)—ed_dialogue/—actrav/documents/publication/wcms_872819.pdf

Ramos, J., Uusikyla, I., & Luong, N. T. (2020). Anticipatory Governance: A Primer. UNDP Viet Nam (blog), 18. 



Network Foresight (NF)

The most recent development, Network Foresight (NF), involves approaches that use networked ICT systems on web based, open, “web 2.0” style interactive platforms. Some of these engage in crowdsourcing and collective intelligence (principle of the wisdom of crowds), others employ large scale scanning systems and interactive processes for idea generation and visioning:  TechCast, developed by William Halal, was one of the first forms of collaborative virtual expert based forecasting. Shaping Tomorrow has become the biggest user group for crowdsourced trends. iknow is the European Union’s collective scanning and analysis system. Finpro is one of the best examples of organizational crowdsourcing of foresight data, where employees form an important part of the scanning capacity that leads to business / industry intelligence.

The Institute for the Future runs a variety of Massively Multi-player Online Games (MMOGs) which engages thousands of people in creatively engaging with scenarios and situations. The Open Foresight Project, created by Venessa Miemis, was an open source project, relying on off the shelf social media platforms, to conduct social foresight inquiry. FutureScaper, created by Noah Raford, is a scenario planning platform that uses crowdsourcing and collaborative interaction. Each of these, and other notable examples unmentioned here, have experienced different levels of success in engaging online audiences in foresight processes. Because this form of engagement is still young, it is expected to develop significantly in the years to come (Ramos, 2012). Network Foresight approaches are part of a broader shift into a network intensive era, typified by a number of key changes. Eight of these key changes are highlighted here:

  1. Funding – NT can draw on public / distributed crowd-funding opportunities
  2. Audience – NT can engage a global public citizen sphere of interest
  3. Legitimacy – peer publics become moderators of the validity of anticipatory truths
  4. Instantiation – activity can be highly localized, swarms or flash mobs, using mobile networking for instantaneous or improvisational self organization
  5. Replication – NT platforms can be copied or franchised from one locale to many
  6. Participation – NT can engage a broad public
  7. Ownership – as citizens become key contributors there is an emerging expectation for a global knowledge commons (e.g. “it belongs to all”)
  8. Transparency – contributors want foresight approaches to be ‘naked’, that is, the process should be open for people to understand, critique, replicate, etc. (Ramos, 2012)

There are some similarities to Integrated Governmental Foresight (IGF), as IGF strategies usually employ large scale and robust ICT system to coordinate knowledge sharing and management. IGF approaches usually differ, however, because they are ‘in-house’ systems that are closed off from wider internet participation. Network Foresight is generally open to anyone who has the capabilities to contribute. For example the Singapore government’s RAHS system uses a sophisticated crowdsourced data development strategy. However, it remains closed to all except a select few organizations outside of government, with little intention to engage a global audience in participatory sensing and analysis.

Integrated Governmental Foresight (IGF)

Over the past decade or so, a new approach to Anticipatory Governance has been developed which integrates intelligence and foresight activities across governmental departments, harnessing synergies that overlaps toward systemic policy insights. While still broadly focused on national priorities and challenges, “public health, national security, or the environment,” [etc] (Habegger, 2010, p.50) this mode of foresight activity cuts across traditional policy areas and departments, and puts a premium on cooperation and collaboration across departments. It typically requires large scale knowledge management systems for scanning databases and subsequent analysis, and can be considered a limited type of organizational “crowd sourcing”.

