The Generic Foresight Process Framework

An example of how one foresight framework can be applied in practice.

The Generic Foresight Process Framework
The Generic Foresight Process Framework

An overview of a popular foresight process

I use the Generic Foresight Process Framework developed by Joseph Voros (A Generic Foresight Process Framework, 2003) in my strategy work. This framework (GFPF) was developed in the planning department at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia and first articulated in the Foresight Primer. I led the department at that time and while I lay absolutely no claim to have participated in the creation of the framework itself, I have used the GFPF in my work since its first iteration in 2001, at Swinburne (2001-2004) and Victoria Universities (2005-2007), and in my work since 2007.

Our work and processes designed at Swinburne aimed to integrate foresight approaches into the existing university planning framework, so the approach had to be practical, derived from published research and practice, and suit the Swinburne context. In this early work, we had first-hand experience of the power of a foresight process and its different thinking modes to trigger a worldview shift that enabled the future to be accepted as real in the present. We came to understand that this thinking shift was as valuable as the tangible scenarios and strategic options that emerged from the foresight processes we conducted.

The framework consists of a number of steps shown in the image below.

Each phase of the GFPF is summarised here.

  • Inputs involve scanning the external environment to identify changes that are shaping the future of an organization in its industry and global contexts.
  • Analysis of the environment scanning results identify major change shifts that an organization needs to explore to identify potential strategic implications.
  • Interpretation helps people identify assumptions and underpinning beliefs about the future, looking for deeper system dynamics and worldviews shaping how the future of the organization is understood.
  • Prospection is the step most often missed in conventional strategy work. This step develops possible images or scenarios for the organisation’s future in order to make decisions informed by the future as well as the past and the present.

The Inputs and Analysis phases are focused on understanding the external environment in the context of the organisation, while the Interpretation and Prospection phases tap into what people individually believe about the future and how organisational culture enables and constrains those beliefs.

One Application of the Generic Foresight Process Framework

I use this framework to design work in each of the major stages of developing organisational strategy.  At its core the framework is divided into three phases:

  • seeing: identifying change shaping the organisation's future,
  • thinking: interpreting change to explore possible futures and proactive strategic responses,
  • doing: deciding on a preferred future and taking action to move towards that future.

Interpretation and Prospection are the spaces where futures thinking occurs in strategy development, and the space most often neglected in conventional strategy processes. This is not surprising since planning is process focused - but people think strategically not organisations.

The table below provides more detail about each phase in this framework and highlights primary questions, activity and example methods that can be used.

An Indicative Use of the Generic Foresight Process Framework
Phase Primary Questions Activity Indicative Foresight Method
See: Input What is happening out there? Identifying external change shaping futures for your organisation Environmental Scanning using STEEP/VERGE
See: Analysis What is happening out there? Finding patterns in change, finding change that matters for your organisation Trend analysis/Three Horizons
Think: Interpretation What seems to be happening? Deeper understanding of change, challenging assumptions/biases Causal Layered Analysis
Think: Prospection What might happen? Imagining and exploring alternative futures – potential, possible, probably, plausible, preferred. Scenario Development
Do: Outputs What might we need to do? Identifying best-fit strategic options: near, medium and long-term Backcasting
Do: Strategy What will we do? How will be do it? Agreeing on strategic action to take today Strategic Planning

The methods in the table are defined in Foresight Methods.