Strategic Futures Analysis Techniques
A vision is a description of the preferred future, supported by the steps required to reach it. It should convey the purpose and values of the policy or organisation both for those delivering it and all the affected stakeholders. A vision should be inspirational and challenging but also achievable within the timescale.
HM Revenue and Customs’ vision is:
We will close the tax gap, our customers will feel that the tax system is simple for them and even-handed, and we will be seen as a highly professional and efficient organisation
A vision needs to be supported by the actions required to deliver it, the objectives, which are generally grouped under higher level aims.
Generating a vision
It is important that before creating a vision the purpose of the policy or organisation is understood. For organisations, this is often contained in a mission statement. The mission statement may be reviewed as part of a visioning process. The timescale for delivering the vision also needs to be agreed. If it is too short it is unlikely to be sufficiently stretching and if it is too long the actions may be put off until too late.
Top down – In this approach a statement is generated that describes the vision, making clear what is to be achieved and what is most valued. The aims and objectives required to deliver the vision are then determined. In the HMRC case above, the vision might have been based on reaching a consensus that the most valued achievements would be to close the tax gap; have a simple and even handed tax system; and a professional and efficient organisation.
Bottom up – In this approach, all the objectives required to achieve the best possible outcome are generated. These are then grouped together under selected aims, and a vision statement generated that describes the desired outcomes. In the HMRC case this might have started with the generation of a wide range of objectives that could have been grouped under aims of closing the tax gap; creating a simple and even handed tax system; and ensuring that HMRC is a professional and efficient organisation. The vision could then have been generated from these aims.
In practice it is usual for a visioning process to involve a combination of top down and bottom up activities. For example, in the case of a top down process the analysis of the objectives may suggest additional aim that would require the vision to be updated. In the case of a bottom up process there may already be a high level view of a potential vision.
Role of futures analysis
A vision should take account of the range of potential future environments in which it needs to succeed. Most potential futures opportunities and challenges are also likely to suggest objectives required to achieve the best potential outcomes. It is therefore important to include horizon scanning data as part of a visioning process. Scenarios can also be used to explore opportunities and challenges, potential visions and test a vision (wind tunnel) against different futures.
Other policy and strategy tools (e.g. SWOT analysis) also have applications for visioning
Role of metaphors
A vision is usually about a journey from a current position to a preferred position in the future. The achievement of a vision usually requires shared ownership and joint actions. This can often be assisted by actively involving key stakeholders and delivery partners in the visioning process. Metaphors can then be a useful tool for facilitating a shared discussion of the current and future position where they have the potential to make participants less defensive and more focussed on the critical issues.
This metaphor of Frankenstein’s monster is from a project on transforming an organisation. It illustrates the current position of a merged organisation where the joins still show, which is lumbering, inflexible and not user friendly. One example of the “after” was a twin engine airplane with the two organisations (engines) pulling in the same direction to an agreed destination.
Metaphors also have a broader role in futures analysis as they can be used to facilitate debate about different futures. They can also be used to illustrate the characteristics of different futures.