Its end purpose is to assists policy makers with strategic thinking and decision- making. Habegger (2010) analyzed three important examples of this mode of foresight activity (UK, Netherlands, Singapore), arguing:

“Only few contemporary challenges can be confined to one policy area anymore, and governments have realized that a single-issue focus is in many instances insufficient. Consequently, they have started to experiment with foresight that cuts across the traditional boundaries of policy areas and government departments.” (Habegger, 2010, p.50)

While such an approach to governmental foresight has distinct instrumental advantages, for example the Singapore government’s Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning (RAHS) program’s capacity to identify early warning signs of potential risk, Habegger argues that the cultural benefits of this approach are perhaps even deeper, where process-based foresight among inter-organizational learning networks create conditions for cultural change toward adaptive and agile policy development. Such approaches foster cross-departmental sharing and collaboration, building in a culture of learning networks and organizations, breaking down traditional silos among government areas. Or as Habegger articulated, the IGF is:

“characterized by a long-term, interdisciplinary, participative, and communicative perspective that attempts to build networks across professional communities, enables broad-based social learning, generates scenario-based knowledge, and eventually results in visions of (alternative) policies.” (Habegger, 2010, p.50)

A precursor to integrated governmental foresight may also be noted in early experiments with what Bezold (2006) describes as “legislative foresight”. Experiments in the US at the federal level in integrating futures studies approaches into legislative processes attempted to build in environmental scanning and forecasts that could have implications for existing legislation, as well as foster coordination across legislative committees to look at intended and unintended future consequences of legislation: to establish more coordinated and coherent. As such legislative foresight played a kind of oversight function on all legislative activity (Bezold, 1978, p.124 in Bezold, 2006). While this kind of legislative foresight is distinctly different to the IGF described by Habegger, it still holds significant potential for those considering a broad strategy mix and designing Anticipatory Governance approaches.

Transition Management (TM)

Transition Management (TM) is a long term multi-generational and systemic strategy for reaching sustainable development goals and visions. It engages and empowers diverse stakeholders in a wicked problem area, or what is termed in TM discourse as an ‘Arena’, focused on targeting and engaging key domains or wicked issues. As an approach employed by governments to enact sustainable development goals, a key strategy entails creating a pioneer social innovator group that has political sanction to formulate change initiatives. In this way it draws on a synergy between governmental champions and pioneer social innovator groups or networks (it uses outsiders and insiders as an emerging alliance of change agents). The TM change strategy entails initiating “seeds of change” at a local level that can be scaled up (which serves the dual purpose of mitigating the risks of over generatized policy doctrine and developing experiments that provide long term resilience).

It is quintessentially a strategic foresight approach where global scanning is conducted but applied to local sustainability challenges, and thus it takes advantage of the emerging global knowledge commons for localized applications. It links a long term understanding of alternative futures with shorter term policy and development priorities.

“By building up a broadening network of diverse actors that share the debate, thinking and experimenting, conditions are created for up-scaling breakthroughs in innovations. We will argue that this is at the heart of transition management: by actually implementing transition management in a structured co-production process, new insights emerge, are implemented and reflected upon in a continuing way”. (Loorbach, 2010, p.238)

Transition management makes a distinction between different temporal levels of social change and opportunities for action. At the strategic level, long-term sustainability challenges and alternative futures are explored, connected to complex and wicked social problems – futures studies as an approach for generating new strategic visions, preferred futures and pathways is the methodology par excellence. At the tactical level, TM applies itself toward rethinking key system structures such as “institutions, regulation, physical infrastructures, financial infrastructures” within the context of broader sustainability challenges. At the operational level, TM attempts to generate new activities, decisions and innovations that individuals and groups can generate on a day-to-day basis in order to influence tactical change, but in the context of broader strategic foresight (Loorbach, 2010, p.238). As can be seen from this explanation, TM is unique in its strategy and methodology in terms of linking the very long-term sustainability challenges we face with specific and focused “operational” scale interventions and actions.

The transition management cycle is reminiscent of action learning and action research cycles, but where localized action recurs in the context of the movement toward long-term sustainability goals and visions. Is highly synthetic and its incorporation of elements of the action research cycle works across diverse stakeholder and participant configurations looking for leverage points of change and insight. The formulation of a problem context or “transition arena” may be followed by generating images of sustainability and transition paths, which then flows into transition experiments in the mobilization of transition networks, which is then evaluated and reflected upon,  which in turn provides the basis for a new cycle (Loorbach, 2010, p.238).

