Futures Intelligence: Types of Futures Knowledge

Futures intelligence is future-related knowledge that can inform your decision-making, planning, strategy and innovation processes about the coming changes, challenges and opportunities.

December 8, 2020, Tuomo Kuosa, Max Stucki

Futures intelligence is a key component of all successful decision making, strategy work or innovation. It provides its users analytical knowledge about future changes, trends and their potential impacts.

This is the first part of our Futures Intelligence blog series. The series discusses the creation and use of futures intelligence.

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FUTURES INTELLIGENCE – WHAT IS IT?

Intelligence, in general, can be understood as useful knowledge derived from otherwise unstructured or unanalysed data. Futures Intelligence, specifically, is future-related knowledge, or futures knowledge, produced for a specific purpose using futures studies and foresight methods.

What sets futures intelligence apart from traditional intelligence or business intelligence is that it uses foresight and futures studies methodologies to collect and analyse information. Futures intelligence aims to assess, forecast and imagine the various future effects different events, trends or phenomena could have.

Futures intelligence aims to support decision making, whether it concerns strategy, innovation, risk analysis or any other future-related activity. It helps the organisation, public or private, to achieve its goals and ensure its survival in an unpredictable and challenging environment.

Future Intelligence is usually collected and analysed by trained futurists and presents potential future effects and developmental paths in a clear, concise and informative manner. The information found on the Futures Platform's future change database is an excellent example of Futures Intelligence. Start a free trial of Futures Platform to explore 700+ future-focused phenomena categorised into timeframes and get a head-start in your scenario work. Are you already a user? Log in here.
 

CATEGORIES OF FUTURES INTELLIGENCE

Futures Intelligence is not a single product. Generally speaking, futures intelligence can be divided into four categories, each suitable for a different purpose. Each of the categories is comprised of different types of futures knowledge, the basic building block of futures intelligence. The different knowledge types can help us in understanding the plausible, probable and possible futures.

 

Types of Futures Knowledge and Intelligence
Figure: Types of Futures Knowledge and Intelligence © Futures Platform 2020

 

MEGATRENDS, TRENDS AND CHANGE DRIVERS

THE FIRST CATEGORY of Futures Intelligence helps to obtain understanding concerning the larger picture and path-dependencies related to the theme that one is interested in. It comprises mostly of megatrends, trends, and change drivers, which are usually quantifiable.

Megatrends are global, long-term change developments that have impacts on business, economy, society, and culture both on societal and individual levels. Megatrends are comprised of a multitude of phenomena and do not change their direction easily. Examples of megatrends are climate change, urbanisation and digitalisation.

Trends have a recognisable developmental path that can at least in theory, be verified with quantitative data. A current trend is a push of historical path-dependency, which we believe will also continue in the future. Examples of trends include the growth of platform economy, plant-based meat substitutes and the rising importance of cybersecurity.

Change drivers are either internal or external forces that shape the development of an organisation, a market, a strategy, or a society. Change driver examples are new legislation, new customer needs, technological change, and an emerging need for differentiation due to competition.

 

SCENARIOS

THE SECOND CATEGORY is about getting understanding of plausible and viable alternatives within the theme one focuses interested in. This type of futures intelligence is most commonly obtained by using scenario production methods.

Scenarios are descriptions of the alternative development paths. They are either plots in the form of narratives or quantitative forecasts in the form of curves. They are not predictions of the future but help to explore what could happen and how to prepare for various contingencies.

 

DISCONTINUITIES, EMERGING ISSUES AND WEAK SIGNALS

THE THIRD CATEGORY goes closest to the more traditional intelligence, and Market Intelligence as it is about being vigilant concerning changes in the environment. The main interest in this category is on discontinuities, emerging issues, and weak signals of change. In foresight context, this is usually called Horizon Scanning, which is also quite often described as the future knowledge gathering phase, the first stage of a more extensive foresight process.

Discontinuities & Emerging issues are strong signals of significant changes in trends or previous developments. Discontinuities can be either expected or unexpected accelerations, slowdowns or total cessations of the known path of developments. Emerging issues are novel things that seem to begin to get their form and may thus start to generate something new in the working environment.

Weak signals are early information concerning potential discontinuities and emerging issues such as new technologies that are still in their infant phase but may see a break-through at some point. They are not public knowledge meaning that only a small group of people are aware of their potential. Weak signals can grow into trends, fade away or appear as early warnings on wild cards.

