In a time of surprises, old visions of the future are no longer enough. We need different stories about the future – a challenge to current narratives. That’s where weak signals can help.
Weak signals 2022
Weak signals are the first symptoms of changes that could be significant in the future. They are unexpected phenomena and they challenge current thinking.
We are publishing a new overview of weak signals together with different interpretations of them.
What is it about?
If you only gaze at ongoing trends, you can remain a prisoner to existing patterns of change and become blind to the unexpected. Weak signals accompany trends not only by introducing more surprising developments into the picture, but also by guiding us to thinking differently. Where trends lead us to think about continuities and to ask “What next?”, weak signals emphasise discontinuity and encourage one to ask “What if?”.
Weak signals help us:
- identify and challenge assumptions about the future while broadening our view of what is possible
- gain insight into unexpected developments and rethink matters from the varied perspectives of our own lives, work or society; and
- identify new opportunities, ways of making a difference and promising new developments that we need to amplify – and thus build better futures together.
What’s the background?
Sitra’s work on weak signals originally started from a need to bring a complementary perspective to our popular work on megatrends. The first weak signals study, published in January 2019, aimed to broaden future-oriented thinking, to highlight assumptions concerning the future, challenge perceptions of the future and expand the range of possible futures. The report also proposed a number of tools for expanding the scope of future-oriented thinking.
Following the 2019 weak signals study, the need for a more efficient recognition and utilisation of weak signals in broadening future-oriented thinking has only increased.
What did we do this time?
We set out to collect weak signals together with folk at Sitra in spring 2021. We gathered signals from social media, blogs and the news. To check out the entire array of weak signals, go to the Kumu database.
Most of the interpretation of signals was carried out in autumn 2021 in both internal and external Sitra workshops. Interpretation was based on storytelling and the everyday relevance of the signals.. The work was guided by Sitra’s vision of a fair, sustainable and inspiring future.
The interpretation focused on what the issue described by the signal could mean should it become widespread and what consequences it might have for Finnish society. Alongside a description of the general impacts, we wanted to consider how they would be evident in people’s everyday lives.
Weak Signals 2022 study
The 2022 Weak Signals study presents a selection of weak signals followed by various scenarios and narratives of different futures based on them. This time, we have placed the signals in a daily context of familiar environments: home, work, nature, going to town, decision-making, and the metaverse.
The aim is not to provide an exhaustive list of all possible futures – which would be impossible – or even a panorama of the more surprising changes. Instead, we want to encourage readers to identify and interpret the signals themselves and to look more broadly at more surprising, divergent futures. It is good to bear in mind that how surprising or strange weak signals are depends on the person interpreting them: what is surprising to some may not be to others.
Nor are the weak signals we present and the future stories we derive from them predictions. Weak signals can be used to identify other possible futures and thereby broaden our thinking. But they do not tell us what will happen. Because the aim is to broaden our thinking, some of what is presented may seem strange and alien. We have tried to bring this strangeness down to the everyday level, because that is where we will experience the future.
Why is this important?
Our foresight work aims to increase understanding of the different possible futures and improve the preparedness of people and societies for future changes. In order to be better prepared to think about and influence the future, we must not only enrich our thinking about the future but also make future knowledge more tangible and to make the implications more palpable at the level of people’s everyday lives.
The future usually catches us off guard not because there is not enough information available, but because it can be difficult to relate it to today’s choices and actions.
Sitra’s weak signals work aims to provide tools to expand future-oriented thinking, challenge assumptions and envisage different futures. Challenging assumptions and imagining different futures is crucial because we cannot solve today’s challenges using old narratives.
Weak Signals complements Sitra’s megatrend and vision work.
Weak signals 2019
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