Friday, 14 November 2008

Introduction to this initiative.

The FAN Club is a forum where those who have an interest in horizon scanning and futures analysis can meet to exchange new ideas, innovative thinking and good practice. It is sponsored by the Horizon Scanning Centre in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Meetings are held quarterly and combine presentations, workshop sessions and case studies to stimulate discussion between colleagues interested in using futures thinking and decision support techniques to develop policy or strategy.


This programme of activity has been designed to explore how a collaborative working approach could bring practitioners of futures thinking together outside as well as inside existing FAN Club events, to:
  • increase the potential of the network itself
  • help enhance FAN Club members’ futures work

So we’ll be asking:

  • how well does the network sustain itself between meetings? (through productive collaborations or conversations, for example)
  • how we can encourage collaboration across the network and between the network events?


Based on my observations that:

  • there is significant capability and expertise leading to notable success in futures thinking across the FAN Club network;
  • in FAN Club workshop sessions, I have rarely observed a collaborative approach in addressing issues of common interest raised by the participants themselves;
  • feedback from FAN club members acknowledges the importance of content and the presentations by futures thinking experts, reinforcing a “telling and listening” culture;
  • different futures projects can come to similar conclusions but assumptions seem to be made about the impact on other stakeholders (other departments, for example);
  • collaboration is a watch word in policy and strategic intent but not always implemented effectively on the ground, for a number of reasons

I have formed the following assumptions:

  • it can feel unsafe to share controversial insights that can emerge through futures work with other stakeholders;
  • ownership of developing work and emerging insights can be closely guarded;
  • the degree to which connections are made between different pieces of futures work in different government departments could be improved;
  • given the variety of subject matter / content addressed at FAN Club meetings, a common thread linking different FAN Club sessions could enhance members’ positive experience of the network events;
  • the experience and value that participants gain from attending FAN Club events could be further enhanced by paying attention to critical enabling skills such, as collaboration.

This leads me to hypothesise that a focus on collaborative working - within teams and between organisations - can help maximise the return on time investment in futures thinking by:

  • sharing information;
  • sharing unique perspectives on the same issue;
  • sharing trends and forecasts;
  • co-creating potential futures;
  • challenging each others’ assumptions;
  • collectively making sense of the opportunities and challenges that futures work presents.


A programme of activity closely aligned to the FAN Club schedule will include:

  • Attendance at each of the next three FAN Club meetings;
  • Making observations and holding 1-1 discussions with participants;
  • Seeking FAN Club member support in the completion of a Collaboration Health Check survey then analysing the feedback;
  • Conducting stakeholder / practitioner interviews on their experience of collaboration in futures work;
  • Analysing the feedback gained through interviews;
  • Creating a “live” record of feedback via a blog and a report; and
  • Preparing a final report to include participant / stakeholder observations and my own observations and recommendations.

It will be important to base the work on the real experiences of colleagues - as futures thinking practitioners - so that we can gain a sense of the role collaboration does or could play in effective futures work.

My expectation is that this work will answer some questions but will also pose more, but in doing so will raise a number of issues that are pertinent to how practitioners can progress their futures thinking work and their collaborative working practice.


Here is the plan of activity we have developed:

If you have any questions or comments then feel free to leave a comment to this post or email me directly.