Burkhard Gnärig

18 August, 2015

Detecting Disruption Early

Detecting Disruption Early in civil society organisations

There are three major dimensions in navigating disruption. The first one is to detect disruption early. If you find out about a specific disruptive change well before that change affects your organisation, that gives you time to prepare for disruption and have your strategies ready once it strikes. The second dimension is to embrace disruption. This means developing a positive mindset towards disruption. If you can’t avoid disruption you better learn to love it and to disrupt yourself before somebody else will do it. The third dimension, finally, is to manage disruption once it strikes. Disruption means change – transformative change which comes along fast and fundamental, not incremental change which allows for hesitation and delays. We have discussed the terms of transformative change before.

Today we look at our first dimension: How can we detect disruption early, and, even more importantly, how can we identify the most relevant disruptors? Recently it is becoming apparent that the awareness of possible disruption is on the rise and that more and more civil society organisations (CSOs) are setting up or strengthening their strategy units in order to more systematically scan the horizon for new challenges and opportunities. While this is a necessary and highly recommendable first step it is probably not a sufficient one. As changes are so fast, complex and hard to predict it is important to exchange information with others in order to compare one’s own assessments with the findings of others who may look at changes from a different point of view.

Here comes an example: if you are working in a CSO focusing on the protection of the environment, your review of future challenges and opportunities will focus on issues emerging in the field of environmental protection. And if you are working in a CSO fighting for the eradication of poverty you will most probably scan the horizon predominantly for social and economic developments. However, given the increasing interconnectedness between social and environmental developments the main disruptors for a development organisation may very well come from an environmental source: for instance, land for agricultural development is no longer available as remaining terrain is reserved for environmental conservation. And an environmental organisation may be challenged predominantly by a social or economic disruptor: for instance, the increasing demand for energy worldwide leads to a growing use of fossil fuel negatively affecting the climate.

With an increasing world population and increasing consumption per capita, conflicts between developmental and environmental concerns will grow – both sectors will unavoidably disrupt each other. Therefore cooperation between strategists and futurists of both sectors are essential to support each other in detecting those disruptions which come from the other sector. The same is true for CSOs working on human rights, humanitarian intervention, gender, disability, children, etc. None of them can operate in isolation. Their main challenges and their opportunities may well arise in an area they are not working in and find difficult to assess.

Against this background the International Civil Society Centre aims to bring together the specialists in strategic foresight from the different CSOs in order to update each other on their activities and to discuss how they can improve the quality of their work by cooperating across sector boundaries. The Scanning the Horizon project’s vision is to build a sustainable structure which continuously scans the horizon for potential disruption. By initiating the cooperation of CSOs from different sectors, the Centre aims to provide a much more complete picture of potential disruption than any CSO working on their own could possibly achieve. By working together and by sharing resources CSOs can reduce costs while at the same time improving the quality of their foresight. I very much look forward to being part of this exciting project.

What does “strategic foresight” mean in your organisation? Are you interested in our project? What is your perspective?

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