Foresight exercises typically task a group with imagining how a situation will evolve, often using fictional prompts and props as well as real data, knowledge and expertise. The intention is to disrupt their conventional thinking, thus allowing planners to anticipate a range of possible outcomes, including novel and extreme possibilities. Ways of prompting this disruption continue to be developed, with potentially interesting new avenues being the use of synthetic data and machine learning to support the creation of unorthodox narratives.2425
These techniques may help to address the current tendency of foresight work to identify positive or preferred futures. If we are to be truly open to what the future may hold, in order to better manage its challenges as well as exploit its opportunities, we must also consider “un-futures”: uncertain futures, unlikely futures and undesirable futures. This includes concepts that have become widely known, such as “black swans” and “existential risks”, but further work needs to be done to map and understand the space of “unfutures”.26
One strand of development is understanding how unknown and disruptive factors can be envisaged using scenarios or other futures methods and then integrated into the parameters or structure of a quantitative model.27 A second is an expansion of the application space, to address such issues as identity or the interests of transnational communities as well as more traditional strategic questions. There is also a need to better understand what constitutes successful scenario generation and how it can be integrated with decision-making.