The ‘Scanning Retrospective’ series

Background, Setup & Elaboration of Method

Futures Scanning – A Retrospective View
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’. What will the result be? Let’s find out …
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.
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 ten of these that I can think of right at this moment, which I will enumerate below.
Citation managers for futures scanning
During our futures scanning – doing what I like to sometimes call ‘futures intelligence analysis’, which therefore makes us ‘futures intelligence analysts’ – we need a way to capture and retain the information about the scanning ‘hits’ we find.
‘Futures Intelligence’
In an earlier post I mentioned the term ‘futures intelligence’ in the context of the activity of gathering information about the future and undertaking what I like to call ‘futures intelligence analysis’. Here I want to expand briefly upon the multi-faceted concept of ‘futures intelligence’ itself, and two complementary ways that I think the term can be used.
‘Modes’ of scanning
In the earlier posts in this series I have described various aspects of scanning practice. Here I want to describe the four main ‘modes’ of scanning that are generally recognised by theorists and practitioners, and how they differ from each other. It also then allows me to ‘frame’ the retrospective to date and to explain the particular modes of scanning that were being used two decades ago to select and report on the hits that are being re-published here. It will also help to frame the change in character of the scanning hits once the initial set of 25 Snippets are done and we move into the more ‘serious’ scanning hits that were reported in the Foresight Bulletin, prospect.
Scanning ‘the’ environment
As noted in an earlier post, I tend to distinguish between environmental scanning and horizon scanning, the former being relatively more proximal to the organisation/entity (in my usage), the latter being relatively more distal, although the terms are frequently used interchangeably in the literature. Expanding upon this distinction is useful because it allows for the creation of a more tractable ‘segmentation’ of the broader organisational environment into parts for which certain information sources are more clearly relevant and thereby more easily selected for inclusion into the overall scanning frame. In this way, a wide variety of disparate information sources can be combined into a unified framework for systematically reducing the risk that organisations – corporate, civic, governmental and military – could get caught out and ‘blindsided’ by a future they should have been able to detect coming.
‘Timing’ of scanning systems
The final major piece of the scanning puzzle is the issue of timing: how often, or according to what sort of timetable, is the scanning in your organisation to be carried out? That question depends on how aware you want to be about what is going on in the external environment, and what your tolerance is for the risk of being blindsided out of existence by events or emerging issues in that environment. (TL;DR: serious preparation requires serious resourcing of the scanning system; no shortcuts or excuses will cut it. Reality cannot be fooled.)

The Data

The Foresight Snippets

Scanning Retrospective, No. 1
  • Universities Begin Creating Palm-Sized Versions of Campus Web Pages
  • GM Goat Spins Web-Based Future
  • Stick Your Finger in Your Ear and Go “Ting-a-Ling-a-Loo!”
Scanning Retrospective, No. 2
  • Cellular Phones: Are They Safe to Use?
  • You’re Hired — Now Stay Home!
  • Lasered Lawns
Scanning Retrospective, No. 3
  • What price the “.tv” domain?
  • You’d better be good! Darth Vader is coming to the lecture hall
  • Everything old is new again: phone numbers vs URLs
Scanning Retrospective, No. 4
  • Does Reading Harry Potter Cause Global Warming?
  • Oops! A New Bio-Weapon
  • Back to the Future: 2001 — Is Tablet Computing About to Go Mainstream?
Scanning Retrospective, No. 5
  • The Untethered Campus
  • A Hydrogen-Fueled “People’s Car”
  • Living Under the Hole in the Sky
Scanning Retrospective, No. 6
  • A University That Wants Students to Stay Away from Class
  • Report: On-line Training ‘Boring’
  • Setting Standards for Web-Ed
Scanning Retrospective, No. 7
  • Would You Like a Mobile Phone With That?
  • Cloning: Could Humans Be Next?
  • A Framework for Making Sustainability a Practical Reality
Scanning Retrospective, No. 8
  • Research in the Business World
  • Cashing In on the Future
  • Privatising the University — the New Tragedy of the Commons
Scanning Retrospective, No. 9
  • Waves Run This Power Plant
  • The Singularity
Scanning Retrospective, No. 10
  • Trends Affecting Education for the Next 10 Years
  • Dolly Cloners Abhor Human Tests
  • An Oath for Scientists?
Scanning Retrospective, No. 11
  • Memes and Cultural Evolution
  • The OECD Environmental Outlook is Released
  • The Clock of the Long Now
Scanning Retrospective, No. 12
  • The Hot New Medium: Paper
  • The Antibiotics Crisis
  • Homeopathy — Thanks for the Memory
Scanning Retrospective, No. 13
  • Back to the Future 2: 2001 — Memories are Made of Glass
  • You’ve Heard of GMOs; What About GMAs — Genetically Modified Athletes?
  • Thunderbirds are GO!
Scanning Retrospective, No. 14
  • An Increasingly Thirsty Future Leading to Water Wars?
  • Privatising the Water of Life
  • Cloud Catchers
Scanning Retrospective, No. 15
  • Feeling Poorly? It Could Be Affluenza
  • Tired of Fast Life? Try “Slow Food”
  • The Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Children — Truax vs The Lorax
  • The Ghost in the Machine
Scanning Retrospective, No. 16
  • The 200-Year Present
  • Life Extension and Immortality
  • Scientist Says Mind Continues After Brain Dies
Scanning Retrospective, No. 17 – Special Issue: Wildcards
  • Suddenly, the World Changes…
  • Britain Says It Is Taking Asteroid Impact Threat Seriously
  • Searching for ET at Home
Scanning Retrospective, No. 18
  • Scenarios for the New War
  • The Ultimate High Ground
  • Waging Peace
Scanning Retrospective, No. 19
  • The Hydrogen Economy Experiment
  • Digital Continuity and the Rosetta Disc Project
  • Back to the Future 3: 2001 — A Space Odyssey
  • NORAD Watches for Santa Claus
Scanning Retrospective, No. 20
  • The Limits to Growth and Beyond
  • The Tragedy of the Commons
  • Natural Capitalism Explained
Scanning Retrospective, No. 21
  • The History of Utopian Thought
  • The Image of the Future
  • The Principality of New Utopia
  • This is probably the final email issue of the Foresight Snippets
Scanning Retrospective, No. 22
  • Warp Drive? Make It So! (Maybe)
  • A(nother) Force of Nature?
  • Risk-Free Babies?
Scanning Retrospective, No. 23
  • “War driving” and the coming of Wi-Fi
  • Look out, Prime Minister, that napkin could be dangerous!
  • Forget bio-tech, what about neuro-tech?
Scanning Retrospective, No. 24
  • Empirical Evidence of Global Consciousness?
  • Save the Earth! Mine the Moon
  • Getting Ready to Tackle Armageddon
Scanning Retrospective, No. 25
  • The chronic question: “What is Time?”
  • Macrohistory – the really big picture view
  • And finally, “who is it that ‘knows’?”

