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New horizon scanning system aims to help foresters see change coming

A graph detailing the process by which Horizon Scanning works in relation to decision making
Image detailing the process by which Horizon Scanning works in relation to decision making

MINNESOTA – To grossly understate it, there is a lot going on in the world today. Mega-trends such as technological disruption, economic globalization and climate change are accelerating and interacting at the same time, creating a turbulent environment and many challenges for forest leadership and planning staff. 

The Northern Research Station’s Forest Futures Horizon Scanning Project has developed a system which aims to identify signals of change for an organization and help decision makers proactively respond to the increasing pace and complexity of those changes. Horizon scanning is a process for identifying early indicators of change – emerging issues and trends – in the internal and external environments of an organization or field.

Designed and implemented in partnership with futurists at the University of Houston Foresight graduate program, the Station’s horizon scanning system is intended to acquaint forest planners, managers and policymakers with the practice of horizon scanning as an integral step in anticipating change, exploring potential implications and making better decisions in a rapidly changing world. While most of employees in the Forest Service are aware of internal developments through reading forestry newsletters, magazines and journals, as well as attending conferences, external developments can blindside us if we’re not paying attention. For that reason, the focus of the USDA Forest Service Horizon Scanning Project will be mostly on external change. 

Scientists Dave Bengston and Mike Dockry of the Northern Research Station and their collaborator, Andy Hines of the University of Houston, recently published a General Technical Report describing all aspects of the Forest Futures Horizon Scanning Project, from setting up the horizon scanning system to efforts being made to communicate the findings. The Northern Research Station's Strategic Foresight Group worked with Hines to design and implement a horizon scanning system for the agency, with the goal of increasing the strategic foresight of an organization.