Overview and analysis of futurist and foresight software and tools

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Despite being associated with technology, futurists have rarely used digital technology as a central tool of their work until recent years. Most methods developed or used for futures studies and strategic foresight (e.g. horizon scanning, system mapping) can be performed without digital technology. However, when futurists have integrated their methods into software, they have saved themselves countless hours of work and stress. Many organizations use their own proprietary software, but rarely is such software made available to the general public.

To assist futures professionals, we compiled a list of all the publicly available software that has been developed to perform futurist methods. We had two primary conditions for this list. First, it must be software that is specifically developed to perform the functions of futurists. As such we did not include any general purpose digital technology often used by futurists such as Google Alerts. Second, the software had to be publicly accessible, free or paid. This meant we did not include any software used to help administer RAND’s Delphi technique except for The Millennium Project’s Real Time Delphi which is freely available.

These services are helping to make futures thinking more accessible to a broader public. Each service has its own strengths and weaknesses that would suit different users. We would encourage you to look at each of them and evaluate them individually on their utility for your purposes.

One issue we had was whether to include prediction markets. Ross and I both had several pros and cons for why they should or should not be included. Ultimately, we have given them their own list. If you are interested, here is our list of prediction markets that are relevant for futurists.

Specific methods and tools

Several tools on the list were created with a single purpose. The organizations developing these tools offer other services, but the single purpose of their digital tools are the primary services from which their value is developed. For full details and links for each software tool please see the complete list.

The Millennium Project’s Real Time Delphi (RTD) and Futurescaper both offer a service similar to RAND’s Delphi technique using online survey tools. RTD is capable of real time updates so that the multiple rounds of RAND’s Delphi method can be simplified to a single round. Futurescaper uses a slightly different type of expert survey and has developed a system to visualize the results of their surveys to simplify the experience for users.

Joel Barker’s Implications Wheel functions like a digital futures wheel. Therefore, it is easier to create, edit, and share with other people. Despite being a useful tool, Mr. Barker’s is the only online implications wheel we found. Not even The Millennium Project has one.

At least as early as 1991, Michel Godet was adapting his foresight tools and methods for software. By 2003, he had helped to set up the Circle of Prospective Action (CPA) which gave away his software and that of other futurists free of charge. The CPA has five software packs, and they have been downloaded 35,000 times since 2003. In 2015, the CPA began offering cloud versions of each which require login.

Integrated foresight-management tools

Several organizations have integrated multiple strategic foresight tools to provide a more holistic futures/ foresight service. Scenario Management International, Futures Platform, and 4strat all offer very different services that each combine multiple tools in different ways.

Scenario Management International (ScMI) practices the Scenario Management method developed at Heinz Nixdorf Institute of the University of Paderborn. They developed their own software based on this method. Their software is split between Scenario-Radar which monitors and visualizes the development of trends and Scenario-Management which helps organizations visualize scenarios of the future for themselves.

Futures Platform using a visual radar to plot trends which the user can open to see more info about the news happening within each trend. User experience is front of mind for the developers. So, the tool is intuitive and engaging. Renowned academic futurist Sohail Inayatullah is a member of the advisory board.

4strat has also developed a system that also uses a trend radar and other visual aids. Their Foresight Strategy Cockpit is split into four parts: Trend Management, Innovation Management, Risk Management, and Scenario Management. 4strat was launched by a branch manager for ITONICS which is mentioned in the next section. Both systems are similar in many ways.

Integrated strategic-management tools

ITONICS, Fibres, and EIDOS are all focused on integrating foresight with other strategic disciplines and a highly visual interface. ITONICS and Fibres both share several similarities with the Integrated Foresight-Management Tools above while also integrating strategic roadmapping for a more holistic strategic foresight service.

Although more focused on strategy than foresight, EIDOS combines Strategic Thinking, Strategic Processes, and a comprehensive Management Toolbox. The toolbox includes many tools used by futurists, and each tool has its own interactive visual analysis.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven tools

Shaping Tomorrow is the only strategic foresight tool we could find that combines complex algorithms to offer a very different and more efficient service. They began as a horizon scanning tool with trend and scenario analysis capabilities with many similarities to the services above. They even use visualizations including radars, but the automation of their service is the real value proposition. Therefore, the service is as valuable for freelance futurists as for any other potential clients.

As Shaping Tomorrow developed the algorithms to automate horizon scanning, they found the same technology that automated their scanning allowed them to extract relevant forecasts from the news. With these forecasts, they can automate trend analysis, PESTLE analysis, scenario analysis, and other foresight tools. They can also automatically extract strategic questions being asked in the news, and they are beginning to automate the process of answering those strategic questions.

They also produce Gist reports which illustrate the process inherent in their service. These Gists boil down 40 page reports to 5-10 pages, a prime example of their efficiency.

As these foresight tools will continue to evolve and support professional futurists we will track developments in the field. Please let us know if there are other tools or software we should consider for inclusion on the list.