Trend Spotting: How Do You Do It?
From The World Future Society in “The Art of Foresight” publication
© 2005 World Future Society, 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 450, Bethesda, Maryland 20814, U.S.A. Telephone 1-301-656-8274. www.wfs.org
- Scanning: A systematic survey of current newspapers, magazines, Web sites, and other media for indications of changes likely to have future importance. Scanning focuses on trends—changes that occur through time—rather than events, changes that occur very quickly and generally are less significant for understanding the future.
- Trend analysis: Examination of a trend to identify its causes, speed of development, and potential impacts in an attempt to spot a pattern. The analysis is required because a trend can have many different impacts on different aspects of human life, and many of these might not be apparent at first.
- Trend monitoring: Trends viewed as particularly important might be carefully monitored, or watched and reported regularly to key decision makers.
- Trend projection: When numerical data is available, a trend can be plotted to show changes through time. If desired, the trend line can then be extended or “projected” into the future on the basis of the recent rate of change. Such a projection shows where the trend should be at some point in the future, assuming there is no shift in the rate of change.
- Scenarios: The future development of a trend, a strategy, or a wild-card event may be described in story or outline form. Typically, several scenarios are developed so that decision makers are aware that future events might invalidate whatever scenario they use for planning purposes.
- Polling: Collecting views through face-to-face conversation, telephone interviews, and questionnaires sent by electronic or ordinary mail. Delphi polling, popular among futurists, uses a carefully structured procedure to generate more-accurate forecasts.
- Brainstorming: Generation of new ideas by a small group assembled to think creatively about a topic. Other idea-generating or problem-solving methods are also common, such as idea mapping, impact analysis, and the systematic identification of all possible variables.
- Modeling: A set of mathematical equations can be used to represent a complex system. The model can then be used to simulate the behavior of the system under a variety of conditions.
- Gaming: Simulation of a real-world situation by humans playing different roles.
- Historical analysis: Use of historical events to anticipate the outcome of current developments.
- Visioning: Systematic creation of visions of a desirable future for an organization or an individual. Typically, this procedure starts with a review of past events and the current situation, moves on to envision desirable futures, and concludes with the identification of specific ways to move toward the desired future.
These methods are mostly refinements of the common-sense techniques that people use in other disciplines, such as economics, sociology, psychology, history, engineering, mathematics, and even biology.