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The Civil Society Foresight Observatory Discovery Report

Creating shared foresight infrastructure for funders and civil society organisations

Read the report

Now is a good time to think about how we think about the future

Screengrab of a report title: dark blue background with white lettering that says A Constellation of Possible Futures: The Civil Society Observatory Discovery Report
The Civil Society Observatory Discovery Report

Careful Industries is piloting a shared Foresight Commons that will make it easier for funders to fund the future and help civil society organisations anticipate and adapt to changing conditions. Seed-funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, the Foresight Commons aims to become shared infrastructure that centres lived, learnt and practice experience, funded by a network of funders, and useful to policy makers, civil society organisations, and funders alike.

Today we’re publishing our Discovery report, “A Constellation of Possible Futures”, sharing the findings from the R&D phase of the project. The report introduces a new methodology we have named “relational foresight” that refocuses futuring as an inclusive practice, full of plurality and connection.

The future belongs to everyone, and more people deserve a chance to shape it.

What is foresight?

Foresight is a research practice with a set of established methodologies that can be used to draw on the present to understand and shape what might happen next. It emerged in the mid-C20th at the meeting point of military invention, consumer marketing, and Science and Technology Studies and, perhaps unsurprisingly, has become established as a high-status activity that centres and reinforces traditional power. Influential foresight affects government policies, corporate decisions, and the flow of capital around the globe. It’s a high-stakes, high-reward activity that is often commissioned in boardrooms and delivered by consultants.

But the future belongs to everyone, and more people deserve a chance to shape it.

Why is Civil Society Foresight important?

Civil society is full of people working to shape and recognise many possible futures, who know how to think ahead and hold multiple overlapping possibilities.

However, this “unofficial” foresight rarely gets the same kind of cut-through or influence as reports written by companies like McKinsey or Bain; instead, it tends to stay closer to the ground, and be created by people and organisations who do not have the time or resources to turn it into the kind of evidence that will shape the long-term thinking of funders or policymakers.

Inviting a plurality of possibilities and bringing to life many needs, many lives, and many possibilities.

Relational foresight

Translating this kind of lived, learnt and practical foresight into a shared resource that can inform planning and enable risk taking requires a new way of doing foresight. Through our Discovery process, we have understood that effective Civil Society Foresight needs to reject the hierarchies implicit in top-down or bottom-up flows of knowledge and move beyond consensus and false certainty. Instead, influenced by the work of Arturo Escobar and Donna Haraway, it should show and invite a plurality of possibilities, bringing to life many needs, many lives, and many possibilities.

As such, relational foresight:

  • Orients towards justice not just technical possibility
  • Embraces distributed potential rather than focussed certainty
  • Rejects reductionism and embraces problem making
  • Weaves together lived, learnt and practice experience, not prioritising technocractic expertise
  • Aims for transformational change, not just measurable impact

What’s next?

In the second half of the project, we are bringing this theory to life by working with a group of “Foresight Observers” — people with a broad range of lived, learnt and practical experience, who will work closely with established foresight practitioners to articulate a range of possible and probable futures. These futures will be mapped and shown in relationship to one another and to recent foresight published by a number of government agencies and consultancies, to show “a world in which many worlds are possible”.

In drawing together these different kinds of foresight, the aim is to show the dynamic relationships at play in our unfolding futures, and help funders, policy makers and civil society organisations chart new paths and shape numerous possibilities.

Find out more

This process is explained in more detail in the Discovery report, “A Constellation of Possible Futures”.

If you would like to take part in or support the development of the Observatory, please get in touch at hello@careful.industries.

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Rachel Coldicutt

Rachel Coldicutt

Exploring careful innovation, community tech and networked care. Day job: @carefultrouble .