“The very idea behind transition management is to create a societal movement through new coalitions, partnerships and networks around arenas that allow for building up continuous pressure on the political and market arena to safeguard the long-term orientation and goals of the transition process.” (Loorbach, 2010, p.239)


Foresight Informed Strategic Planning (FISP)

At different levels of government, from local to states and federal, a large body of practice and literature relates to planning processes that are informed by strategic foresight approaches. If a government is considering a planning process that will have implications for 5, 10, or 20 years, often they will apply some type of foresight approach to informing the planning process. Such foresight informed planning processes are most often participatory – which engage key stakeholders in a locale that might represent the broader system) in order to discuss the long-term issues being mutually experienced. It employs workshop based approaches to foresight and requires expert facilitators and facilitation.

There are a wide variety of approaches to foresight informed planning, including search conference methods (Ludema, 2002; Weisbord, 1992), scenario planning (Mahmud, 2011) and others.

Gould and Daffara (Gould, 2007, p.2) articulate the value of foresight for planning and engaging a community in decision-making, providing participants with a deepened understanding of social change trajectories, providing an opportunity for participants to articulate and imagine their preferred futures, and to foster action plans and processes that can get integrated into achieving the futures that participants prefer. Further they argue that such approaches allow for greater transparency through open communication and involvement, where existing assumptions about the future can be made more explicit, challenged and evaluated, as well as creating opportunities for collaboration across government and citizen boundaries. Such processes bring forth new talents among people, surface existing issues and conflicts for resolution, develop the community’s capacity to question assumptions and builds hope among people. For government such processes allow policies to be informed by a deeper understanding of long-term change, deepen the rigor of existing planning schemes, help develop collaborations across sectors and provide opportunities to integrate policy (Gould and Daffara, 2007, p.3).

Futures Commissions (FC)

Futures commissions (FC) are another important tradition in the Anticipatory Governance milieu. Futures commissions are semi-independent research and communication institutes or agencies established to provide a foresight function for both government and the public.

A key opportunity in FCs is to develop futures research which can influence policy development as well as communicate with the public to enhance the level of debate in the public sphere. Often government-funded, their semi-independent nature (as a commission) allows them more liberty in providing critical commentary within both policy development processes and public discourse. This semi-independence can also become a weakness if political winds change and those in power are at odds with the research and communication flowing from such a futures commission.

As Bezold argued, these FC can be both powerful and precarious, “critical in giving government greater foresight, more conscious direction setting, and greater capacity to create positive change” – or can waste public money (Bezold, 2006, p.46).

Notable examples of such commissions include Australian FC (now defunct), and Swedish FC. Bezold (2006) documented 36 US states that created FCs since the 1990s, often within particular state jurisdictions.

Bezold described the function of FCs to:

“stimulate imagination and creativity in considering options; track emerging trends and relate these trends to current policies; develop alternative scenarios; inform and involve the public and key stakeholders; and allow the public to link policy options and trends to priority setting for state policies and the budget.” (Bezold, 2006, p.47)

Overall FCs are high impact but require significant resources and political support. Their success factors include having strong leadership support (e.g. a governor, chief justice), involving other key stakeholders, including the legislature and media, and having public learning and public involvement components (Bezold, 2006).

Usually of a robust scale, built into states or federal funding, FCs can also be found in places of smaller scale, such as in inter-organizational networks; the FCs can be used to connect a number of different jurisdictions through intergovernmental commissions. Their frequency and flexibility warrant their inclusion as a critical strategy in developing Anticipatory Governance.

Anticipatory Democracy (AD)

The term “Anticipatory Democracy” came from the seminal futurist Alvin Toffler, famous for his solution to what he considered to be “future shock”. Because Toffler considered anticipated changes to be so disruptive, he argued for large-scale citizen engagement in diagnosing change and influencing society.

