“The horizon of many people is a circle with zero radius which they call their point of view”
– Albert Einstein
This past month’s gripping and insightful blog contributions have yielded very different experiences with, and views on, horizon scanning. The common denominator between all, perhaps, is an understanding that we are at a point where the international civil society sector is undergoing rapid change, and that horizon scanning is a tool to prepare for shifts in the external environment, to speed up transformation, and catalyse best practice.
Each author has other remarkable insights to share on what horizon scanning is, or can be:
Liberating our minds: Lars Gustavsson (Futurist, author and speaker) specifically makes the case for collaboration on horizon scanning across the civil society, public, and private sectors as a way to foster learning and the emergence of new approaches to development. He points out that bringing about radical change in established organisations is hard, and that foresight is a tool to break up existing patterns of thinking, to think innovatively of the present, and of day-to-day business. Indeed, the questions foresight asks and the tools it offers are made to free our thinking.
A means to get at the causes, not symptoms: Robin Bourgeois (Agricultural Economist and Foresight Practitioner, Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement) posits that being future-smart is in civil society organisations’ DNA, as a natural consequence from their long-term commitment to their cause, and to working on the roots rather than symptoms of problems. Whether you want to eradicate poverty or protect human rights, be one step ahead of current public opinion, be aware how drivers are changing and challenges are emerging. This may lead to strategies different from those in today’s mainstream.
Fostering a culture of change and learning: Sarah Ralston (Head of Organisational Development & Accountability, CARE International) points out how a regular process of horizon scanning across CARE International had made the organisation more future-oriented and open to change. She concludes: “The process of scanning demands an accompanying capacity to adapt”. Indeed, the ongoing exchange on horizon scanning approaches in our platform yielded that, alongside consultations with external experts, several organisations engage their own staff in trend analyses, including to stir future-oriented discussions outside – or beyond – top-level management and create a momentum for change. This capacity to anticipate and adapt is not a luxury, but vital to ICSOs in times of rapid change. “If we are not taking stock of these trends, actively discussing implications and pre-positioning for anticipated disruptions”, Sarah contends, “then we arguably do not have a place in the 2030 development landscape.” This notion of scanning as a mindset-changing, capacity-building tool is closely related to another one:
A process of empowerment: Horizon scanning in the narrower sense may be an analytic exercise of “Where are we headed?”. However, making use of findings necessarily invokes questions like “What do we want the future to look like, and how do we get there?”. Robin Bourgeois reminds us that many of those on whose behalf international civil society organisations (ICSOs) act do, in fact, pose themselves those very same questions, and have answers which should be considered. Empowering local communities by bringing their trend observations and strategies to the table can turn it into an “inclusive process of co-elaboration” – and civil society into trusted “brokers of the future”. Such participatory foresight rings similar to ongoing debates about greater accountability towards beneficiaries.
The authors from our blog series have pointed to many interesting perspectives on horizon scanning; they have provided some answers to why horizon scanning is important for international civil society, and what the process can contribute to organisational development.
Scanning the Horizon was founded as a platform to catalyse collaboration on foresight in the civil society sector, to allow for more complete and robust analyses and solutions to emerge than any one member could develop on its own. As Burkhard Gnärig (Executive Director, International Civil Society Centre) puts it: “Working together across the sector and cooperating with other sectors can save costs and, at the same time, improve the quality of findings”. By enabling exchange on approaches and experiences in horizon scanning, it may also help kindle processes that foster a culture of change. Our authors have pointed out the premise for success: To be creative and impactful, horizon scanning has to be driven, and taken forward by everyone. I am committed to facilitating this collaboration.
This blog is the final in our series on Scanning the Horizon – based on a project of the same name facilitated by the International Civil Society Centre, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. For more information on the exciting new endeavour, or joining our community, please visit our website or get in touch with Marianne Henkel (email@example.com).