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Addressing underlying assumptions: Tips and Tricks on Horizon Scanning

Author

Emma Coroler

Oct 6, 2023

The 'Horizon Scanning – Tips and Tricks.' publication provides an insightful step-by-step support on how to run an effective horizon scan - and how to address underlying biases while doing so.

On 16 August 2023, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published the practical guide 'Horizon Scanning – Tips and Tricks.' This publication is produced by the European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET), which is a partnership network of the EEA involving 38 cooperating countries. Working closely with the EEA, EIONET is responsible for collecting and developing data, knowledge, and advice for policymakers regarding Europe's environment.

 

The guide offers step-by-step support on how to frame, run, analyse, and communicate the results of a systematic horizon scan for practitioners with different professional backgrounds and levels of experience. It presents a practical methodology structured into four key steps: Signal Spotting, Signal Scanning, Sense Making and Communication. The publication was designed with the aim of enhancing and developing the capabilities of the 38 countries within the EIONET Network to conduct foresight exercises, particularly horizon scanning. According to Richard Filcak, Head of Group Systems, Foresight, and SOER at the European Environment Agency: “After a couple of years of experience with horizon scanning, we had the feeling that we had a lot of things to share. This publication was an attempt to systematically bring together bits and pieces of information, practices and tips and tricks.

 

While the guide's primary focus remains directed at environmental stakeholders, its scope goes beyond just the EIONET Network, as it may also be valuable to individuals and organisations outside the network that specialise in foresight practices. This publication assumes greater practical significance amid a rising demand for foresight, fuelled in part by the European Commission's commitment to incorporate foresight methodologies into policy formulation and response strategies.

 

The guide also highlights the importance of addressing cognitive biases and underlying assumptions in the process of Horizon Scanning. These biases and assumptions wield significant influence over one's capacity to detect weak signals, navigate future possibilities, assess the present, and interpret the past.

 

Filcak noted that the effectiveness of Horizon Scanning is also closely tied to the diversity and inclusivity of the expert group involved. A more diverse group of experts can broaden perspectives and consider various angles, thus breaking silo thinking. As Filcak highlights, “Sometimes, it takes just one person within the group to introduce provocative questions and alternative viewpoints that can change the entire dynamic”.

 

When contemplating the future, Filcak questioned the potential limitations of horizon scanning when spotting potential causes of uncertainty in complex interplay between climate change, socio-economic disparities, and technological advancements. As he stated: “My worry would be if these horizon scanning techniques are sufficient to determine key risks and opportunities requiring attention, while we face more and more complicated questions. Foresight methods provide interesting inputs, but I think we are moving in circles with a couple of methodologies which have been in use for 10, 15 or more years. The question is whether you can think out-of-the box in terms of new approaches and methodologies.”

 

For him, one emerging field in foresight is the “combination of both quantitative and qualitative techniques, with an emphasis on building connections between environmental, social, and economic indicators and finding effective ways to translate them into models.”

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