Dave Snowden

Sidecasting techniques

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After due consideration I've settled on sidecasting over the alternatives.  It has an edge to it, and was the favourite of the commentator with the most experience of foresight work.  In my last post I promised to summarise the techniques I listed so that people had a reference and I plan that today.  That will leave me with a final post on the overall flow of one variant of backcasting.  

I should make it clear that this is an indicative list, and a high level summary of each method.  This is very much an interim post by the way.  It will build into a workflow tomorrow.

Future Backwards

It was the confusion of this technique with backcasting that started me on this path.  It's one of the oldest and most popular techniques we created and has been used for everything from Battlefield lessons learnt to strategic foresight.  I'll summarise the essence of the approach, but more detail on its use in my next post.

  • Groups working in parallel define the current state of affairs then step backwards, turning point by turning point for as far into history as they consider relevant.  The common turning points in the different parallel streams determine historical events that are defining the perspective filters of the organisation that may blind them to weak signals.
  • Heaven and hell are identified not as the best or worst scenarios, but as impossibly good and impossibly bad. The goal here is to widen the scope and this has some elements in common with backcasting.  However the groups then move backwards through turning points, to a point in the past where they create a counterfactual.  The common turning points between groups represent perspective filters again.  We also do not allow people to go back to the present as that will bring in politics and our goal is to expand not contract the field.  Counterfactuals (If we had done this then …) also stimulate thinking.
  • On both heaven and hell lines one Act of God is allowed.  Often this proves more likely that people thought when they reflect on it, sometimes, it is so extreme it is a test of hopelessness or despair which is also useful: Aliens landing to give us new technology for climate change for example – its a common one.

What we then do with those results I will explain in the next post.  But the distinctions above make it clear that this is not a backcasting method.  Although I can see how the confusion arises

Social Network Stimulation

SNS is a ubiquitous technique in Cognitive Edge.  It's purpose is to build diverse networks quickly to solve intractable problems.  By bringing together (while allowing self-selection within constraints) it is a way of challenging established thinking and generating diversity.  In the context of foresight its use is to generate scenarios or challenge them.  It also creates a sensor network able to explore and research different possibilities.

Fitness landscapes

I described their use in my last post.  Aside from illustrating the dispositionality of a complex system and breaking the linear and causal models of forecasting and backcasting, it also allows us to map pathways to avoid and explore from the present.  Expect a lot more on that from SenseMaker® later this year or earlier next.

Distributed Cognition

Derived from wisdom of crowds, but with some science added, this is one of the essential aspects of complexity.  A large human sensor network, generating micro-scenarios and able to respond to emerging situations in real time has a power to handle uncertainty which is not possessed by scenario planning, foresight extrapolations of backcasting.  It is one of the most exciting developments with SenseMaker® with the first major projects now starting.  I will expand on this in a future post (or rather posts).  Apologies for saying this again, but its a bigger topic and needs more material than is appropriate for a summary.