As Bezold (2006) explains:

“The simplest definition of anticipatory democracy … is that it is a process for combining citizen participation with future consciousness” (Bezold, 1978 in Bezold, 2010).

Bezold “argued that representative government was the key political technology of the industrial era and that new forms must be invented in the face of the crushing decisional overload, or political future shock, that we faced.” (Bezold, 2006, p.39)

Anticipatory democracy (AD) developed in the 1970s in the United States. Bezold (1978) documented dozens of projects across the United States which engaged citizens, community leaders, business owners, religious, networks, community organizations, and policy makers in processes of formulating policy development and political direction in the context of emerging futures. Some of the processes would engage hundreds of citizens (in a few cases thousands) within a state or region, thus enacting a large scale participatory development of alternative futures and visions, which would leads to policy preferences and budget priorities in the style of participatory democracy.

But AD shouldn’t simply be seen as having purely US origins. Indeed, the development of the World Future Studies Federation in the late 1960s contained aspirations for democratizing knowledge and capacity in futures thinking. Eminent scholars and WFSF founders, such Robert Jungk with the development of future workshops (Jungk, 1987), Johan Galtung’s Transcend Method, and Fred Polak’s (1961) work, further developed by Elise Boulding (Boulding, 1978), provided impetus for citizen engagement in understanding and envisioning change and deliberating on new directions.

AD can be seen as part of a broader critique of representative democracy in the face of the rising social complexity that could not be absorbed or effectively addressed by representative systems of governance (Dator, 2007).

One of the key points of dynamism and challenge with a process such as this, is the deep diversity it engenders in the process. People with very different values come together in a public deliberation on futures. Tensions and conflicts are inevitable, or as Bezold argues:

“many individuals live within levels or memes that do not value those at other levels. Becoming conscious of these levels will be important for enhancing effective democracy.” (Bezold, 2006, p.49)

Bezold therefore argues that making AD work requires making values explicit through foresight tools and techniques that deal with social complexity, perception, values and worldviews (e.g. using Causal Layered Analysis, Integral Theory, etc.) And by using this processes, build common ground between participants for a shared vision.

On a more pragmatic basis, Baker’s analysis (Bezold, 2006, p.39) of success criteria for anticipatory democracy projects included the following important points:

  1. Obtain adequate funding ($100,000USD per year in the mid 1970s – or about $360,000 USD in 2005 dollars
  2. Face political realities
  3. Decide on the major research/goals topics early
  4. Build ties with the bureaucracy
  5. Design and implement a process that involves policy makers from the start;
  6. And present findings early and throughout the life of the process.


Science, Technology and Innovation Foresight (STIF)

Science, technology and innovation foresight (STIF) programs are perhaps the oldest form of formal foresight activity for governments. Starting in the 1960s, such programs were developed to guide large scale allocation of research resources and funding toward those research and development areas, often in the interstices between scientific research and industry-based commercialization, that were considered to have the greatest potential or were a matter of national strategic interest. Examples of STIF programs include the US Critical Technologies Program, French Key Technologies Programme, Czech Foresight Exercise, UK Technology Foresight Programme, Technology Foresight Towards 2020 in China and Japan’s long-standing MITI Technology Forecasting. They have been fundamentally connected to supporting national innovation systems. They entail a process of high level policy and priority setting which are “designed to inform Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) decision-making around the world” (Miles, 2012). Or in Georghiou and Harper’s (2010) characterization:

“The predominant focus of foresight is frequently national research policy and strategy, usually with the broad aim of selecting priorities for research investments.” (Georghiou, 2011, p.243)

Because this type of futures research entails understanding the development of science and technology in specialist domains, STIF often uses expert based approaches to futures research such as Delphi forecasting. Yet, STIF focused foresight has in some cases broadened to encompass systemic social concerns (Urashima, 2012) connecting stakeholders in STIF processes for coordinated exploration and articulation of strategic foresight. Miles (2012) explains how STIF approaches have evolved recently to incorporate more systemically complex, wicked (problem) and participatory approaches to exploring technology forecasting. He characterized more recent approaches as “fully-fledged foresight” which

