The Origins of Natural Foresight®

The Natural Foresight® Framework mirrors complex systems and, ultimately, the model of the nested panarchy. This excerpt from The Guide to the Natural Foresight Framework explains the theories supporting the Natural Foresight® Framework. It discusses how the framework not only helps us to leverage complexity as a foundational principle for robust foresight, but it also provides a practical and intuitive approach to futures literacy.

Beyond recognizing that an increasingly complex environment is a natural and organic   sign of maturity, researchers, and professionals are realizing that complexity is the seedbed of unlimited human creativity. This generative idea reframes our view of complexity from being a force that opposes progress to one that enables us to unearth creative solutions to our greatest challenges. Much like an ever-growing canvas, accelerating complexity is giving us more space on which to paint an unending series of unique masterpieces.

Underpinned by the concept of cascading S-curves and complex adaptive cycles (Wahl, 2016), Natural Foresight® is commonly presented in four facets which can be leveraged more holistically and iteratively than a process involving linear steps.  Depending on the need, the tools within Natural Foresight® can be deployed either together or independently, as well as in any order. This is due to the fact that Natural Foresight® mimics the comprehensive and integrated perspective of organic growth which is on display in nature in a continuous process. The interrelation between multiple growth curves are often referred to as a panarchy.

What is a panarchy? 

Throughout nature, systems across all scales – from infinitesimal to universal – are inextricably linked. Some of those systems are fast-moving (such as technology lifespans) and others move much more slowly (such as governmental or evolutionary processes), but they are all intricately interconnected and constantly impacting one another. It could be said that these individual systems are even nested inside of one another, much like a set of Russian stacking dolls. From that perspective, the panarchy – dynamic symmetry across multiple scales – offers us a much more holistic and comprehensive view of the future, enabling us to understand how the pathway of any system alters and is altered by other nested systems. Whereas some approaches to foresight follow linear steps that may lead to reductive outcomes, Natural Foresight® empowers users to think in a multi-layered, circular and regenerative framework. In this way, our futures work has greater depth and breadth, and our outcomes will be much more robust.

The Natural Foresight® Framework mirrors these complex systems and, ultimately, the model of the nested panarchy. In the Discover phase, individual and collective assumptions about the world around us are questioned, and this can release us from our preconceived notions about the future. In the Explore phase, environmental and horizon scanning introduces us to new ideas, reorganizing and renewing our approach to the future. In the Map phase, the development of scenarios, future pathways and emerging landscapes of change foster alternative possibilities and desired outcomes, and this enables us to pursue new growth. In the Create phase, practical steps are taken to bring the future into the present, and this builds maturity into the ideas, strategies, innovations, and models that have been produced through our foresight work.

In addition to mirroring the complex systems around us, Natural Foresight® allows users to enter or exit the framework at any point depending on their present needs. Since the idea behind the framework is systemic, connected and circular rather than linear, each phase can be iteratively refined by the next, as well as by the entirety of the process(ex. Outcomes produced in the Create phase will be re-examined through further assumption and bias modeling, a deeper dive into horizon scanning, expanded scenario ethnography, etc.).

Learn more about the Natural Foresight Framework by downloading “The Guide to the Natural Foresight® Framework.”