Foresight Resources as a Key Success Factor

Foresight Resources as a Key Success Factor

Key Success Factors of a Foresight Program

January 8, 2019, Bruno Jacobsen, Irmeli Hirvensalo

If a foresight program is to be established, someone needs to do the work. That's the first and primary resource. But human resources need to be supported by other resources too, from information sources to internal networks. In this article, we focus on the human and information resources needed to build and run a successful foresight program.


This article is based on our ebook Key Success Factors of a Foresight Program. Get it for free: Key Success Factors of a Foresight Program (ebook)

Foresight Resources as a Key Success Factor


"Foresight resources" refers to the people and information sources that make the foresight process a reality. The starting point of forming a foresight organization is appointing someone as the de facto owner of the activity. But, more often than not, as explained in our previous articles, this person will need a team.


Let's begin with a brief introduction to the roles involved in foresight work in a typical organization.


1. At the heart of a foresight organization is the owner of the activity and the one(s) responsible for steering and managing the regular operations.


Organizing the leadership of the foresight program is the natural first step on the foresight development path. The foresight "owner" will generally be the head of strategy or innovation in a company, or someone with a corresponding role in a public organization.


2. The owner of the activity then needs to form a foresight team of one or several people. (We mentioned you can have just one personal responsible for managing and carrying out the activity - but for a truly foresight-oriented organization, a bigger team will bring better results.)


In most organizations, this doesn't necessarily mean increasing headcount - or even appointing full-time specialists. In many cases, it suffices to involve part-time subject matter experts that are able to help when they're needed. Whether on a continuous basis or one-off deep dives, these people (which can be found internally or externally) bring in the expertise or skills necessary to carry out the activity.


3. The "foresight team" also needs to set up a portfolio of external sources of information. This portfolio is then tapped into whenever the team needs to put together foresight deliverables. These sources are regularly used and companies will often have a predetermined budget they can use to access them.


4. The foresight users in the organization are considered important human resources, too. It would be remiss not to use them as an important source of information. They have great knowledge about the organization, its processes, and its immediate environment. Hence, though they are at the receiving end of the foresight deliverables, they also contribute directly to their production. They make up an internal network that can bring important insights into the process and help steer it towards more useful results.


5. Finally, there are informal human resources. Each foresight user within the organization will also have a network of their own contacts outside the organization. They create personal information-source networks, even if very informal ones, which nevertheless can significantly contribute to the whole process.


Futures Platform's software helps you keep all your foresight resources in one place. Read about it here: Futures Platform


Putting the resources to work

Managing a foresight program and conducting its regular activities is often done by the same individuals, though their roles vary. The "owner" only occasionally takes part in the more hands-on activities. The foresight "lead," however, besides leading the program will also often do analysis work and compile reports. How exactly the roles and responsibilities are divided in the team depends on several factors, such as:


  • the size and industry of the organization
  • the geographical locations of the organization
  • the degree of centralization vs. decentralization of the foresight program
  • the degree of foresight work outsourcing
  • the budget allocated to foresight work


Managing the foresight process

Given the above, we can now look at the roles and resources involved in the foresight activity in more detail. Namely, we will go over the owner or sponsor, the foresight lead, the foresight team, the internal foresight network, and the external information sources.


The owner or sponsor

By the time the foresight resources are defined, the scope and internal customers of the activity should be clear. Once the purpose, the primary target groups, and the key topics of the foresight program have been determined, the owner of the activity should be easier to identify.


For instance, if the primary goal of the foresight activity is to serve strategic decision-making, the head of strategic planning might be the natural choice. If the key driver of the foresight activity, on the other hand, is to, say, spot emerging technological trends, the head of innovation or the CTO might be better positioned to own it.


It's also important to briefly touch on some practical matters. Along with the organizational function that will "own" the program, the seniority of the owners also matters. Owners who are also senior managers can escalate issues more quickly, have bigger influence on strategic decision-making, and generally bring higher credibility to the work being done.


