How It All Began: Foresight Works

Written by Sue Pine on April 10, 2018

My passion for foresight began over ten years ago when I was Chair of the ASAE Research Committee. The ASAE Foundation’s research team was focused on producing the 200-page book, Designing Your Future: Key Trends, Challenges, and Choices Facing Association and Nonprofit Leaders. Many of my association colleagues have the book on their shelf. One particular line in that book mentioned the need to create a culture of foresight. That’s where the term started to resonate with me. It was that project that allowed us to extract different pieces from the book to share with boards and volunteer groups. It didn’t take long to realize that most boards weren’t having consistent conversations about trends or about foresight.

Many years later, I was back on the ASAE research committee. I was able to then ask the committee about the status of the commitment to update the trends information. As a committee, we agreed that the world was changing too quickly to only monitor changes on an episodic cycle of every six or seven years. The ASAE Foundation Board agreed to commit resources to a more continual trend monitoring process to include true Futurists to work in combination with association professionals. Key attributes of the research initiative that we were pursuing included the need to have a resource that was user-friendly and continually updated.

In an association management company (AMC), you work with multiple clients and volunteer leaders, all of them at a different spot on the journey towards creating this culture of foresight. Some groups think that strategic planning and a SWOT analysis is enough, and that the board has all the answers about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats presented to their association. I deal with diverse industries - medical industries, trade associations, entrepreneurial groups, allied health - and all of them will have a different area of focus. The new resource we were working on had to be consistent and adaptable across these diverse industry divisions.

To build Foresight Works, we created a consistent format called Action Briefs for each of the 41 identified drivers of change. On page one, there is a summary of the change driver, including a forecast on what it might mean to associations, and key uncertainties that cannot be predicted. Page two lists supporting trends that relate to that change driver. It has a section on data points from the environmental scanning process for research enthusiasts. Infographics are used so readers can easily absorb information. Page three moves onto strategic insight for associations: what could this change driver mean for your organization? How many years until we feel its impact? On page four, all of this information becomes actionable, and we provide some ideas on tangible next steps that can help you prepare for the change driver, and who might be most impacted.

You may not get a board member or committee chair to read a book but I’m pretty darn sure you can get them to read four pages!

The resource has been made accessible in all respects: it is financially viable, it is written in plain English without confusing jargon, and it can be utilized whether you are the CEO of an association, a volunteer board member, a committee member, or a department manager. I encourage you to bring these trends to your coworkers, volunteers, boards, committees, and chapters. Talk to them about the difference between strategic planning and environmental scanning. Consider alternative scenarios of what your association might look like in 2025 or 2030. It is important to remember that practicing foresight is not necessarily about creating the right scenario, it is about embedding the practice of monitoring the changes around you to see how you can create a positive alternative future for your association!

Sue spoke in the “Building a Culture of Foresight in Your Association” session during SURGE Spring, an interactive virtual summit hosted by on May 2nd-4th. Click here to watch the sessions on demand.