Forecasting isn’t the same as prediction. Nobody can predict what next month’s lottery numbers will be, or the price of a stock in three years. But plenty of people can tease out what’s likely to happen from widespread trends. It’s a concept that’s explored in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, where the hero wants to forestall the collapse of civilization using “psychohistory.”
Psychohistory is a pretty good name for forecasting, frankly. By applying historical patterns and the psychology of human groups, we can understand how, for example, a shutdown of Chinese coal mines leads to a bacon shortage. And understanding these macroscopic trends can make us, both as individuals and organizations, more resilient to those changes.
We dove into these ideas in a recent FWD50 Extras workshop with Ramy Nassar who, as the name of his company 1000 Days Out suggests, spends a lot of time thinking about how to think about the future. The workshop, entitled Strategic Foresight for More Resilient Public Sector Organizations, did not disappoint. Over the course of 90 minutes on Zoom, I joined other public servants to learn some of the tools forecasters use to anticipate changes and apply them to planning.
The tools Ramy touched on included:
- Janus Cones, a way of setting historical events on a timeline to better understand the pace and nature of change over time.
- Card decks to prompt novel ideas and stave off groupthink while collaborating.
- A rapid foresight canvas to help paint a complete picture of a trend you’re exploring.
Ramy led the interactive session using Miro boards, fielding questions and helping us to create a Janus Cone for government innovation. Fortunately, this amazing session (without the breakouts) was recorded, so you can follow along and apply some of these tools to your own work. The field is fascinating, and much needed.