Cultural Contradictions of Scanning in an Evidence-based Policy Environment


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An overview of the tensions that arise when attempting to embed a futures perspective, in the form of horizon scanning, in organisations with an evidence-based culture.

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  • This presentation draws on both theoretical and practical knowledge: the conceptual foundations of futures research in emerging issues analysis and systems thinking; and my past four years’ experience designing and implementing horizon scanning (environmental scanning) databases for use in several United Kingdom government agencies. It focusses on detecting early emergence of potentially disruptive change, as key to creating proactive policies and strategies, and highlights the constraints, biases, and filters that prevent perception of emerging change.
  • Why engage in horizon scanning? Generally, of course, it helps us hone our awareness of emerging change, and the changing context for policy. But its key role is as feedstock for all subsequent foresight and strategic activities: impact assessment, scenario thinking, vision articulation, and strategy formulation.
  • Trends -- data about change encompassing enough observations for statistical significance -- when mature may be considered conditions of the operating environment that planning should already have taken into account. Globalisation is an example: it has been widely recognised for some time, and the basket of trends which constitute this driver are well documented. It should be on the navigational map. Ongoing environmental scanning acts as radar / sonar, identifying new elements in the territory which have either arisen since the map was drawn, or which are in motion. The access of Chinese teen-agers to broadband Internet -- including the conditions of that access (eg., Google, Yahoo censoring technologies) and the uses to which they are putting that access -- is an example of an emerging issue which is dynamically evolving.
  • For an informative look at some of the core methods contributing to the development of horizon scanning, see Trudi Lang’s essay, “An Overview of Four Futures Methodologies,” available online here:
  • This ‘gold standard’ is very broad; Chun Wei Choo, University of Toronto, presents a more detailed definition of scanning, dividing it into four distinct modes, in his essay, “Environmental scanning as information seeking and organizational learning,” Information Research , Vol. 7, No.1, October 2001, available here:
  • This classic diagram depicts the life cycle of a change, from emerging issue to full-blown trend, both in terms of number of observable cases, and in terms of public awareness. Note that perceiving weak signals of change requires monitoring publications and activities on the far lower left end of the curve: specialist and fringe publications, blogs, conferences, media output. In epidemiological terms, we are looking for “patient zero.” A robust scanning strategy will monitor change all along this curve, and discriminate between the uses and usefulness of data emerging from different points of the curve. As a change matures, more and more data points are available with which to analyse it: we can speak of the change as a variable which is displaying a trend in some direction. When a change is just emerging, and only a few data points exist with which to characterise it, we can only analyse it via a case study approach. Mark Justman’s set of on-line essays, “Emerging Issues Scanning Taxonomy | Getting a Handle on the Fringe,” speaks to the difficulties of researching down the curve, and offers some strategies for scanning practice. Available online at
  • How do we choose and document scan sources to ensure we spot weak signals of potentially disruptive or surprising change?  In science and technology, we look for sources that those communities themselves use to announce news.  For changes on the social and cultural fringe, we look for voices that express values and ideas bubbling among artists and youth (as an example). Unfortunately, intuitive recognition of a source as useful is not a transferable decision rule. So, in the best tradition of expert systems analyses, we need to ask ourselves what we are actually doing when we choose sources. To which the shortest possible answer is probably, “identifying opinion leaders.” Because our current social construction grants credibility to adventuring within formal structures, such as science, we label those opinion leaders “experts.” As innovative social and cultural ideas and behaviors challenge the status quo with the potential for transformation, they are generally marginalized – hence the usual scanning label of “fringe” for sources on emerging issues among youth, artists, social movements, the underclass, etc. Also, bear in mind that dissenting scientific opinion – which can potentially lead to revolutionary shifts in scientific paradigm, a la Thomas Kuhn – is often treated harshly; scientific dissenters are often stigmatized as “cranks.” Their work also needs tracking, if cautiously.
