Strategic foresight and scenario planning for risk-informed development

Stage 5

Stage five of risk-informed development

This resource forms stage five of our Risk-Informed Development Guide, which provides a comprehensive stage-by-stage approach to working with communities most at risk.

Exploring what is happening in the wider society and trying to foresee the many different plausible futures from multiple emerging trends allows communities most at risk to shape their risk-informed development plans. 

Horizon scanning and recognising mega-trends can help inform and capture new risk drivers and other external forces of change. It can also help capture the changing nature of the six major risk drivers in the context of a country, region or cities. 

The findings of participatory contingency planning and its process allows for the preparation of plans for various scenarios of hazards. Strategic foresights help capture signals of change and mega-trends at a global level, and in particular detect trends with respect to the six primary risk drivers. Together these two techniques can vastly improve insights for adaptation and future proofing.

To achieve this stage – and start influencing development – engage with communities most at risk to: 

  • Draw out signals of change 
  • Identify external trends in the wider society
  • Identify relevant global phenomena
  • Examine the identified risk drivers and emerging drivers of change 

It is an opportunity for communities to look at their immediate and long-term development priorities through the lens of these larger more global trends. Importantly, facilitating conversations that re-imagine visions and goals in alignment with a better view and understanding of multiple trends should take place. 

Strategic foresight and scenario planning aims to: 

  • Foresee how the community’s future could look with respect to future trends and external factors of influence – including the six disaster risk drivers
  • Re-imagine all possible risk scenarios (with respect to hazards and communities’ vulnerabilities) under various future conditions and trends (including consequences for the locality and community members) to take anticipatory action

1. Foresee the future exercise

Design a participatory group exercise for communities most at risk to foresee the future. This can be done through foresight methods using multiple alternative plausible futures based on their usefulness in developing robust, future-ready policy. 

It is different from forecasting: forecasting attempts to predict a single ‘correct’ version of the future based on evidence and probability. 

However, strategic foresight understands the future as an emerging entity that is only partially visible in the present, not a predetermined destiny that can be fully known in advance (i.e. predicted). The intent is not to get the future right, but to expand and re-frame the range of plausible developments that need to be taken into consideration.

There are broadly four types of foresight methods:

Horizon scanning

Seeking and researching signals of change in the present and their potential future impacts. Horizon scanning is the foundation of any strategic foresight process. It can involve desk research, expert surveys, and reviews of existing futures literature. 

Mega-trends analysis

Exploring and reviewing large-scale changes in the present at the intersection of multiple policy domains, with complex and multidimensional impacts in the future. 

Scenario planning

Developing multiple stories or images of how the future could look to explore and learn from them in terms of implications for the present. 

Back-casting the vision for the community

Developing an image of an ideal (or undesirable) future state and working backwards to identify what steps to take (or avoid). 

It should also involve, in collaboration with relevant experts, presentations on signals of change in the community and wider region, along with mega-trends (including the six drivers of risks which are global with local implications). Interactive discussion to present these findings to communities should strengthen discussions around these multiple, possible future scenarios. 

2. Long-term trends

Aim to identify specific trends that the community thinks would affect them in the long run. Imagine how these trends could affect their basic needs, housing/shelter, safety and security, livelihoods, jobs, connectivity and access to various resources. Discuss and imagine how the community vision and aspirations for the future will be influenced by these global and regional trends. Examine and discuss if existing vulnerabilities and risks (as identified in the earlier stages of analysis) will be influenced by these future trends. 

3. Review decisions

Stage four facilitated risk prioritisation and decisions were made to focus on certain risk factors, groups at risk or geographical areas. In this stage, the community should review this process against any emerging knowledge to strengthen those decisions. 

Hold discussions to explore ways to prepare for all of these positive and negative trend-based scenarios. Discuss how communities can re-adapt both their vision for the future and existing practices (life and development activities), to be prepared to deal with any of these future scenarios.

Project partners

Our Risk-Informed Development Guide was produced as part of our Local Leadership for Global Impact project. The project and all related content was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). All content is the sole responsibility of GNDR and does not necessarily reflect the views of the BMZ.

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Our Local Leadership for Global Impact project is implemented in partnership with Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe.

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