Day 1-How Research Can Drive Strategic Foresight

— It’s my delight to be here and share my screen


— Today I will talk about strategic foresight and how UXRs working in applied technology fields can contribute to seeing around the corners of upcoming trends


— I’ll talk about research as a strategy
  • With stories of how researchers led other to insight
  • A generic foresight method I use
  • Straight-forward practical tips with stories frameworks and how-tos


— Now that you’ve set yourself up and looking at these topics though, I’ll tell you this talk is about confidence. The confidence:
  • To lead
  • To predict
  • To have seat at table as  a UX researcher
— Listening to these stories and practical steps, we will find driving strategy is about developing a craft, as opposed to  just listening to stakeholders


— What to know about what we will talk about is that you need to have a point-of-view and lead to get an impact from strategic foresight


— So let’s begin with imagining a world. It was the best and and worst of times,
  • Enormous technological change, information exploding, whiplash from non-stop change,
  • An immense amount of wealth generated
  • Everyday families were struggling
  • People were concerned about where it was going
— The 1890s, an onslaught of change  as far as these things were concerned
  • We tend to think of epochs as having demarcated moment, but noticing change in real-time, is less about counting instances of changes, rather than grasping the weak signals in the noise


— So imagine yourself as trend hunter at end of 19th century, and are among a select few people who can put  that change into context
  • People talked about things like the lightbulb or automobile, but didn’t notice things like paper
— Offices in the 1890s had messy piles of paper scattered about, with irregular sizes. This paper was unwieldy in offices with many information needs


— For example, Oxford English Dictionary volunteers generated two tons of paper in 1879 that was impossible to store in editor desk
  • The dictionary became mired in the scale of its ambition
— A trend-hunter noticed this


— As the trend-hunter noticed this, they also noticed things like filing cabinets,  typewriters, standard-sized paper
  • And it was tempting to focus on these inventions as the main driver of the change
— Paper standardization though catalyzed a shift in modern offices, which led to social changes


— Max Weber, our trend-hunter, discovered this
  • Mundane objects signaled change


— The mega-trend identified was bureaucracy, Max Weber’s term that was elaborated on in 1905, where he saw social changes and new rules that were developed
  • For example, once you left the job, you no longer had power over people in office
  • Proper rules and titles were written down and accessible
— Weber’s gift to us was acting as synthesizer of social changes, along with technological, economic, and political changes
  • Other accomplishments of his included works like the Protestant Work Ethic


— How did he do this?
  • Weber grasped the combination of STEEP  (Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political) changes
  • He used a generic forecasting method of capturing changes that were happening in tandem at same time
    • Using different perspectives was key
— For today, tech company trend-hunting focuses on tech specifically, but we need to mix trends together to see how changes will occur


— But be careful of WEIRD research, or research informed only by individuals from Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic countries


— Forecasting also involves WEIRD mental models, but what’s normal in Turkey is different from what’s normal in Moldova



— So how to do this?
  • Start by scanning and interpreting the data
  • Spend time to analyze and place things into buckets and imagining how they will continue
  • Then build a strategy based on these signals, by making sense of them, and imaging how they will play out in tandem
— Futurists talk about futures, and this method will let us create a plan for many potential futures
  • There are many other methods that can be used for analysis and interpretation


— Methods range from expert-driven surveys to involving public and participatory research like citizen panels and large workshops


— They also include things like back-casting, or imagining a future that happened and the events leading ups to it


— These methods will help you choose the future what goes on, so choose the method that suits your needs


— So whatever method you choose, make sure you know what you’re doing


— We talk about rigor as researchers, but it doesn’t refer to just the scientific method
  • Rigor is knowing what you did, and why you made the choice
    • People typically can’t answer  questions related to methodology
  • Whatever you do, know why you did it, explain why you did it, and why you made the trade-offs that you did


— Sometimes though you detect trends too early.
  • In my case, in 2014 I discovered Zoom working for Microsoft and struggled to get people to grasp the technology.


— Don’t be afraid of being too early, but keep  your powder dry, and keep an eye on trends and STEEP changes on what’s going on


— So what do I do?
  • I’m constantly scanning, and sorting and saving information into a loose coding system and filing things in digital system
    • I have my own coding system to put things together like a commonplace book to index and search and find things quickly
    • I also have my own files and a coding system for these files
    • Don’t stop scanning and saving, but constantly organize and re-analyze


— What’s great about social scientist training is:
  • You can rely on reflexivity, and thinking how you fit into the narrative of research
  • You can ask who is included, and how am I inserting myself into the future
    • This will help you come up with better analysis
  • You use constant coding and analysis


—Example of payoff of this approach is for someone like Jillian Tett who gave great example of noticing the increased tolerance risk for big banks, increased technological changes, and innovations like credit-default swaps to predict the 2008 financial crisis
  • People who listen to Jillian were able to take steps to prepare, while others couldn’t
— Using STEEP signals together will allow you to do things like see the future


— Now that you have foresight method, the scanning methods, and a reminder to not be too WEIRD


— You can start using strategic foresight today, just add
  • Keywords
  • A database
  • Regular view of trends
  • Be patient and keep your intellectual powder dry and be courageous
— Thank you!


  1. How do you file, organize, and retrieve your observations?
—> I have a version of a digital common place book. I find a tool like Google Keep, EverNote, Notion, and have a bunch of sources that feed into it
  • Using sources that push into the book like Pocket, RefWorks for citation , and software that captures key-words
  • Own files on my own cloud-based drive, and name things via a coding system
    • I can search three places and find what I’m looking for
  1.  How do we decide what is worthy to save?
—> I don’t know what’s worthy in terms of a signal. Go back and see whether you were right on detecting signal or not
  • Example of 3-D Printing
—> Key is to go back on past signals, and prune and trim them


—> You need to go backwards, in order to push forward