  • The left-hand list specifies criteria used to establish the credibility of facts and patterns of present observations that are cited as evidence in policy formulation and decision-making. A cultural contradiction arises because useful environmental scan “hits” often register on the opposite end of the continua these criteria represent. Any emerging issue unusual enough to be useful will probably lack apparent credibility; it will be difficult to document, as only one or two cases of the change may yet exist; it will emerge from marginalized populations, and be noticed initially by fringe sources; as emerging issues are by definition only one or two cases, they are also by definition statistically insignificant; (continued on next slide…)
  • the data will vary widely, converging over time only if the emerging issue matures into a trend; not only will consensus be lacking, but experts will often violently attack reports of emerging issues of change, as they represent challenges to current paradigms and structures of expertise, power, and entitlement; emerging issues of change often challenge previous theoretical structures and necessitate the construction of new theories; and the most interesting new change emerges where disciplines converge and clash. As the impacts ripple out across all the systems of reality, emerging changes and their impacts require a multi-disciplinary analytic perspective. Scanning specifically – and foresight generally – can contribute to risk, threat, and vulnerability assessment as well as opportunity management, but will face resistance in an evidence-based policy environment for these reasons. Clearly articulated strategies to validate both scan sources and scan data can increase its acceptance.
  • What would be measurable or documentable attributes that would help us distinguish among expert, popular, or fringe sources, and that would establish sources’ credibility as opinion leaders for their communities of interest?  High numbers of citations by members of the community: for science documents, literally the extent to which they are cited; for popular media, their distribution; for “fringe” literature, the “buzz,” measurable also by popularity within their target audience and, in the case of blogs, their ranking by links and hits. Is the source therefore credible as an opinion leader for that community?  Market niche: to whom is the source targeted ? The Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine are targeted to professionals in medical research; New Scientist is targeted to scientific professionals and decision-makers, as well as interested laypeople; Discovery is targeted entirely to interested laypeople and students. Is that documentable, e.g., by reference to mission statements or self-descriptions?  Distribution : does distribution data, or access data (in the case of websources / infofeeds) demonstrate widespread use by members of the source’s target audience / community of interest? This would to some extent duplicate, and therefore corroborate, the citations variable, above.  Media : the medium of information distribution itself might help distinguish among expert, fringe, and popular, in terms of print journal, professional association newsletter, tabloid, etc. What other / better observable descriptors might help us formally document sources as best choices for scanning research?
  • We have identified sources; scanned them for trend data and signals of emerging change, organised and annotated them, and now need to consider which are the most important: when engaged in scanning as part of evidence-based policy-making, we must have strategies for validating the data, especially “weak signal” data, which may be sparse. Three strategies can aid validation: Confirmation , or accruing multiple citations -- scanning is meant to be an ongoing process, a monitoring of emerging change as more and more cases occur. Thus accruing evidence from a variety of sources of multiple occurrences validates the existence of a change, and indicates the direction of the emerging trend. Convergence , or emerging scientific consensus -- truly transformational weak signals will challenge current scientific paradigms. As more data is available, however, researchers will begin to discard some of the explanations the challenge provoked, and come to agree on a new paradigm. The past thirty years’ history of the scientific dialogue regarding climate change illustrates this. Parallax , or acquiring “depth of field” on the weak signal of change by collecting views from multiple perspectives, eg, multiple cultural viewpoints. This ensures that the original perception of the change is not merely an artifact of a cultural filter (and by “culture” I mean organisational as well as ethnic cultures). Other validation strategies also emerge from specific observational and scientific disciplines, of course; but these represent a general beginning.
  • See Hines, Andy, “Applying Integral Futures to Environmental Scanning," Futures Research Quarterly , Winter 2003, pp. 49-62.
  • Andy Hines has presented a useful overview of the work of Slaughter, Inayatullah, and Voros in his review of their articles and monographs in On the Horizon: Hines, Andy. “Integral futures: breadth plus depth equals foresight with insight.” Source: On The Horizon - The Strategic Planning Resource for Education Professionals , Volume 12, N umber 3, 2004 , pp. 123-127(5). Publisher: Emerald Group Publishing Limited For articles on these approaches, see the following: Slaughter, Richard. “A New Framework for Environmental Scanning,” Foresight, Vol. 1 No. 5, October 1999; available online as a monograph in the Reading Room at Integral World: go to, click on “Reflection and Debate” in the left-hand navbar, then choose “Reading Room”. Click on “Slaughter” in the alphabetical list of authors to access three of Richard Slaughter’s essays on integral futures and applied foresight and scanning. Inayatullah, Sohail. "Causal Layered Analysis: poststructuralism as method,” available online at, or … “ C ausal Layered Analysis: Unveiling and Transforming the Future ,” in J.C. Glenn and T.J. Gordon, eds. Futures Research Methodology, version 2.0. Washington, D.C.: AC/UNU Millennium Project. You can also order a book describing CLA and offering case studies: A description of the methodology can be found at http://www. scenariosforsustainability . org/recipes/cla .html Voros, Joseph, ed. Reframing Environmental Scanning: A Reader on the Art of Scanning the Environment. Australian Foresight Institute Monograph Series 2003, No. 4. Available online at: http://www. swin . edu . au/afi/research/integral_futures . htm .