“combined prospective analysis (futures studies’ insistence on the importance of relating present choices to awareness of long term future prospects, and to the need to pay due regard to agency, uncertainty, and the associated scope for alternative futures), with a participatory orientation (paying due regard to the dispersion of knowledge and agency across multiple stakeholders, whose insights and engagement need to be mobilised), and a practical relevance being closely related to actual decision making and strategy formation actions…” (Miles, 2012, p.71)

Miles ranking of priorities and objectives for STIF programs around the world reveals that such approaches have evolved considerably since their beginnings: 37

  1. Orienting policy formulation and decisions
  2. Supporting STI strategy- and priority-setting
  3. Fostering STI cooperation and networking
  4. Generating visions and images of the future
  5. Triggering actions and promoting public debate
  6. Recognising key barriers and drivers of STI
  7. Identifying research/investment opportunities
  8. Encouraging strategic and futures thinking
  9. Helping to cope with Grand Challenges (Miles, 2012, p.72)


The Game of Foresight, a One-Day Experiential Course


Everyday we make decisions based on assumptions about the future. All too often our businesses, our organisations, and us … don’t examine these assumptions about the future, and we are living for a ‘used future’, the context has changed but our mindsets have not! Change is happening all around us, and when we widen our gaze, there are threats to avoid, opportunities to access, and visions that inspire us. So we actually need to challenge our assumptions, renew our understanding of the social changes that impact us, and renew our vision for the future.

Strategic Foresight provides critical perspectives and methods for helping us to navigate our changing world. Foresight helps us to make decisions in the present with our eyes wide open to the horizons of change, actions which are aligned to our preferred futures. Without foresight and vision, we hardly know where are actions are taking us. By challenging and renewing our assumptions about the future, we gain the ability to make decisions and take actions that are consistent with how we want the future to be.


You are invited to this introductory one-day foresight course, August 4th in Melbourne, taught completely through the medium of games. If you want to learn cutting edge foresight thinking and techniques to apply to your organisation or business, or if you love to play games, or both, this course is for you.

The course is based on the “Five Modes of Foresight” approach developed by Jose Ramos. Five Modes is a holistic, easy to understand and apply approach which includes: Forecasting, Scenarios, Perspective Taking, Embodiment and Shared Action. Participants will learn about each Mode by playing games that provide key experiences, ideas and techniques.

The course will be facilitated by Jose Ramos and Gareth Priday from Action Foresight. (Bios below)

*All participants will get a digital resource pack they can use to run the games on their own.

Eventbrite - Foresight through Games

Course Outline


The course begins by presenting the Five Modes of Foresight approach. This provides a framework for the holistic application of strategic foresight.

Mode 1: Forecasting

We then launch straight into the The Weak Signals Forecasting Game. Inspired by Futurist Dr. Elina Hiltunen, The Weak Signals Forecasting Game is a game process that gives players an opportunity to test and refine assumptions related to forecasts, by employing weak signals analysis. Players bet against each other based on their perception of the relative weakness or strength of a signal or “future sign”.

Mode 2: Scenarios

The next game, scenario windtuneling, uses a process whereby participants play with the potential for interaction between various trends and emerging issues, exploring their implications and developing scenario sketches that test participant’s strategy assumptions. The game provides the basic principles and processes for understanding how scenarios are developed, and an understanding of the principle of ‘windtunneling’ for strategy testing.

Mode 3: Perspective Taking

We then do a game called the Polak Game, developed by Dr. Peter Hayward. In this game, participant get to experience different generic worldviews, and how taking these perspectives shapes the nature of how we see social systems and the strategies for change we employ.

