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Practical Foresight: Updating Your Contingencies

Humans are story tellers.  This is why scenarios, which are really just logical, future-oriented stories at heart, are a workhorse method in foresight work.  While futures studies has long used a great many types of scenarios to help people anticipate the future, scenarios in the form of basic contingencies have been used by business and the military for ages.  With a just a bit of structure, your team can start leveraging its new foresight discussions to do the same.


Thus, for our fourth practical foresight activity, you are going to bring your team together to identify a short list of generic contingencies to inform the organization’s planning and preparedness.  Think of a contingency as a scenario for something we don’t want to happen, don’t know when it will happen, and definitely need to be prepared for.  If your organization already has contingency plans, then you’ll be updating them.  If it doesn’t, then this will be fun, fresh ground to cover!


  1. Block 2 hours with your team.  Seriously, get it on the books.

  2. Spend the first fifteen minutes reviewing notes from your team’s foresight discussions in the previous three foresight activities (talking about recent indicators, the picture of your operating environment, and short vs. long-term trends).

  3. For the next thirty minutes, have everyone use their own post-its to brain dump the types of things the organization should be prepared for in the next, say, five years.  Keep it moving and don’t devolve into discussion; just get things on the wall.  Now, cluster the post-its and label the groupings. 

  4. Next, spend fifteen minutes brain dumping the types of past and present calamities and disruptions the organization has had to consider.  Fires, earthquakes, sudden regulatory changes… the whole deal.

  5. Finally, combine the list from Step 3 and that from Step 4, doing a quick shake out.  Then, do a simple risk assessment on the list you end up with.  Use a simple little likelihood vs. impact chart to do this.  How do the items on the list map on the chart?  What shows up as high likelihood as well as high impact?  What has a lower likelihood but a really high impact?


Using this process will help your team come up with a list of the most important 7 – 10 contingencies for which the organization should plan.  Built this way, the list will be informed by history as well as foresight, and it will provide some generic and challenging scenarios to shore up the organization’s preparedness and risk management activities.  And don’t forget to communicate these contingencies across the organization.  Part of institutionalizing foresight is looking for ways to arm everyone to recognize and respond to change.


Our next, and final, practical foresight activity will deal with writing this all down.


Looking to update your organization’s contingencies?  Contact us to take the next step.

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