  • Here’s another tool for improving our analysis of scanning hits. 4 layers – arbitrary number, but useful. Another way to think of the levels is: 1: Events: surface of the future – but also social constructions. 2: Motives (forces/ trends/ drivers / etc) 3: Values (expectations/ hopes/ worldview) 4: Instinct (e.g.prejudice as inherited belief) Deeper layers successively less accessible.
  • Define: eg, social values and attitudes; culture; scientific models; economic systems; religions; politics and public policy. Relate: eg, demographics; family and lifestyle groups; work and economy; habitat and ecosystems; business models and practices; government; education. Connect: eg, media; music; information technology; visual arts; language; and space. Create: eg, engineering; manufacturing; wealth; innovation processes; life sciences; materials sciences; and nanotechnology. Consume: eg, energy; consumer goods; food and agriculture; house and home; entertainment and leisure; healthcare; and natural resources. From joint presentation to the World Future Society World Conference, Chicago 2005.
  • Folksonomy is a neologism for a practice of collaborative categorization using simple tags. This feature has begun appearing in a variety of social software. At present, the best examples of online folksonomies are social bookmarking sites like, a bookmark sharing site, Flickr, for photo sharing, 43 Things, for goal sharing, and Tagsurf, for tag-based discussions. (from TagCloud is an automated Folksonomy tool. Essentially, TagCloud searches any number of RSS feeds you specify, extracts keywords from the content and lists them according to prevalence within the RSS feeds. Clicking on the tag's link will display a list of all the article abstracts associated with that keyword.
  • Thank you for your interest. Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in training or workshops on horizon scanning in particular, or in integrated foresight overall.
  • Cultural Contradictions of Scanning in an Evidence-based Policy Environment

    1. 1. <ul><li>The Cultural Contradictions </li></ul><ul><li>Of Scanning </li></ul><ul><li>In an Evidence-based </li></ul><ul><li>Policy Environment </li></ul><ul><li>Dr. Wendy L. Schultz </li></ul><ul><li>Infinite Futures, Oxford </li></ul><ul><li> * [email_address] </li></ul>Constraints, Biases, Filters
    2. 2. Overview of presentation <ul><li>Why scanning? Feedstock for all other foresight activities </li></ul><ul><li>Why not just major drivers and trends? Because environment isn’t static, nor can foresight be: changes itself changes: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Lifecycle: emerges, grows or collapses, matures </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Must catch it early to have a hope of affecting it rather than merely adapting to it (see gold standard) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Where do we look for emerging change? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Contradictions: origins, details. </li></ul>
    3. 3. Overview, cont’d. <ul><li>Addressing contradictions in their own terms: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Validating scan sources; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Validating scan data. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>What are other weaknesses in basic scanning? How can we overcome other biases and filters? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Integral futures </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Causal Layered Analysis </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Spiral Dynamics </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Verge (ethnographic framework) and alternate taxonomies </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Get outside the confines of your own perceptions. </li></ul>
    4. 4. CHANGE trends, drivers, emerging issues + - x % extrapolate, assess impacts scenario 1 scenario 2 scenario 3 scenario 4 scenario n STRATEGIES build on positives, counter negatives Scanning is the essential feedstock for all subsequent foresight activities: VISION - goals, values -
    5. 5. The map isn’t the territory, Navigational charts vs. radar: you need both. because the territory is dynamic.