Mode 4: Embodiment

The fourth game asks participants to embody the future through a particular role, using the Sarkar game, also developed by Dr. Peter Hayward, and based on the work of Dr. Sohail Inayatullah. The Sarkar game gives participants an opportunity to experience the challenge of working for change within a complex system.

Mode 5: Shared Action

The fifth game bridges foresight with action. Participants will play the Futures Action Model Game, developed by Dr. Jose Ramos and Gareth Priday, in which teams are challenged to design solutions in the context of the emerging future. Configurations emerge between the future, the design ecosystem, and global pioneers which lead to novel insights and solutions.

Learning Outcomes

  • A holistic understanding of the different modes of foresight and how they fit together (based on the Five Modes of Foresight approach).
  • An understanding of modes of foresight based on experiential processes, rather than just abstract learning, aiding memory and comprehension.
  • An introduction to at least 5 key foresight frameworks and methods, with the critical concepts for each game.
  • The experience of playing foresight games that can help in running the game in your organisation / community.
  • An emerging awareness of what modes are needed in different contexts, and how the different modes can be applied in organisational / personal / community domains.

*Please note that many of these processes require movement. If you want to do the course and are movement restricted or are a person with a disability, please contact the organiser so that we can find a way to make it work.


9:00 – 9:30 Introducing ourselves, introducing foresight
9:30 – 9:50 Overview of the Five Modes
9:50 – 10:50 The Weak Signals Forecasting Game
11:00 – 11:15 Morning Tea
11:15 – 12:30 The Scenarios Windtunneling Game
12:30 – 1:15 Lunch
1:15 – 2:15 Polak Game
2:15 – 3:15 Sarkar Game
3:15 – 3:30 Afternoon Tea
3:30 – 4:45 Futures Action Model Game

… to 5:30 Game Reflect and Review

About the facilitators

Dr. Jose Ramos is founder of Action Foresight, a Melbourne-based business that focuses on bridging transformational futures with present-day action. He holds a Doctorate from Queensland University of Technology in Global Studies and Strategic Foresight and has taught and lectured on futures research, public policy, social innovation and globalization studies at the National University of Singapore, Swinburne University of Technology  the University of the Sunshine Coast and Victoria University. He is senior consulting editor for the Journal of Future Studies, and has over 50 publications spanning economic, cultural and political change. He is originally from California from Mexican American and Indigenous ancestry, now residing in Melbourne Australia with his wife De Chantal, son Ethan and daughter Rafaela.

Gareth Priday is a foresight practitioner and researcher with a focus on systemic innovation and Living Labs, with a Master of Management in Strategic Foresight. He is a co-founder of the Australian Living Labs Innovation Network (ALLIN), has held a research positions with the Queensland University of Technology (Smart Services CRC) as a foresight researcher. He has taught Foresight at Swinburne University of Technology and has published in the Journal of Futures Studies and presented at a number Futures and Innovation conferences. His first career was in the financial services sector working for large international banks in the UK and Australia (UBS Warburg, Macquarie, ABN Amro, Royal Bank of Scotland) where he delivered on large scale global projects.

Futures Action Model for Policy Wind Tunneling

The Futures Action Model is a useful framework to test policy assumptions against  knowledge about emerging futures. Social policies implicitly hold assumptions about that policy’s utility and effect for social good. As change becomes more complex, interconnected and abrupt, social policies also need to prove effective within a horizon of social changes.

Policies, however, are very often the legacy of the impersonal past, developed by a previous bureaucracy, department or government. Many of these policies may have been a perfect solution for the problems of their time, but in the present moment may be losing relevance, or may even be detrimental in a future context. This is why policies and the strategies that sit beside them need to be continuously tested against possible future  conditions.

The metaphor of wind tunneling is useful here. The technique of wind tunneling was developed to trial the aerodynamic qualities of cars and airplanes, by putting them in chambers that simulated high velocity winds. Instead of producing a car or an airplane with only an abstract hypothesis about its aerodynamic qualities, wind tunneling could provide empirical data that could help designers to make adjustments to the designs of their vehicles.

