Marianne Henkel

18 April, 2017

Do you like outdoor shops? I do. When setting out to get equipped for a trip, I can take hours marvelling at all those gadgets. And by the time I head toward the checkout counter, I have thought through all possible challenges and surprises I may encounter on my travels and their likelihood, and prioritised what to put in my basket (alright, except where fads and good marketing get the better of me … ).

09_ResponsiveSimilarly, Horizon Scanning and innovation together are a survival kit for agents of change in an age of change. The four contributions in this series have done a great job of pinpointing and structuring the different dimensions of the nexus between Horizon Scanning and innovation, leaving to me only to flesh out some key insights that emerge from their synopsis.  The key message in which they all concur is that:

Horizon Scanning and innovation enable us to deliver on our missions in a changing environment – all the more if they are well-linked. Given today’s urgent priorities, Horizon Scanning (and innovation) can easily be perceived as of second-order importance, anything between nuisance and luxury. However, both are about securing impact and relevance (Gnärig), about being able to fulfil your mission when the world – for which your organisation and strategy were built – changes fundamentally; About the challenge of hitting a moving target. Or, as Roberts puts it, Scanning and innovation are “fundamentally about purpose and intent”, in that they serve to reassert one’s agency instead of “simply responding to change with what seems appropriate at the time”. Le Goulven and Kaplan provide several instructive examples of how Horizon Scanning has “made the needle move” and led UNICEF to innovation – taking new approaches in response to new opportunities and challenges, opening new avenues to impact. MORE

Katell Le Goulven and Eva Kaplan

11 April, 2017

Our current blog series looks into the ways different organisations use foresight and Horizon Scanning within their current projects. To learn about the International Civil Society Centre’s foresight platform, visit the Scanning the Horizon page.


In early 2015, as Ebola was still ravaging West Africa, and markets experienced high volatility, our unit at UNICEF began our annual predications blog by announcing an end to predictability.  At least in this we were correct: volatility has only amplified since and, in retrospect, 2015 seems like a more stable time.

In reaction to this context of rapid change, UNICEF’s Policy Planning Unit sought to systematise our use of methodologies to anticipate emerging trends—both those with negative and positive potential. One such methodology is Horizon Scanning, which involves scanning a wide variety of information sources for trends and clustering them according to predefined categories.  At UNICEF, we use STEEP + H categories (Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic, Political + Humanitarian). Horizon Scanning allows us to pick up on so-called weak signals that might be pointing to the next mega-trend. However, identification of emerging trends is not the same as taking action.  Indeed, a classic bottleneck of Horizon Scanning work in large organisations is the “and-then-what?” phase. Using concrete illustrations where our scanning exercises had impact and helped spur innovation, here are a few lessons that we hope can initiate a discussion with other organisations developing similar functions: MORE

Sara Farley and Jill Carter

4 April, 2017

Our current blog series looks into the ways different organisations use foresight and Horizon Scanning within their current projects. To learn about the International Civil Society Centre’s foresight platform, visit the Scanning the Horizon page.


Look to the outside

Faced with complexity, decision makers, more than ever, struggle to understand how the impact of their actions will play out in the world around them. To overcome this lack of clarity, decision makers can arm themselves with a new, powerful approach: Systems Thinking.

A “system” is a set of actors and interactions that form a coherent whole, perform a specific function, and have a boundary that sets it apart from the rest of the world.  These systems can be centered around a problem (e.g., pollution), an industry (e.g., health care), or even a geography (e.g., the United States). Systems Thinking is a mindset with which a person can look at the components of a system and explore how they interact and what the unintended consequences of those interactions may be.  While systems analysis is starting to infiltrate more and more social sector organisations and large international donors, most systems practice focuses on isolating dimensions of a single system and trying to understand them. At the Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI), where we pursue systemic transformation by helping groups collaboratively innovate, we recognise that no single system offers the full picture. Rather, our work suggests we can only measure innovation’s potential for impact by examining the intersection and interactions between three systems: (1) the problem space of focus, (2) the system from which innovation is sourced (the innovation system), and (3) the context in which challenges and innovations intersect (the context). MORE

Alex Roberts

28 March, 2017

Our current blog series looks into the ways different organisations use foresight and Horizon Scanning within their current projects. To learn about the International Civil Society Centre’s foresight platform, visit the Scanning the Horizon page.


We live in a world of continuing and accelerating change. Our expectations about the future are likely to be challenged more and more by rapidly emerging realities which are significantly different from the status quo. How can organisations effectively operate when their environment keeps changing and the future is uncertain?

From the experience of the public sector, there are two processes that can help – Horizon Scanning and innovation.

  • Horizon Scanning (and strategic foresight more generally) can help us understand and consider different possible futures and reflect on how we engage with, and shape, emerging issues or trends.
  • The innovation process can help provide novel responses to problems that require new solutions.Innovate

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Burkhard Gnärig

21 March, 2017

Our current blog series looks into the ways different organisations use foresight and horizon scanning within their current projects. To learn about the International Civil Society Centre’s foresight platform, visit the Scanning the Horizon page.


If you look around yourself – or if you look at the range of contributions here on Disrupt&Innovate – there cannot be the slightest doubt that the world around us is changing fast and fundamentally. And if civil society organisations (CSOs) want to remain relevant and impactful we need to respond by reinventing ourselves. Neither our past successes nor our established routines will secure their survival. Only if we are courageous and bold in discarding much of our past and embracing an uncertain future will we stand a chance to develop relevance and effectiveness under completely different circumstances. CSOs’ change agenda should rest on four pillars: Scan – Disrupt – Innovate – Transform. MORE

Jessie Brunner

14 March, 2017

This blog first appeared on the IntLawGrrls blog.

