In ideal circumstances, we would have all been mapping out pandemic scenarios and worked out robust action plans. After all, the whole point of futures thinking is to explore possibilities so that we take action in advance. That way, when the future arrives, we’re prepared.

But real life is not “ideal circumstances.”

Today, we find ourselves facing a highly uncertain near-term future and an even more opaque mid- and long-term horizon. We can’t predict what will happen. But we can increase our own readiness, using basic foresight techniques to explore unimagined possibilities and test out what it would take to respond. Here is one of our favorites—a “cross-impact matrix” to collect your thoughts and develop ideas in one place. We hope it might provide a structure for examining the new futures unfolding in this time of change and challenge.

Map Cross-Impacts

A key tool from the IFTF Foresight Toolkit, Map Cross Impacts helps visualize intersecting, complex futures and systematically identify threats, opportunities, and critical insights. It’s a simple, but profound, matrix of forecasts mapped against impact zones.

Using the tool

  1. Using the template below, a simple matrix structure drawn on a whiteboard or piece of paper, or even a spreadsheet, choose your “future of x” topic, such as “Daily life in a post-COVID-19 world.”
  2. Select 5–7 drivers of change - the big social, technological, economic, environmental, or political shifts that will transform the next decade. These go in the row headers of your matrix. For example, “The rise of social distancing” is a large-scale, transformational new social and spatial practice with the potential to impact many domains of daily life. We don’t know how long it will last, but we can begin now to explore what it means for how we learn, shop, work, and more.
  3. Choose a set of “Impact Zones” and place them in the column headers, to create your cross-impact matrix. Experiment with different kinds of impact zones to find the ones that create the most insight for you. Common impact zone categories include: organizational or business units (e.g., Sales, R&D, HR), stakeholders (e.g., teachers, students, parents, employers), scales of impact (e.g., individual, community, city), or categories defining the landscape of opportunity, (e.g., people, tools, markets, spaces).
  4. Identify threats, opportunities, insights, or uncertainties at each of the intersections. For example, at the intersection of “the rise of social distancing” and “retail,” insights could include: stores redesign floor space to accommodate shopper and staff distancing; retail employees redesign workflows to avoid being too close to one another,” etc.
  5. Don’t expect to find an amazing insight at every intersection! But if you aren’t coming up with any insights at all, try out a different set of drivers or a different set of impact zones.

By creatively juxtaposing forecasts across a wide variety of impact zones, we get an at-a-glance view of how large-scale changes might transform an entire community, industry, or organization.

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