While the metaphor is not a perfect fit, and an artificial chamber that produces high velocity winds is far more empirical than a scenario produced through research and analysis, the metaphor still helps us to understand that there is an important relationship between the artefacts we use and the conditions within which they function. Social policy is a public instrument to enact change and regulate social functions in desirable ways.  and yet the conditions they operate in are always changing. The scenario is like the wind tunnel, it provides the context within which a social policy may seem to be working well, not working well, or evidencing other less understood behaviour.

The Futures Action Model can also be used to “wind tunnel” existing policies and policy assumptions against possible future states. Placing the policy as the core you can ask:

  • How well will the policy work in the emerging future, in light of particular trends and emerging issues, or in light of particular scenarios and images of the future?
  • What global responses exist to a particular scenario?  and how does one’s policy compare to how others are pioneering responses from around the world?
  • Does a particular scenario challenge our understanding of the ecosystem of stakeholders around a particular issue,  or the way in which those stakeholders interact?  how does our current policy’s  assumptions about stakeholders compare with what a hypothetical future says about stakeholders? Are we missing stakeholders? Do we need to revise our assumptions about stakeholders?

For example, we can use the relationship between the emerging futures and policy to drive insights. How does a current policy idea stand up to your knowledge of emerging futures? Is there a future fit or not? And, what policy ideas emerge from thinking about the future?

And we can use the relationship between global responses and policy to also drive insights. How does a current policy idea stand up to your knowledge of the pioneer projects and positive responses being conducted around the world? Are other people already using a similar policy, or not, and how is it playing out? And, what policy ideas emerge from learning what others are doing around the world?

Finally, we can use the relationship between stakeholders / community and policy to drive insights. How does a current policy idea stand up to how your community of stakeholders will evolve given particular future assumptions? Does it serve their  emerging needs in the future, or will you need to empathize more deeply with them? And, what policy ideas emerge from empathizing and learning about the stakeholder ecosystem?


One example that we can use  are the projections for automation and robotics.  many many people are arguing that within 20 to 30 years time,  many of the jobs that we take for granted today will have been replaced by automation and robotics.  we can use this to drive a particularly dramatic image of the future, let’s say that by 2045, half of the jobs that  people do today have been replaced by automation and robotics. Here are some questions you might ask if tunnelling policies in the context of this particular assumption about a future state.

Emerging futures

  • Does the particular scenario or future assumption we have chosen seem outrageous or ridiculous enough to be useful, or do we need to look for even more divergent change, and play more boldly with assumptions about the future?
  • Is there consensus or divergence in respect to this particular scenario or future assumption?
  • For example is the image or future assumption that we have put forward about automation and robotics conservative?

Global Responses

  • How are people in any part of the world responding to this particular scenario or assumption,  and how does this compare with the existing social policies that you hold.
  • What might be some of the best practice responses by governments from around the world,  and how does this compare with the social policies that you hold?
  • For example there are many regional and national governments that are beginning to experiment with universal basic income, considered to be one of the possible responses to the scenario.

Community of Initiative / Stakeholders

  • Within the scenario logic, how  are the assumptions of stakeholders transformed?
  • For example at the moment “normal” unemployment is supposed to sit between 3% and 6% of the working population. For particular social policy that is supposed to alleviate unemployment, this 3%-6% group is considered a primary stakeholder.  but what if this stakeholder group becomes 30% to 40% of the population?  What if the very nature of this group changes?
  • How do the assumptions embedded within the current policy compared to revised assumptions within the scenario logic?


  • Are the current policies with respect to employment, training and education adequate for transitioning to such a scenario?
  • What aspects of current social policy are effectively working, and have seeming viability within this scenario? What aspects of current policy do not seem to address the needs of this future scenario?
  • What are the particular assumptions embedded in current social policy that need to be reviewed given our emerging understanding of social changes?