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Glossary Element  Foresight Dictionary


English: Foresight

Glossary Element  Foresight

Foresight is a forward-looking approach that aims to help decision-makers explore and anticipate in a participatory way what might happen, as well as prepare for a range of possible future scenarios, influence them and shape the futures. Instead of predicting the futures (see forecasting), foresight typically involves systematic, participatory, future-intelligence-gathering and medium-to-long-term vision-building processes to uncover a range of possible alternative future visions. Key foresight methods include horizon scanning and scenario building.

Foresight produces the kind of knowledge needed to handle the uncertain, complex and ambiguous nature of long-term sustainability transitions. Foresight takes the systems perspective on social reality, instead of studying how a limited number of parts of social reality such as sectors behave in a regular manner (see forecasting). Thus foresight allows to capture the non-linearity and interactions between multiple parts of dynamic systems, such as energy, transport and the food system. By not being restricted to predicting a single future, foresight is suitable for thinking beyond existing mental frameworks in terms of radical and even disruptive change. By developing qualitatively different and open future scenarios, foresight allows to explore new qualities such as technological and social innovations and niches and to capture multiple perspectives on the future (e.g. Europe of contrast, harmony and innovation) as opposed to changing quantities while the qualities remain the same (see forecasting).

Due to its participatory nature, foresight also brings several process benefits in addition to providing information and advice for shaping the future (see forward-looking studies). Foresight allows not only drawing on the respective knowledge of policymakers and stakeholders in devising future pathways and agendas, but also creating shared normative views of the future, i.e. visions or Leitbilder, which can play a soft coordinating and orchestrating role in policy networks. Foresight may also contribute to making potential conflicts of interest transparent, which may otherwise surface at some stage of the transition processes as barriers and blocking mechanisms.



deeply uncertain nature of the future

future can be predicted well enough

interpretative nature of knowledge

contestable facts

reflexive learning

stimulus-response learning

problem-oriented learning

system approach

reductionist approach, sectoral focus


predict-and-act approach

exploring and shaping the future

controlling the future

participatory, interpretative, transdisciplinary

data near

mostly qualitative data

mostly quantitative data

scenario building


systemic type and worldview visions

single-value visions, quantitative deviations

trends and variations

trends and ruptures

mode 2 science

mode 1 science

Source: adapted from Jakil (2011)


Jakil, A. 2011. Sustainability Governance Foresight – Towards Bridging the Knowledge Gap between Policy Analysis and Governance for Sustainable Development. Vienna

Asselt, M.B.A. van, Faas, A.,  van der Molen , F., Veenman, S.A. (eds.). 2010. Uitzicht. Amsterdam

EEA. 2006. Prelude – Prospective Environmental analysis of Land Use Development in Europe. Copenhagen