    6. 6. Horizon Scanning <ul><li>Primary futures tool for identifying and monitoring the emergence, growth, and coalescence of change. </li></ul><ul><li>Related to issues management and competitive intelligence. </li></ul><ul><li>” Environment” refers to the information environment – all media – and ”scanning” to the logically structured, iterative monitoring of selected information sources. </li></ul>
    7. 7. “ Gold Standard” for Scanning* <ul><li>Evaluating a scan ”hit” (change datum): </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Subjectively or objectively new? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Confirming/reinforcing, or negating/balancing? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Time horizon for ”emergence”? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Credibility of source? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Ideally, a scan hit identifies an emerging issue that is objectively new even to experts, confirms or is confirmed by additional scan hits, and that has been identified in time for social dialogue, impact assessment, and policy formation. </li></ul>*Dr. Peter Bishop, Univ. of Houston - Clear Lake
    8. 8. Change: issue life-cycle. WILDCARD!! TIME number of cases; degree of public awareness local; few cases; emerging issues global; multiple dispersed cases; trends and megatrends scientists; artists; radicals; mystics specialists’ journals and websites layperson’s magazines, websites, documentaries newspapers, news magazines government institutions Mapping a trend’s diffusion into public awareness from its starting point as an emerging issue of change. adapted from Graham Molitor
    9. 9. Identifying Sources of Surprise: <ul><li>Source acquisition: opinion leaders. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Science, technology, innovation: sources in which those communities themselves announce news. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Social and cultural change: sources expressing values and ideas bubbling among artists, youth, marginalised communities; often ‘fringe’ publications or media. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Sources of surprise: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Look for challenges to scientific paradigms; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Look for challenges to the status quo. </li></ul></ul>
    10. 10. Origin of contradiction: <ul><li>Government desire for advanced warning. </li></ul><ul><li>Political culture: need to look responsible, authoritative NOT tentative; </li></ul><ul><li>Scientific culture: need to assemble credible, objective, data-based arguments </li></ul><ul><li>Horizon scanning: </li></ul><ul><li>Beginning of research, not end; </li></ul><ul><li>“ N of 1”; </li></ul><ul><li>Unearths contradictions; </li></ul><ul><li>Subjective, not objective; </li></ul><ul><li>“ Unscientific” sources; </li></ul><ul><li>Systems-based; </li></ul><ul><li>Unfamiliar concepts. </li></ul>
    11. 11. Research vs. scanning… <ul><li>Research criteria: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Credible; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Documented; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Authoritative; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Statistically significant; </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Scanning: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Questionable credibility; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Difficult to document; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Fringe sources; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Case studies -- statistically insignificant. </li></ul></ul>
    12. 12. Research vs. scanning… <ul><li>Research criteria: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Coherent: data agree; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Consensus: experts agree; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Theoretically grounded; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mono-disciplinary. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Scanning: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Incoherent -- data varies widely; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Experts disagree or attack outright; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Demands new theories; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Multi-disciplinary. </li></ul></ul>
    13. 13. Validating Scan Sources: <ul><li>Distinguish among expert, popular, or fringe sources: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Lancet for medicine: expert; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The Economist for world affairs: popular; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Counterculture for value shifts: fringe. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Establish sources’ credibility as opinion leaders for their communities: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Citation by community members; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Market niche / branding; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Distribution data; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Media. </li></ul></ul>
    14. 14. Validating Scan Data: <ul><li>Problem : useful scan hits -- close enough to the point of origin to allow policy leverage -- are “weak signals”; often only one case. </li></ul><ul><li>Validation : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Confirmation : accrue multiple citations; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Convergence : monitor emerging scientific consensus; and </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Parallax : acquire view from multiple perspectives; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A participatory team approach assists validation. </li></ul></ul>
    15. 15. Weaknesses in scanning: <ul><li>Frustrations: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Information overload…so many sources, so little time! </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Familiarity breeds boredom: nothing seems new. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Needs: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Segue more easily into discussion of impacts and scenario development </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Explicitly acknowledge that transformative change emerges from turbulence (chaos) produced when emerging issues collide </li></ul></ul>
