Ellie Stephens and Katie Mattern

2 May, 2017

We’ve all heard it repeated multiple times in our lives:  we all work better together. The work we do is greater than one individual, and together we can solve the challenges our world and communities face. We’ve also heard this refrain multiple times in our sector, it’s not a revolutionary idea but it’s one that’s seemingly harder and harder to take ownership of in our work.

This adage has never been more important than it is today, as civil society faces an increasing challenge of legitimacy in an evolving world too often dominated by political and financial elites. According to the CIVICUS Monitor, only 3 percent of the world currently lives in countries where fundamental civic rights are respected and enforced, leaving 6 billion people living in countries where freedom of association, assembly, and speech are curtailed. MORE

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

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

MORE

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

Marianne Henkel

20 September, 2016
“The horizon of many people is a circle with zero radius which they call their point of view”
– Albert Einstein

Participants of the Scanning the Horizon workshop in Bellagio (Italy) in May 2016.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. MORE

Sarah Ralston

13 September, 2016

Futurism is all the rage these days, and it seems to be spreading to the development sector.  I was initially fairly skeptical, and in a recent discussion on this topic with change leaders from a range of different international civil society organisations (ICSOs), it turns out I wasn’t alone. Some were cynical about the latest fad and buzz word, seeing it as a re-brand of something we have always done in how we design programs and develop strategies. Others saw it as an unnecessary theoretical exercise that, no matter how stimulating or robust, will not bring concrete changes or improvements to our work and the impact we are able to have on poverty and injustice.rachelvoorhees via flickr CC https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

To an extent both are true. No amount of analysis or scenario planning in Egypt, for example, could have prepared civil society for the various political shifts over the past several years and the resulting implications on development. But while I still have my doubts about futurism as a discipline, I have become an advocate for instituting a regular, intentional process of what is increasing being referred to as horizon scanning. For one, I do think it can inform what we do and how we do it in a way that may not be radically different from the past, but does have some important new dimensions.  Mostly, however, I have become a believer in using it as an important lever for organisational culture change. MORE

Robin Bourgeois

6 September, 2016

09_ResponsiveThere is a wide recognition today that international civil society organisations (ICSOs) are currently facing challenges that might as well mean their disappearance[1]. This would not be necessarily bad news if that disappearance meant that ICSOs had been successful in “working their way out of business”, having solved the issues which justified their creation. But this would be bad news if it resulted from a lack of anticipation about the constantly evolving environment under which they operate, and the constantly evolving nature of the issues they deal with. It would be bad if ICSOs have to walk out of business because they fail to understand how their business evolves.

This constant evolution of environment and issues can be characterised by a combination of trends and disruptions leading to increasingly uncertain futures. ICSOs are aware of this and have started to act. Indeed, the relationships ICSOs need to establish with the future are specific to their essence. Firstly because freedom, power and will, all characterise some of the core values of ICSOs. This is exactly what the future is about, as French futurist Hughues de Jouvenel once wrote: The future is a domain of freedom, a domain of power, a domain of will (FR). There is thus a natural bound between ICSOs and foresight. MORE