Scanning Retrospective, No. 1

NOTE: In all the posts in this series, the original source URLs are left exactly as they were when published 20-odd years ago. This means they will almost certainly be dead links (or good ol’ 404 errors). I do not have the patience or inclination to follow-up or find any archived or re-located versions of those web pages (because, well, life is too short). But, if it really bugs you, I invite you to see if you can find archived or relocated versions of those dead-link pages. And if you do, let me know, and I’ll update these posts with due credit to your detective work. Continue reading “Scanning Retrospective, No. 1”

Futures Scanning – A Retrospective View

The background

In August 2000, I was hired as a strategic foresight analyst in the Foresight and Planning Unit (FPU) of the (then) Office of the Vice Chancellor at Swinburne University of Technology. Part of this role was to conduct futures ‘scanning’ – by looking at the education ‘landscape’ through a ‘foresight’ time-frame much longer than is usual in conventional strategic planning; in our case, it was 10-20 years out. This obviously means that today, in 2021, the ‘future landscape’ being ‘scouted’ back then has since come to pass and become history. Hence the motivation for this experiment – to look back at what were picked up then as impending signals of change, and to compare what was reported in those days as future possibilities with what eventually came to pass as historical actualities. It has taken two decades to reach this point of being able to conduct such a ‘retrospective longitudinal assessment’ – and hopefully it should prove to be both interesting and instructive. It may also allow some real-world-data calibration of the utility of the heuristic principles for scanning described in the previous post. Continue reading “Futures Scanning – A Retrospective View”

Heuristic principles for scanning

As a futures scanner ‘back in the day’ (as they say), working in the corporate area of Swinburne responsible for undertaking organisational foresight and planning, and since, I came to employ several heuristics or principles of scanning that I had found empirically to be useful. There are about nine of these that I can think of right at this moment, which I will enumerate below. The list is unlikely to be completely exhaustive, however, and it may well end up including even more before I’m through with this extended series of posts on scanning. But this is a start. Before I proceed, though, let me first explain one of the (many) models we used in our teaching in the Master of Strategic Foresight (MSF). Continue reading “Heuristic principles for scanning”

Evidence of the future in the present

One of the principal practices involved in doing futures work is known as ‘scanning’. This term has a few variants — sometimes ‘environmental scanning’, sometimes ‘horizon scanning’, sometimes something else again — and these are often used interchangeably. I prefer to use the term ‘environmental scanning’ when the scanning pertains to the more proximal environment(s) of the organisation or entity that is the primary perspective from which the scanning is done, such as the market or industry in which it sits, while reserving the term ‘horizon scanning’ for the more distal aspects of the wider social, national or even international contexts. This is a fairly loose heuristic, but to me it helps connote the relative ‘closeness’ of the organisation’s ‘operating environment’ vs the relative ‘distance’ of the wider contextual ‘horizon’. Continue reading “Evidence of the future in the present”

‘Dark Clouds in the Crystal Ball’

How DEVO – like Cassandra – saw the future, tried to warn us, and was widely ignored

The title for this post comes from a song lyric by the avant-garde music group DEVO, namely, from the opening song ‘Time Out for Fun’ from their fifth studio album, Oh No! It’s DEVO. By the time that album was released in late 1982, DEVO as a band had spent the better part of a decade promoting the thesis of ‘de-evolution’ – the idea that humanity, rather than progressing, was actually regressing, and was in point of fact not evolving but really de-evolving (which was the origin of their name) to a more primitive state of mindlessly conformist automatons. Continue reading “‘Dark Clouds in the Crystal Ball’”

More Big History outputs

There have been two more formal publications on Big History recently: one a journal article – hinted at in the previous post – written in part to honour the memory of Erich Jantsch, the other a book chapter, as well as an informal podcast episode in the FuturePod series.

Continue reading “More Big History outputs”

Erich Jantsch’s 90th birthday…

Image of EJ relaxing in a chair during an interview.
Erich Jantsch, May 1972 from NW Mag (presumably taken during that interview, as a tape recorder is visible on the table before him). With many thanks to Leah Sciabarrasi for permission to use it here. (

would have been today (Capra 1981, p.151). Instead, the world lost an incomparable polymath and genius on 12 Dec 1980, less than a month before his 52nd birthday, and we are all much, much the poorer for that loss (Capra 1981, Linstone, Maruyama & Kaje 1981, Zeleny 1981). Continue reading “Erich Jantsch’s 90th birthday…”

And that’s a wrap! The End of the Swinburne MSF.

Today was the last class ever of the Swinburne MSF (2001 — 2018) — something that has been coming for a long time (announcement of closure was back in May 2016).

There is a KudoBoard where people have posted their memories of the MSF.

Q: What now?

A: Trust emergence…