    16. 16. Adding analytic depth: (Hines, 2003) <ul><li>Integral Futures (Slaughter, 1999) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Melds FS with Wilbur’s integral philosophy </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Four quadrants: individual exterior world; collective exterior; collective internal; and individual internal </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Causal Layered Analysis (Inayatullah, various) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Four layers: litany/events; systems/structures; values/worldviews; and myths/metaphors. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Spiral Dynamics (Voros, 2001) </li></ul>
    17. 17. Integral Futures: Four Quadrants Evidence-based Policy Scanning Data Collection Comfort Zone measurable interpreted Individual Collective Interior Exterior BEHAVIORAL SOCIAL INTENTIONAL CULTURAL Subjective Inter-Subjective Objective Inter-Objective “ I” “ WE” “ IT” “ ITS”
    18. 18. <ul><li>“ Litany” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>events, trends, problems, “word on the street,” media spin, official positions. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ Causes” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>structures, inter-relationships, systems, technical and policy explanations </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ Worldview” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>culture, values, how language frames/constrains the issue </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ Myth/Metaphor” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Collective archetypes, emotional responses, visual images </li></ul></ul>From superficial to subtle: the five layers of CLA
    19. 19. Causes Metaphors and Myths Problem Social, Economic, Cultural Discourse Analysis: culture, values, language, postmodernisms, Spiral dynamics memes (alternatives) Myth/Metaphor Analysis: Jungian archetypes, ancient bedrock stories, gut level responses, emotional responses, visual images - may not be words for it (visioning) Worldview The “Litany”: Official public description of issue observational: events, trends, diagnosed problems, media spin, opinions, policy; visible and audible; unconnected (scanning) Social Science Analysis: Short-term historical facts start connecting; systems analysis, feedback interconnections, technical explanations, social analysis, policy analysis (systems) Sources: R. Slaughter, “Integral Operating System,” World Future Society, July 2003, drawing on Sohail Inayatullah; Dennis List, “3 Maps of the Future,” July 18, 2003; Andy Hines, UH-Clear Lake, 2006. Continuous Years Societal/Civilizational Decades Time Scale of Change
    20. 20. Using CLA to create alternative scenarios / visions: CHANGE! Identify the litany: current conditions & events. Analyze the causes: interrelationships, systems. Explore the worldview: values and cultural icons. Unveil the myths/metaphors: archetypes, emotions. Analyse down, identifying alternative litanies, causes, worldviews, and myths: create change by choosing alternatives as you surface.
    21. 21. Integral Futures | Causal Layers Individual Collective Interior Exterior BEHAVIORAL SOCIAL INTENTIONAL CULTURAL Subjective Inter-Subjective Objective Inter-Objective “ WORLDVIEWS, MENTAL MODELS” “ MYTHS, METAPHORS” “ LITANIES” “ CAUSES, SYSTEMS” measurable interpreted
    22. 22. Spiral Dynamics <ul><li>Popularised by Don Beck, derived from Clare Graves </li></ul><ul><li>Locus of perception; goals in life </li></ul><ul><li>Eight layers ( </li></ul><ul><ul><li>TURQUOISE : global community / life force; survival of Earth; consciousness </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>YELLOW : independence / self-worth; fitting a living system; knowing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>GREEN : harmony / love; joining together for mutual growth; awareness </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>ORANGE : opportunity / success; competing to achieve results; influence </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>BLUE : stability / order; obedience to earn later reward; meaning </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>RED : power / action; asserting self to dominate others; control </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>PURPLE : safety / security; protection from harm; family bonds </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>BEIGE : survival; biogenic needs satisfaction; reproduction </li></ul></ul>
    23. 23. Taxonomies: <ul><li>Expert defined: STEEP, PESTE, EPISTLE, PESTLEC, SEPES, SPEED, GLIMPSES, etc. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Defined by the origin point of change; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Most too coarse-grained: refine with subcategories, eg, social: lifestyle; environment: biosphere. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Many emerging issues cross categories. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Innovations: VERGE ethnofutures framework </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Defined by the impact point of change (see following slide). </li></ul></ul>
    24. 24. The processes and technology through which we create goods & services The goods & services we create, and the ways in which we aquire and use them Social structures & relationships which link people and organizations The concepts, ideas and paradigms we use to define the world around us The technologies used to connect people, places and things EthnoFutures Scanning Framework
    25. 25. “ Folksonomies:” <ul><li>Taxonomies: industrial age culture - </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Expert defined; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hierarchical: top-down classification. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Folksonomies: information age culture - </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Open source and participatory; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Organic: emergent structure; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>TagClouds. </li></ul></ul>
    26. 26. <ul><li>Excellent scanning generates shockwaves. </li></ul><ul><li>Those shockwaves shake assumptions. </li></ul><ul><li>Shaking assumptions creates turbulence: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>-- creativity emerges -- </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>-- but controversy emerges as well. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Is excellent scanning even possible </li></ul><ul><li>in a policy environment? </li></ul>
    27. 27. Thank you! Dr. Wendy L. Schultz Infinite Futures: foresight research and training [email_address] TEL: +44-(0)1865-284377 FAX: +44-(0)1865-274125 Skype: wendyinfutures