Around the world on 8 March, thousands took action in various forms to highlight the ongoing struggle for gender equality while marking the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. These demonstrations in recognition of International Women’s Day served as one positive indication of the sustained collective action that will be necessary to define, build, and carry on the legacy of January’s Women’s March on Washington. Let us not forget that just two months ago three to four million people, about one percent of the U.S. population, participated in the largest demonstration in American history. We are a new and growing one percent, defined not by the power we derive from material wealth, but from the power of the people, of democracy in action.

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As evidenced during the International Women’s Day marches, many have continued to use protests and demonstrations as a core method for promoting a progressive agenda that upholds core American tenets of equality, freedom, and human dignity, views we see in direct contrast to the priorities of our 45th President. Despite this very active form of engagement, a growing disaffection is palpable among a subset of this population, which struggles to articulate a platform beyond mere “resistance.” After all, we have seen other young movements languish when they were unable to articulate an action-oriented platform motivated by specific policy goals. MORE

Malayah Harper

7 March, 2017

I often reflect on the tremendous organising energy that came from the 1994 clarion call “women’s rights are human rights”. Yet despite more than 20 years of progressive international commitments for gender equality, in the last five years, the space for civil society engaged in gender equality and women’s empowerment has been shrinking. This diminishing space has been most profound for those civil society organisations (CSOs) working to secure the most basic right of all – control of our own bodies and destinies.

Every woman, adolescent, and girl, has the right to decide whether, with whom, and at what moment to have children. We have the right to choose whether and whom to marry.  This is the central pre-condition to reduce unintended pregnancies, end child marriage, keep girls in school and expand opportunities for young women, not just to survive but to thrive.  This is the corner stone for gender equality, women’s empowerment and Planet 50:50.

Credit: World YWCA

It is often said that change takes a long time, but change can also be sudden, severe, and profound: on 23 January, just two days after ½ million women and men marched on Washington in support of Women’s rights, and after only three days in office, US President Donald Trump reinstated and expanded the Mexico City policy, also referred to as a global gag rule (GGR).

The GGR stops any and all US government funds to international organisations that provide abortion counselling, referrals or services or education on reproductive choices. The US is the biggest funder of reproductive health across the globe, and this backtrack on women’s rights will lead to an immediate loss of USD$575 million annually in funding, and threatens up to USD$9.5 billion as it extends to other US global health programs such as those working on Zika virus, HIV, etc.  It is predicted that the cut will lead to an alarming increase of 4.8 million unintended pregnancies, 1.7 million unsafe abortions, and 20,000 maternal deaths annually.  The global gag rule has used women’s reproductive rights as a bargaining chip in US politics for years, and is put in place with each Republican administration and removed with each Democratic one. The Trump administration, however, has expanded the GGR’s reach to all global health funding, with the impact hitting almost exclusively civil society organisations and the greatest consequences falling upon the most marginalised women in poor countries. MORE

Talia Kaufman

28 February, 2017

At Skateistan I have the privilege of working in collaboration with some of the brightest young people, creating after school programming for an extremely diverse participant base. Skateistan is an award­-winning international non-­profit organisation that uses skateboarding and education for youth empowerment. Over 1600 children and youth, aged 5­-17, attend our Skate Schools in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa. Through our innovative programmes, Skate and Create, Back­-To-­School and Youth Leadership, we aim to give youth the opportunity to become leaders for a better world. Together we create curriculum across cultures, language barriers and a generation gap. Results are always surprising and fun, and the best lessons and ideas come forward when Skateistan Educators start creating together, and as a programme’s director, I step back. This process is an exercise in making space for youth participation in civil society. Trust, training, technological platforms and a strong educational model can all play a role in making sure we make space in our programme design process for the voices of youth themselves – achieving real youth participation. This becomes especially significant for making authentic space for the voices and contributions of girls and young women, who are frequently excluded from decision making and from public life in general.

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Burkhard Gnärig

21 February, 2017

This blog first appeared on OpenDemocracy.

More than 20 years ago I had a lively discussion with a leading German politician who complained that Terre Des Hommes, the child rights organisation I was leading at the time, interfered with national politics. He abhorred our advocacy and campaigns and demanded that we “leave politics to the politicians”. This politician’s perspective was firmly rooted in a traditional understanding of democracy shaped in the 19th and early 20th centuries: once every four or five years people would undertake the often arduous journey to a polling station, cast their votes and return home, most of them leaving politics to the politicians until the next election.

Since that conversation, the growth of digital communications means that politicians have lost their monopoly on politics. Representative democracy as we know it is under enormous pressure everywhere. Globally, a power struggle between governments and “their” citizens or, from my perspective, between citizens and their governments, is underway. The Internet has provided each individual with more and better means to inform themselves, to control politicians, to voice their opinion, to seek the support of others and to form powerful political alliances. The space for civic participation has grown enormously and power has shifted away from traditional political structures and actors. MORE

Chase Strangio

14 February, 2017

Over the coming weeks, Disrupt&Innovate is looking at relevant, practical actions being taken against the rise in hatred across the globe. This article first appeared on ACLU’s Speak Freely blog.

Across the country [USA], before state legislative sessions have even convened, lawmakers are making clear that transgender people will again be the relentless targets of discriminatory legislation.

Last year, lawmakers introduced more than 200 anti-LGBT bills in 34 states. At least 50 of those bills targeted transgender people specifically. We were able to defeat the overwhelming majority of these proposed laws.

The two most sweeping anti-LGBT bills to torbakhopper via Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0become law, HB 1523 in Mississippi and HB 2 in North Carolina, we promptly challenged in court. In North Carolina, the passage of HB 2 has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue to the state, costly litigation, and former Gov. Pat McCrory’s defeat at the ballot in November.

But it seems lawmakers are not heeding the lessons of North Carolina. MORE