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Here be Dragons webinar: how do firms use horizon scanning?

May 9, 2012

We held a webinar to launch Here be Dragons [1] on 23rd April, and some of the questions from participants provoked a good discussion among the panel of authors.


This blog and later ones will explore some of the topics in more detail.


Questions about horizon scanning related to whether organisations did their own horizon scanning and if not, where they got their data from? 


The panel mentioned a number of public sources – like the UK government Sigmascan, the Shaping Tomorrow database, but agreed that while these could be a good first step, they did not replace the need for an intelligent person in the organisation understanding the context and asking the right questions. This person needs to understand the organisation and also be able to explore uncertainty in a way that is helpful to the culture of the organisation.

The intelligent insider also needs to understand  the characteristic timescales of the decisions that have to be made?  For instance: 

Changes in   Land Use

100 years


50 years

Property   development

25 years

Technology   Research

10 years

Product   Development

5 years


5 years


1 year



A scan data element will often include headings such as: what could accelerate this trend, what could slow it down or stop it happening.  An example of the headings from a SAMI project is:


Description of the Driver

What effect is it having now?

In the medium term?

By 2060?

What will push in the opposite direction   in future?

Critical uncertainties – range of   possible outcomes

Wildcards –low probability events that   could disrupt the expected mega trend


Another wrinkle is that the database software used to support scanning databases varies, and is often proprietary: in order to get access to available reporting tools such as Sharpcloud, we often use an excel spreadsheet for storing our databases.

[1] Gill Ringland, Patricia Lustig, Rob Phaal with Martin Duckworth and Chris Yapp, Here be Dragons, Choir Press, 2012.

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