What is Horizon Scanning?

Horizon scanning aims to spot changes in the world around us before they become ‘old news’, so that decision makers can plan on how to exploit or mitigate these changes, securing the most positive outcome for their organisation. This means systematically monitoring a wide range of information sources and indicators, with the intent of identifying patterns and ‘weak signals’ of coming disruptions that could have a severe or a transforming impact on our world, the way we organise our work, our economies, our social interactions, our travel habits and our communication channels.

Image author: By ESO/S. Seip ( [CC BY 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

A common practice with horizon scanning is to look both at opportunities and threats of some technology or societal evolutions. For instance, driverless technologies can be a potential substitute to some rail transport services, but these technologies can also enable the future railway vision of intelligent trains running closer together.

As such, horizon scanning is the intelligence gathering part of strategic foresight, concerned with emerging trends, issues and uncertainties that the future may bring, and assessing their potential impact on organisations.

Horizon scanning is carried out in numerous industries and countries. UK government agencies using horizon scanning include the UK Cabinet Office Analysis and Insight team, the Health and Safety Executive and the Health and Safety Laboratory, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Worldwide bodies explicitly carrying out horizon scanning include the European Commission’s Joint Research Council; OECD’s Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation, the World Economic Forum; the US National Security Council; Japan’s National Institute of Science and Technology Policies and Singapore’s Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning programme.

Horizon scanning can have a key role in planning for the future of the rail industry, seizing the opportunities for knowledge and technology transfer, and identifying and mitigating emerging risks.


Banner image author: Quimono.

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