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Foresighting – How ‘foresighting’ can help us shape the future to our advantage

Conventional forecasting is proving less useful in these times of rapid change. Today we must look for new ways to chart a course to the future. A new technique called ‘foresighting’ may prove an invaluable tool for the region’s maritime sector.

By Ibrahim Ajagunna and Fritz Pinnock

Experts have argued that we now live in an era of unprecedented technological change; and technology is one of the most fundamental drivers of social and economic development.

Each radical innovation, incremental improvement and new deployment of technology enables and spurs further phases of economic and technological change in a positive reciprocating dynamic way. This pace of change is now being further accelerated by the process of globalization; the progressive removal of barriers to international trade, as the effect of liberalization is to reduce costs, promotes greater specialization and efficiency, increases competition and thereby spurs innovation.

According to the experts, this suggests we are moving into an era of particularly rapid change, where corporations and countries alike have to learn to operate in an increasingly dynamic and borderless world economy and where new technologies will constantly transform the array of business constraints and opportunities. As a result, traditional forecasting and planning methods are no longer adequate tools for mapping business or national development strategies for coping with these transformations, because they have a limited ability to predict or survive discontinuities; that is, significant changes in the external or internal environment that force a fundamental re-evaluation of strategy or goals.


Experts have also argued that, as the socioeconomic system itself changes, its behavior in the past no longer forms an entirely reliable guide to its probable behavior in future. This also means, of course, that conventional forecasting will tend to become less useful at times of particularly rapid change. It therefore means that we must now look for new models that can give us a more durable basis for charting a course through the increasingly uncertain years ahead. In general, such a model must be able to accommodate discontinuities, facilitate anticipation and proactive planning and thereby provide a robust action plan, a stable underlying strategy combined with flexible tactics. The model must also be able to support the necessary internal restructuring, as the fundamental challenge is to build the capacity to anticipate and adjust to constant change.

Foresighting is a technique now being used by many of the world’s largest and most successful corporations, as well as by a dozen governments, to model, understand and shape the future to their advantage. By definition, foresighting is a process by which one comes to a full understanding of the forces shaping the long-term future, which should be taken into account in policy formulation, planning and decision-making. Foresight involves qualitative and quantitative means for monitoring clues and indicators of evolving trends and developments and is best and most useful when linked directly to the analysis of policy implications.


Countries such as Jamaica and South Africa, for example, have employed foresight exercises in order to restructure some sectors of their economy. The implementation of the result of those exercises has brought tremendous changes to those sectors in which foresighting was employed. This suggests there is a need for a foresighting exercise for the shipping industry in the Caribbean. The exercise should cover ports, cargo, cruise and pleasure boats, and it will be used to inform a national strategic plan for the maritime transportation sector at the regional ports.

A foresighting exercise is a group process, which would encourage knowledge exchange and development of a mutual deeper understanding of central issues important to the future of the shipping industry in the Caribbean. The exercise would demonstrate that it is possible to bring different perspectives together to discuss, in a more constructive manner, the future of a critical industry such as maritime transportation and the shipping industry. This, in turn, will show the benefits of a more inclusive and consensus-based approach to planning for the present and future change.

If well conducted, a foresight exercise would map out the threats and opportunities facing the industry, the clarification of the choices to be made, and help to shape the future of the industry. The process of foresighting exercise as put forward by the experts includes the following:

VISIONING: To identify all stakeholders who will contribute a wide range of scenarios/perspectives to the industry.

REFLECTING: To conduct a comprehensive workshop on how the various stakeholders see a big shift coming in the shipping sector. The stakeholders’ views are then grouped into a connected pattern and priorities drawn from the best ideas. A rough picture of the future based on these priorities is then sketched out.

BACKCASTING: Analyzing back from the preferred scenario to the present day, tracing the sequence of critical events and changes. This part of the process allows people and the various ports to develop a strategic plan, which will then inform their actions as critical events and changes unfold. This, in turn, allows people to become agents of change rather than being driven by change. It also allows people to create trends rather than being the victims of trends; and, finally, to monitor, evaluate and review as they go along.

THE BENEFITS: Contrary to forecasting and its reliability, foresighting helps to improve long-term decision-making, generate alternative trajectories for future developments, improve preparedness for emergencies and contingencies and in the process motivate change. It will also allow the shipping industry in the Caribbean to get ready to respond, quickly and decisively, to the rapidly transforming array of problems and opportunities in the global environment.