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Futures, Foresight and Horizon Scanning: Finding a Way Forward 

You’ve heard all about the benefits of Futures, Foresight and Horizon Scanning and you’re ready to get started. But exactly where do you begin? What resources are available and where do you find them? Who can you call to ask for assistance, compare notes or hear stories from people who’ve been there and done that?

‘Futures’ refers to structured approaches to exploring what is possible in the future and what is preferable. It typically involves identifying areas of uncertainty, underlying drivers, opportunities and challenges. ‘Foresight’ refers to the process of conducting Futures work and what you get from it, and ‘Horizon Scanning’ is a specific technique.

It can be daunting when looking to use a new approach and a new set of tools. Futures (and Foresight and Horizon Scanning) includes a set of tools to help you more systematically explore future opportunities, challenges, and risks. These tools help you to understand the influence you have, develop a vision, counter business as usual and groupthink, and develop policies and strategies that are more resilient to different possible future scenarios. This requires challenging your assumptions.

The Government Office for Science (GOS) has guides and training sessions, future-focused resources, experience and networks to help you, on top of our catalogue of past Foresight projects.

Capability - Guides and training sessions

A recent blog about making sense of the future highlighted the Futures Toolkit, a guide that outlines how and when 12 Futures techniques can be used to help government decision makers develop policies and strategies that are resilient to future change. This toolkit is helping to embed strategic long-term thinking into government policy and strategy development.

Our training sessions complement the Toolkit. There are introductory sessions that you can book from 20 minutes to an hour, a half day training session on Horizon Scanning, and a full day session on the Toolkit.


Mega-trends* is an analysis of trends from business, academic, and government sources to produce an overview of major opportunities and challenges government may want to consider across all policy areas.

Scan of scans* is a set of trends cards from expert sources that illustrate trends in a range of government policy areas. This resource provides starting material for departments to carry out their own Horizon Scanning activities.

The Emerging Technology Programme* is an ongoing project that is monitoring and collecting information on emerging technologies. Its aim is to provide a knowledge-base on which Futures work in government can draw and disseminate the understanding gained to relevant teams.


GOS has been working on Futures for more than 20 years. Reflecting on the capabilities that have been developed for these projects and experiences gained therein, GOS provides advice and support to teams in the Civil Service to help them use Futures tools to support the development of more resilient policies and strategies.


There are many networks in government discussing Futures and future-related issues that provide support for those doing Futures work.

There is a Heads of Horizon Scanning Network. This is a community of mostly civil servants with a responsibility for Futures, Foresight or Horizon Scanning. They come from government departments and agencies, the devolved administrations, and UK regions. The network shares good practices and lessons learnt and shares resources, such as horizon scans. It also disseminates information about possible, ongoing, and completed Futures work, provides a platform to receive feedback and advice and supports capability development. If you are a civil servant and want to be involved in this community, please contact the Heads of Horizon Scanning Secretariat.

GOS works closely with the Economic and Domestic Secretariat (EDS) in the Cabinet Office on the Horizon Scanning Programme Team. The team helps to coordinate Futures-related work across Whitehall. GOS and the Cabinet Office work together through the Horizon Scanning Programme Team to help civil servants get the most out of their Futures work.

There is also the Strategy Unit Network. This network is managed by the Cabinet Office side of the Horizon Scanning Programme Team and aims to coordinate the work of strategy directorates across government and build strategic capabilities.

These guides and training sessions, resources, advice and networks are what GOS offers to help you do Futures work. Now over to you to get in touch with the GOS Futures team and get involved.

*If you would like access to these resources or want more information about the guides and training sessions or networks please contact the GOS Futures team.

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