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7 Questions Futures Technique

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The Government Office for Science is currently exploring how changes in society will affect material demand over the next 30 years and what these changes mean for government policy. The first challenge is to understand ‘what is likely to change and why’. Some changes are well known: for example the transition to electric vehicles is set to boost demand for batteries. But we wanted to bring new insights to our customers in government.

To find out what we didn’t know – but needed to know – we used 7 Questions, a futures technique to identify significant drivers of change. The technique was developed in Shell to support their strategy development process. It’s an interview technique for gathering the strategic insights of a range of internal and external stakeholders about the future, and is particularly useful for engaging with senior leaders. The open ended questions were a great way to gather opinion on strategic issues from people with a broad view of materials and related issues.

7 Questions is just one of four techniques in the GO-Science Futures Toolkit designed to help gather intelligence from stakeholders, along with Horizon Scanning, the Issues Paper and Delphi.

We found this technique really powerful. 7 Questions helps engage key stakeholders and provide high-level insight into the key drivers in a policy area. It gave us a structure for meetings with key project stakeholders, helped them to have early input into the project, and allowed us to gather insights into what they thought the future might look like. 7 Questions was used as the first step in understanding changing materials demand and its implications and further techniques will be required to expand on our initial findings. We would like to share several tips that can help you apply the technique.

Top tips for using the 7 Questions technique

  1. Seek out a diverse range of people to interview and try to reach beyond the usual organisations you contact.
  2. Don’t send out all the invites at once. We found that academia was happy to help, but CEOs less able to give up their time. Send invites for interviews in tranches to ensure a balance of views (this will also help manage the volume of work).
  3. Some people find it hard to answer open ended, strategic questions prepare in advance some supplementary closed questions which can be used to prompt interviewees or bring the interview back on track.
  4. The first two questions set the tone for the rest of the interview - if their answers are too narrow, ask for more examples before moving on to the next one.
  5. Consider providing the person you are interviewing with generic examples of drivers, so they are primed to give you the kind of information you want.
  6. Always ask who else you should be speaking to - finding people with the right expertise and background is more important than finding the right organisation.

For full details on how to use this technique and an example of a 7 Questions interview, check out GO-Science’s Futures Toolkit.

Try using the 7 Questions technique when you start your next project. It can provide valuable insights, help to focus adequate resource on the crucial scoping phase and gives you a fast-start when beginning your project. We welcome your thoughts and stories about using 7 Questions in the comments below.


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