It’s a great time to be a foresight practitioner. Design, ethnography, innovation, strategy, experience, change management...people at the edges of all these professional practices are busy inventing new ways to imagine possibilities, change behaviors, and provoke action. That’s because none of our current practices are getting us quite where we need to be, which is grounded in the deep realities of the present, attuned to how the world is changing, dreaming about what could be different, and motivated to take new kinds of action. The annual EPIC conference, where people gather to learn about the latest developments in ethnographic practice in industry, was a great place to explore how foresight intersects with all of these practices. This was why Neil Collman, Practice Director at UK service design consultancy NileHQ, and I hosted the salon, “Design, Ethnography, and Foresight,” at the 2019 EPIC conference in Providence, Rhode Island. Here’s how we framed the conversation:

Foresight practices equip us with tools for confidently assessing change, building provocative and useful visions of the future, generating relevant insight, and framing potential action. Today, futures practices are making their way out of long term strategic planning or R&D into design cycles, workforce development, practical tech ethics, and all manner of innovation workflows.

But foresight practices need to be connected to practical action on the ground and require significant effort to stay relevant and useful – time teams often struggle to prioritize. In this salon we’ll explore the role of foresight in service design and commercial environments, our successes and failures, practical ways of working and how we might evolve foresight, design, and ethnographic practices to tackle human, societal and commercial challenges. Discussion questions:

  • What competencies do we need to develop to be part of this evolution?
  • How can foresight reshape design process, and vice versa?
  • How can foresight reframe ethnographic research within design projects?

I shared IFTF’s Prepare-Foresight-Insight-Action framework from our IFTF Foresight Essentials training, and Neil discussed a client design project where he added foresight as a new part of the process, at the front end. Not surprisingly, it turns out it takes practice to graft futures research and perspectives whole cloth onto other kinds of work streams, whether it’s design, user research, or ethical innovation in product design.

What we need now is more experiments integrating the long-term perspective into already-established organizational processes – especially product development and design. Let us know if you have examples; we would love to highlight them!

Check out Neil's video from the 2019 EPIC Conference.

Want to receive free tips, tools, and advice for your foresight practice from the world's leading futures organization? Subscribe to the IFTF Foresight Essentials newsletter to get monthly updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Ready to become a professional futurist? Learn future-ready skills by enrolling in an IFTF Foresight Essentials training based on 50+ years of time-tested and proven foresight tools and methods today. Learn more ».