A Framework for Understanding Foresight & Scenario Analysis

Our global food systems require fundamental transformation to tackle hunger, enable good health, protect the environment, and ensure long term food security. But setting our food systems on a more sustainable and resilient path is a complex challenge with many interacting factors from local to global scales. Change will require concerted and coordinated efforts from across government, research business and civil society. But what are the pathways forward? What are the future risks and opportunities? What different scenarios might evolve in the future given the complexity and uncertainty of food systems?

Tackling these questions is the domain of foresight. Not to try and predict the future, but rather to intelligently engage citizens and leaders in a better understanding of what is currently going on, what the future consequence would be and what might be alternative pathways with more desirable outcomes.

This document articulates a framework for understanding the different dimensions and approaches to foresight and how they relate to each other.

This framework has been produced as part of the Foresight4Food Initiative. Click the green icons on the framework to view detail on each section. Each section will open in a new window.


This framework has been developed to illustrate an integrated approach to foresight that connects stakeholder processes of foresight analysis with the science of foresight research and studies.

It represents a core “foresight process” of: clarifying actors; establishing the purpose of a foresight exercise based on actors needs and interests; understanding and mapping the boundaries and relationships of the systems to be analyzed; identifying key drivers, trends and uncertainties; which provide the basis for exploring possible future scenarios; understanding stakeholder visions for the future; and from this identifying what strategies for influencing or adapting to change may be desirable.

This core is then supported by stakeholder engagement, dialogue and scientific knowledge base (that itself is constantly evolving and influenced by foresight).

In practice foresight processes exist on a continuum from highly stakeholder driven with limited scientific input to very scientific studies that have limited stakeholder engagement at the other extreme with full integration in the middle.

A few basic definitions and premises underlying the framework: foresight here is used in a general way to refer to developing insights about the future to improve responsiveness and decision-making to future risks and opportunities. Related terminology includes strategic foresight, future studies, and scenario analysis.

There is considerable overlap between the ideas of foresight and scenario analysis. Simply, scenario thinking means recognising that due to complexity and uncertainty, the future may unfold in different ways. Scenarios are a way of trying to understand the implications of these different futures. The term ‘scenario’ is also used in a narrower sense in the computer modelling world to refer to the future outcomes of a particular set of parameters and assumptions. Approaches to scenario thinking incorporate many aspects of what has been referred to as foresight, and many foresight approaches incorporate aspects of scenario analysis.

The framework takes three core premises:

  1. Due to complexity and uncertainty the scope fore accurately predicting exactly how the future will be is limited at best.
  2. However, this does not mean that it is not possible to detect and respond to emerging trends that will significantly shape the future, for better or worse (the negative consequences of a trend of destroying much of the world’s biodiversity is pretty clear, warranting some form of ‘anticipatory action’ to avoid the negative consequences).
  3. Foresight is a social and political process, informed by scientific understanding and analysis that enables organisations and societies to better respond to emerging risks and opportunities.