+ What is Scanning?

Scanning is the first phase of the foresight process. When we scan, we are looking for information to get a view of important ideas and behaviours that are occurring in the world that will impact the way that we think and behave in the future. As the first step in the foresight process, we look wide and far for "signals of change". "Signals of change" can be almost anything--we are looking for blips of information that tell us that there is something new or different emerging, and that signals a possible change in the status quo.

Once we have gathered a set of signals, we group them based on larger trends they identify. We examine trends to understand what will influence the way that the future occurs, and to better understand how organizations might succeed in this future landscape.

+ Why are we using Scanning for this project?

Scanning plays a vital role in the foresight process, and is an important capability many organizations choose to invest in. We are working with your organization to better understand trends that will influence your future. We are looking to identify "signals of change" that might affect how you operate in the future.

Most of the other design tools and processes we use are about understanding and designing for the world today. Scanning ensures our prototypes, organizations, and entire sectors also meet the needs of people well into the future.

When we say trends in foresight, we're not just talking about existing market and customer trends. Foresight trends are developed by looking at weak signals of new things happening in the world. Sometimes signals come from very different sources or from emergent technologies and different sectors and we work to determine if a set of common signals indicate a trend that will have broader impact. Some of them will align with our current expectation for the future and many will not. This challenges organizations to think different and develop stronger, more resilient strategies.

+ What kind of support do we expect from Overlap?

The foresight team at Overlap will pull together signals from unusual contributors that are relevant to the landscape for this project. We will contribute to the Scanning process early on, as well as throughout the process to fill any perceived gaps.

We will also play a big role in synthesizing the signals into insights and trends. We use our expertise as process and design experts and we can include your team as subject matter experts to get a more wholistic view of the possible future.

+ What kind of support does Overlap need from you?

Scanning is best done with a diverse set of participants. When trying to uncover weak signals, we go to the thought leaders and visionaries. We look for people with the most experience within a given landscape, we review what they're blogging and Tweeting about, engage them in insightful conversations when we can, and scan popular media for headlines that support the claims.

As an organization full of (and connected-to) leaders within the landscape we are scanning, you are best-placed to uncover and identify weak signals. As you do, we would love for you to keep a record of the "blips" that come up for your organization. Overlap is happy to provide you with a form that helps you to keep track of it all.

+ Overlap tips and tricks!

Policy Horizons Canada has formalized their foresight process and it aligns well with the our approach. They describe a useful weak signal as significant, novel, plausible, and timely. These four criteria can be used as a gut check when identifying weak signals.

It's important to keep in mind that identifying signals is a bit of a numbers game and, while it's important we filter out the noise, we don't want to miss or discount any weak signals too early in the process. As designers, we look for lots of ideas first and then we decide which work, so we invite you to share all of the information that you find useful, even if you aren't sure about what it might be signalling. We will check for counter evidence as we develop insights and trends.

If you have any questions about signals, foresight or using foresight in your organization, feel free to call us and we'll talk about the future!