From the pages of prospect

We now dip into the items that were published in the Foresight Bulletin, prospect, starting with issue 2, the first issue that I edited. Most will not be given in their entirety, since they were often full-length articles taken from journals, magazines or other long-form sources. Rather, it will be sufficient to just give the ‘flavour’ of the piece in order to see how well they have ‘aged’. Initially, there were a handful of Snippets-ish type items, but these soon gave way to longer-form articles.

Scanning Retrospective, No. 26
  • Ain’t no network strong enough
  • Home is where the e-classroom is
  • Internet contributes to rise of identity theft, FTC says
Scanning Retrospective, No. 27
  • Vacation too wired? You’re not alone
  • Railway web
  • Federal Government removes tertiary ‘sectoral divide’
Scanning Retrospective, No. 28
  • Instititutional Entrepreneurship in Higher Education
  • The Changing Research Environment
  • Globalisation: a world without borders
  • TAFE and university graduates – what’s the difference?
Scanning Retrospective, No. 29
  • Education: New Economy, New Challenges?
  • Reshaping Universities for the Future
  • Universal Tertiary Education
  • Academic Entrepreneurship in Higher Education
Scanning Retrospective, No. 30
  • Linking Strategic Thinking with Strategic Planning
  • Changing Ideas of the University
  • Bridging the Divide
  • Trend Alert: Recruiters Will Reach Into High Schools
Scanning Retrospective, No. 31
  • The Inevitability of a Business Model for Higher Education
  • Trends Transforming the Universities of This Century
  • Managerial Vision
  • The Notion of Entrepreneurship: Historical and Emerging Issues
Scanning Retrospective, No. 32
  • A Primer on Futures Studies, Foresight and the Use of Scenarios
  • Envisioning (and Inventing) the Future
  • Making the Future Visible: Psychology, Scenarios and Strategy
  • From Scenario Thinking to Strategic Action
  • The Swinburne Scenarios Project 2002
Scanning Retrospective, No. 33
  • From The Herman Trend Alert:
    • Metamorphosis of University Education
    • Internationalisation of Education
    • Upheaval in Education?
  • The Futures of Universities
  • Higher Education in the 21st Century
  • Foresight Snippets, No. 22
Scanning Retrospective, No. 34
  • Virtual schools
  • The radical restructuring of higher education
  • A choice of transformations for the 21st-Century university
  • Foresight Snippets, No. 23
Scanning Retrospective, No. 35
  • Environmental scanning
  • Environmental scanning in four worlds
  • Reframing environmental scanning
  • Foresight Snippets, No. 24
Scanning Retrospective, No. 36 (Final)
  • [Intro to new format for prospect]
  • [Description of selection criteria for inclusion of items (‘hits’) in the  FPR strategic scanning database (SSD)]
  • [Sign-off from FPR, editorship of prospect and authorship of the Snippets]
  • [Ten scanning ‘hits’ from the SSD]
  • Foresight Snippets, No. 25

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