Building a systematic foresight program

Building a Continuous and Systematic Foresight Process

How Business Finland approaches futures work

October 12, 2018, Annika Sipilä

Soile Ollila is the Foresight Manager at Business Finland, which focuses on offering a service path for customers in Finland and abroad in innovation funding, internationalization, and investments.

This article is based on content presented at the Strategic Foresight Summit 2018, organized earlier this year by Futures Platform.

Building a Continuous and Systematic Foresight Process

With its futures work, Business Finland covers three horizons of growth: first, the immediate one encompassing extending and defending existing businesses. The second horizon covers building emerging businesses. Finally, the third horizon revolves around creating options for the future.

Soile Ollila presents the Future Watch Workshop at the Strategic Foresight Summit 2018
Soile Ollila talks about the Future Watch Workshops at Business Finland during her presentation at the Strategic Foresight 2018

“Creating future opportunities is an active task in which we support the stakeholders in building an environment where change can be made,” Ollila said.

Strategic foresight in SME’s might be limited due to lack of resources or planning, so the foresight work at Business Finland is aimed at supporting the strategic and concrete needs of these companies. The main deliverables are new knowledge and insights to support the companies’ future capabilities.


The foresight process is built upon three key elements: people and culture, tools and methods, and content and deliverables.

“Our most important asset is a network of dedicated professionals across the globe who spot opportunities for Finnish businesses,” Ollila said, highlighting the significance of their large international network. The organization has gathered unique data of Finnish businesses, as well as their preferences and offerings to match them with global market demands.

Business Finland, together with Team Finland’s professional network, is spread out around the world, so the significance of sharing a culture that highlights the importance of futures work is essential. By motivating people to participate in idea-management and insight-sharing they deepen the mindset for futures thinking.

However, foresight process managers have encountered challenges in motivating people to contribute their valuable time to gather insights and signals for the foresight process. To motivate people, Business Finland created a transparent pipeline for ideas. They lay out the reasons why contributing is important, ranging from developing expertise and seeing it directly through market signals about these ideas, to developing networks that help improve the effectiveness and the impact of one’s work.


“But none of this would be valuable without the right tools and methods in place,” Ollila said.

Business Finland has created a systematically-managed foresight process which includes a collection tool to manage insights. A shared tool is used by the network to spot signals which are then validated by customer data, and market intelligence tools to identify growth drivers.

Collecting signals is sometimes complicated and time-consuming. “We have tried in many ways to motivate people to put in signals,” Ollila said. It needs facilitation and tools. The best way, in Business Finland’s experience, is to organize a workshop.

“First we present the signals and then ask the participants what’s missing and which are not relevant. Experts in various industry areas will point out and evaluate the most relevant change drivers,” Ollila revealed.

This collective sense-making leads to a deepened understanding of disruptive opportunities. The collective sense-making is done in seminars and workshops. “The sense-making workshops take 2 to 3 hours and the idea is that, through facilitated discussions we are able to verify signals and prioritize them,” Ollila said. They have ten future maps they update according to the 20-25 workshops held annually around the world.

Wondering how you can build a systematic foresight program? We cover all of it in our free eBook. Find it here.


Foresight deliverables are the last step in going from insight to action.

For Business Finland, foresight work produces continuous strategy inputs, events, program ideas, and helps them identify growth areas for Finnish companies. They reflect these findings in discussions they have with the companies, and how the insights resonate with the local market. “The collective sense-making and learning must be viewed as valuable in itself,” Ollila said, reminding that these foresight deliverables are not only information.


“We reflect the findings from the workshops with our experts in Helsinki and discuss with the companies on how the insight resonates with their business. Then we form action plans with the stakeholders at the headquarters, and form concrete deliverables from the insight gathered,” Ollila explained.


The main deliverables are published at the website, which identifies concrete opportunities on the market for Finnish businesses. Along frequent webinars, 20 to 30 studies are published annually based on the workshops or strategic needs from Business Finland’s programs.


“Our foresight work is a continuous process and making it systematic is both the key and a challenge. It is a long and slow way, but I am happy we have the tools to enable further development,” Ollila concluded.


Wondering how you can build a systematic foresight program? We cover all of it in our free eBook. Find it here.


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