 

WILD CARDS AND SCIENCE FICTION

THE FOURTH CATEGORY is about possible futures created by free imagination. The key forms of futures knowledge in it are wild cards, black swans, and science fiction. Science fiction can be entirely fictional meaning that there are no linkages to the known realities. Yet, it still has a vital role in feeding our visionary processes with out-of-the-box descriptions.

Wild cards are speculations of low probability, high impact events. They base on currently seeable issues that are boldly projected to the future. By nature, they are sudden, rare, unexpected, surprising and disruptive discontinuities and shocks, that can be either positive or negative. Some examples of wild cards that became true are the Chernobyl disaster, 9/11, 2008 financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Science Fiction can be pure imagination of the future technological, societal, environmental, political, economic or scientific advances and changes, and their implications. Science Fiction is used to explore the future, design it, innovate or prepare for various possibilities. It provides out-of-the-box narratives that may become self-realising predictions. Especially the Science Fiction movie scene has been very effective in this.

 

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THE USES OF FUTURES INTELLIGENCE

How and for what Futures Intelligence is used always depends on the organisation’s unique needs and context. However, some common themes for its use can be identified:

  • early warning: to alert the organisation about threats and opportunities
  • informing and future-proofing decisions, plans and strategies: ensuring that no important future changes are overlooked when the future success is at stake
  • thought leadership: communicating informed views about future yields benefits in marketing and creates discussions with potential customers
  • innovation: understanding or creating future market needs
  • risk analysis: understanding potential and emerging risk related to the plans, strategies and objectives

Any decision, plan or process that has significant future-reaching consequences benefits from the application of futures intelligence. Otherwise, there is the risk that the understanding when making the decision, preparing the plan, or starting the process is solely based on backwards-looking information, or even only on past, unanalysed data, that does not offer insights into potential future consequences, opportunities or threats.

If only past data is used, the picture concerning the future implications of any plan or decision remains deficient, which creates unnecessary and avoidable risks. The more the future is explored, the less unknown unknowns there are.

 

PRODUCING FUTURES INTELLIGENCE – FUTURES INTELLIGENCE CYCLE

Futures Intelligence Cycle
Figure: Futures Intelligence Cycle © Futures Platform 2020

 

The production and use of futures intelligence is a continuous cycle. The cycle is modelled after the traditional intelligence cycle, but it contains futures studies and foresight-related elements that modify it for futures knowledge creation.

DIRECTION: Futures Intelligence Cycle starts with the needs of the organisation that direct the futures information collection.

INFORMATION COLLECTION: The information is collected using foresight techniques, like, e.g., Horizon Scanning or weak signal identification.

ANALYSIS: the collected information is analysed using foresight and futures studies tools, such as trend analysis and wild cards. In Futures Intelligence Cycle, the analysis is not only about trying to understand what is happening but to actively make assessments of the future impacts, consequences and implications of the information.

DELIVERY AND VALIDATION: The analysis turns information into intelligence, which is then packaged and passed to its users who validate its usefulness.

IMPLEMENTATION: In the final stage, futures intelligence is implemented to guide, for example, strategy, decision-making, innovation, or planning. The process then starts again with new needs and directions, and feedback from the previous round.

Futures Intelligence creation is not always continuous. In some cases, only a deep dive for some specific purpose is needed. The process for the deep dive creation still follows the cycle, however.

In its most advanced form, futures intelligence creation is a continuous system that produces high-quality, future-oriented information to all stakeholders and decision-makers. This helps in keeping the Future Situational Awareness of the organisation anchored in the latest developments. It is about being conscious of the multiple possible futures you may face at all times.

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KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER

Future is continually in flux. The changes today are reflected in the changing environment of the future. By remaining vigilant of the current changes and analysing them lets you prepare for the contingencies that may turn into reality.

Futures Intelligence is your key to future success. Set up a futures intelligence system in your organisation and subscribe to Futures Platform's foresight solution to shape, design, and prepare for future opportunities and challenges.

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The blog series on Futures Intelligence continues soon! Remember to read also the next parts to not miss out on relevant information. The blog complete blog series has five parts:
 

  1. Futures Intelligence: Types of Futures Knowledge
  2. Megatrends, Trends and Change Drivers: Understanding the Larger Picture and Path-Dependencies
  3. Scenarios: Looking for Alternatives
  4. Horizon Scanning and Vigilance Concerning Changes: Discontinuities, Emerging Issues and Weak signals
  5. Wild Cards and Science Fiction: Free Imagination
     

Don’t miss out on the next article and subscribe to Futures Platform’s free future newsletter.

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