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How funders can contribute to a better future: Strategic Foresight

Author: Louise Pulford
Published Date: 6 August 2018

What do we mean by strategic foresight?

Strategic foresight, in general, is the systematic exploration of possible futures to help inform present-day decision making. It looks beyond 3- and 5-year strategic plans to 20, 30, or even 50 years into the future.

Strategic foresight does not mean predicting the future. We are not futurists or psychic, and neither are the organisations we work with. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know the future is not a replica of the past. For SIX, working with strategic foresight means building capacity to respond to a variety of possible futures.

Why philanthropy should be engaging with strategic foresight

In our rapidly changing and volatile world, funders need to be able to better deal with new and increasingly complex challenges and emergent trends that come their way. Funders hold a unique position in our society. They have more freedom and flexibility than many organisations, and they are therefore in a unique position to fund with foresight. Developing a forward-view enables philanthropy to become future-responsive rather than past-driven.

How it connects to Social innovation- two sides of the same coin

Funders must build adaptive capacity for emergent change. We believe that the capacities funders need to prepare for and support possible futures are the same capacities needed for social innovation. To support social innovation, funders need to be agile, responsive, creative and flexible. Teams need to be prepared for grantees and partners to pivot along the way as new challenges arise, and they need to be comfortable with and have systems in place that support several potential outcomes. Funding needs to be longer term, with flexible goals that can be adapted as the environment and needs evolve. Funding with foresight is no different.

SIX Funders Node retreat – a new kind of exchange for funders

There is a lack of institutions that are doing this radical work, despite the availability of foresight tools and techniques (immersive experiences, festivals, scanning and research, forecasting, etc.) that funders can use to prepare for the future. So, as part of the SIX Funders Node, our programme of work with foundations and philanthropists, we are hosting a practice-based retreat to provide a space for peer-learning and exchange, supported by the latest thinking and frameworks from around the world. The retreat, which is being held this week on Wasan Island, Ontario, Canada in partnership with the Robert Bosch Stiftung will help funders to build adaptive capacity to respond to multiple futures from two perspectives – resilience and impact.  Funders on the retreat will also gain an understanding of foresight methods, tools, and applications and develop ways to apply our shared learning.

But most importantly, funders will exchange their deep insight, knowledge and experience and support each other to answer the question - how should we fund the future?

If you’re a funder and interested in this programme of work – please contact Jordan@socialinnovationexchange.org

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