Since foresight is, by nature, a strategic activity, organizations should strive to bring ownership of foresight programs to top management.


The foresight lead

The foresight lead has several roles to fulfil. He or she needs to manage the expectations of the foresight users, inspire and engage the members of the organization, manage content production both in-house and externally, and control and distribute the foresight tools.


Ideally, a foresight lead should exhibit leadership qualities. He or she should have built a sizeable social network within the company, inspire trust, and have the necessary credibility to lead an educated discussion about a variety of strategic topics. Preferably, this person would also have some prior knowledge of foresight as a topic, though hands-on experience in carrying out foresight work is not necessary. In our experience, many of the best foresight leaders have been appointed to this role without prior experience in foresight.


The ideal foresight lead should also possess persuasive qualities, using them to bring the foresight program deliverables to senior managers and other internal stakeholders. Managing the foresight program also involves dealing with a variety of external stakeholders, where good communication, negotiation, and conflict management skills are important. Finally, the foresight lead has to have the ability to actually execute and deliver on the expectations.


A steering group may also be appointed to the program. This steering group is responsible for prioritizing the identified foresight needs, confirming the resourcing needed, and tracking the program's progress against targets. The group should involve the owner and the hands-on leader, in addition (potentially) to some representatives from the functions that re using the eventual foresight deliverables.


The foresight team (i.e. regular contributors)

Core foresight team members can be full-time business analysts. However, in many typical cases, they are just subject matter experts in different fields, who devote a part of their work time to serving the organization's foresight needs.


The internal foresight network

The internal foresight network consists of everyone who has something to gain from the foresight program. Even though the "future," as a general topic interests and inspires many people, an internal network oriented towards it rarely emerges spontaneously. For that reason, the foresight lead and their potential team will need to activity build connections and prove that their work benefits the organization.


As the foresight program advances, the internal foresight network may form focus groups of experts around specific that may cross unit boundaries. While some groups or people may focus on alternative scenarios, others may focus on emerging customer segments, while still others focus on the development of strategically relevant technologies.


This way, a more mature foresight program knows exactly where within the internal network to go in order to achieve the best results. The synergies that further come from this network provide additional benefits, with increased efficiencies in information flow, idea generation, and problem-solving (solution creation).


The external information sources

There are few organizations that rely only on in-house analysts for their foresight activities. While in-house experts can offer plenty of insight into topics related to the organization, there's often a need to tap into external resources. Luckily, there is plenty of expertise available through foresight consulting companies, external foresight tools, and simply external networks.


Indeed, a modern foresight team is usually a combination of internal and external resources. External resources may consist, for example, of fixed elements. These include long-term partnership contracts or continuous subscriptions to information services. In addition, organizations can also utilize flexible resources. These consist of one-off, or seasonal, sources of information that organizations consult during peaks in foresight assignments.


The exact division between internal and external work is up to the company size, industry, budget, and so on. Nevertheless, an active management of the information source portfolio and of external parts is an important aspect of the foresight team's work.


No part of the foresight work should be outsourced without the active involvement of the internal team in managing it. These comes in the form of guidance, checkpoint meetings, feedback, and other control systems.


Futures Platform's software helps you keep all your foresight resources in one place. Read about it here: Futures Platform


Foresight Resources - the final key success factor

In this article, we saw how 2 types of resources - human and information resources - are important for building a great foresight program. Of course, these are not the only resources needed. A foresight program requires the same resources as any other project - a budget, support, time, and so on. But in foresight, where people, information, and analysis come together synergistically to produce great results, these are considered key success factors and deserve special attention.


In this series of articles on the key success factors (KSF) of a foresight program, we covered 5 big ones. They were: foresight orientation, foresight process, foresight deliverables, foresight tools, and foresight resources. These KSF, when applied correctly, can help any organization build a great foresight program to help them stay ahead of competition, successfully adapt to changes in the environment, or achieve its vision.


If you're interested in learning more about it, you can read more in our ebook, which is available to you for free. Check it out here: Free Key Success Factors ebook

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