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The Future of Europe – navigating the complexity webinar, 5 July 2017

July 26, 2017

Recently I joined a webinar about using futures thinking in organisations hosted by Unlocking Foresight and Atkins. The speaker, Francesca Lagerberg from Grant Thornton International, discussed how they had recently used some futures techniques, facilitated by SAMI Consulting, to bring futures planning to life both in Grant Thornton and with their clients. The aim was to use these techniques to help all parts of the business to engage with, and meet, the challenges of the future.

Beginning with a quote from Yoda (Star Wars – The Empire Strikes back) ‘Always in motion is the future’, she set the scene around how futures thinking techniques acted as a basis for conversations and how these enabled sharing of thoughts and perceptions about what the future might have in store both for their business and also their clients. This was very much a ‘starter for ten’ futures exercise, designed to get people talking and thinking about the future and the challenges that their various business might meet so, in the interests of time, some steps were shortened.

They were interested in the future of Europe in 2030 so, rather than start with the usual brainstorming of ideas about what they thought Europe might look like then, they used the exercise of ‘Looking Back’ first. Ethnographic studies suggest that change happens twice as fast going forward as going back so in starting by considering what has changed in the past 26 years you begin to get some indication how much faster things might happen the next 13.

Just think for a moment how things have changed in the years since 1990 – then there were no smartphones, not even really an Internet and Germany had only just begun its unification following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. If change is really going to happen faster over the next 13 years what indeed might we see!

Then, using some pre-prepared drivers for change (as time did not permit the groups to develop their own), they populated the Three Horizons model with ideas about what indicators for these drivers could be seen now and in Horizons 3 (far future) and 2 (near future). Having generated a lot of varied discussions around the various drivers and ‘Horizons’, the indicators were collated and examined in the light of possible scenarios that had, like the drivers for change, also been pre-prepared.

The scenarios were introduced through a description of the axes used. These were Globalisation vs Localisation and Economic Focus vs Social Cohesion and gave rise to four scenario stories. Different groups took different stories and, in a deep dive into their particular story, thought about what headlines might be seen or heard in the media for that scenario and how it might affect their particular business.

This last exercise, which enables people and businesses to look for the indicators of change, is a key part of the value of scenario planning. When groups of people are alerted to such indicators then it becomes easier to identify the likely future issues that may impact your business as soon as they appear.

Using these processes, both within an organisation and also with clients, provides a very helpful framework to navigate the future and helps to develop collaboration by encouraging people to work together and gain a shared understanding.

Gaining a sense of direction of where to start looking for indicators of the future helps you make some educated guesses about future direction and enables you to ask the ‘right’ questions.

The slides used and the webinar recording are available via Slideshare at

Written by Cathy Dunn, SAMI Principal.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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