Introduction: Foresight in International Development

Gioel Gioacchino and James Sumberg

This article introduces this special issue of the IDS Bulletin on Foresight in International Development. It argues that foresight should be at the centre of development studies, and suggests two reasons why this is not the case. The four-year Institute of Development Studies research stream on foresight in policy-oriented research is introduced, as are the articles that make up this issue of the IDS Bulletin.

Keywords: futures, participation, methods.

1 Introduction
Foresight encompasses a wide range of methods and approaches that help individuals and groups to think about and prepare for different possible futures. Systematic approaches to foresight originated in the private sector, where the interest was in developing strategy, understanding implications of present and future trends and events, facilitating better decision-making and improving risk management (Conway 2008). Governments and public sector bodies subsequently embraced foresight with similar objectives.

Looking to the future is – or certainly should be – at the core of development studies. While the benefit of 'looking back to look forward' is well recognised, foresight is more akin to 'looking forward to look forward'. It is striking that foresight approaches and methods do not figure prominently in policy-oriented development research (Bingley 2014). Why might this be so? We suggest two possible explanations. First, most social science disciplines are more comfortable with the analysis of the past and the present than the future. Second, the model of the large, well-funded public sector foresight programme simply does not reflect the realities of much policy-oriented development research.

A principle concern of this IDS Bulletin is whether foresight approaches and methods can be usefully integrated into small-scale, exploratory research of relevance to the international development community.

Table 1 Outputs of IDS foresight work, 2012–16

Bingley, K. (2014) A Review of Strategic Foresight in International Development, IDS Evidence Report 94, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 251, 9 September 2014

Bingley, K. (2014). 'Using Foresight to Cope with Uncertainty', IDS Policy Briefing 74, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 252, 9 September 2014

MacGregor, H.; Lally, S.; Bloom, G.; Davies, M.; Henson, S.; Mejía Acosta, A.; Roelen, K. and Ulrichs, M. (2014) Non-Communicable Disease and Development: Future Pathways, IDS Evidence Report 100, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 247, December 2014

Knezovich, J. and MacGregor, H. (2014) 'Responding to the Threat of Nutrition-related Non-communicable Disease', IDS Policy Briefing 65, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 248, 29 May 2014

Béné, C.; Cannon, T.; Gupte, J.; Mehta, J. and Tanner, T. (2014) Exploring the Potential and Limits of the Resilience Agenda in Rapidly Urbanising Contexts, IDS Evidence Report 63, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 249, March 2014

Béné, C.; Cannon, T.; Gupte, J.; Mehta, L. and Tanner, T. (2014) 'The Potential and Limits of the "Resilience Agenda" in Peri-urban Contexts', IDS Policy Briefing 63, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 250, 14 May 2014

Spratt, S. (2014) What Drives Wind and Solar Energy Investment in India and China?, IDS Evidence Report 87, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 243, 31 July 2014

Spratt, S. (2014) 'Creating Alliances for Renewable Energy Investment: Lessons from China and India', IDS Policy Briefing 67, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 244, 4 June 2014

Dong, W.; Qi, Y. and Spratt, S. (2015) The Political Economy of Low-carbon Investment: The Role of Coalitions and Alignments of Interest in the Green Transformation in China, IDS Evidence Report 160, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 547

Krishna, C.; Sagar, A.D. and Spratt, S. (2015) The Political Economy of Low-carbon Investments: Insights from the Wind and Solar Power Sectors in India, IDS Evidence Report 104, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 546, January 2015

Chaturvedi, A.; Vijayalakshmi, K. and Nijhawan, S. (2015) Scenarios of Waste and Resource Management: For Cities in India and Elsewhere, IDS Evidence Report 114, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 542

Wilson, E. (2015) 'Managing the Emerging Waste Crisis in Developing Countries' Large Cities', IDS Policy Briefing 86, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 543

Glover, D. and Sexton, A. (2015) Edible Insects and the Future of Food: A Foresight Scenario Exercise on Entomophagy and Global Food Security, IDS Evidence Report 149, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 261

Glover, D. and Sexton, A. (2016) 'Edible Insects and the Future of Food', IDS Policy Briefing 114, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 262, 21 April 2016,

Spratt, S. and Baker, J. (2015) Big Data and International Development: Impacts, Scenarios and Policy Options, IDS Evidence Report 163, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 253

Spratt, S. (2015) 'Ensuring Developing Countries Benefit from Big Data', IDS Policy Briefing 107, Publisher: IDS, Output ID 254

Gregson, J.; Brownlee, J.M.; Playforth, R. and Bimbe, N. (2015) The Future of Knowledge Sharing in a Digital Age: Exploring Impacts and Policy Implications for Development, IDS Evidence Report 125, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 57

Gregson, J.; Brownlee, J.M.; Playforth, R. and Bimbe, N. (2015) 'The Future of Knowledge Sharing in a Digital Age: Exploring Impacts and Policy Implications for Development', IDS Policy Briefing 87, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 258

Devereux, S.; Roelen, K. and Ulrichs, M. (2015) Where Next for Social Protection?, IDS Evidence Report 124, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 259

Devereux, S.; Roelen, K. and Ulrichs, M. (2015) 'The Future of Social Protection – Where Next?', IDS Policy Briefing 106, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 260

Gupte, J. with Commins, S. (2016) Cities, Violence and Order: The Challenges and Complex Taxonomy of Security Provision in Cities of Tomorrow, IDS Evidence Report 175, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 575

Gupte, J. (2016) 'Rethinking Approaches to Peace-Building and Political Settlements in an Increasingly Urbanised World', IDS Policy Briefing 112, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 576

Gioacchino, G. (2016) Foresight and International Development: Conference Report, IDS Evidence Report 168, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 580

Gioacchino, G. (2016) Foresight Methods: A Guide to Easily Accessible Toolkits, IDS Evidence Report 195, Publisher: IDS, Output ID: 579

Source Authors' own.

2 Low-budget foresight
Between 2012 and 2016, with support from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), researchers at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and their partners undertook a number of small-scale, policy-oriented projects using foresight approaches and methods. Most of these projects were completed for around £50,000 each – a far cry from the multi-million pound budgets associated with many public sector foresight activities. Topics were identified through a competitive process, and were meant to address new and emergent trends and policy issues that have the potential to impact significantly on development processes and outcomes. The project teams benefited from some limited input by a foresight specialist (Alun Rhydderch), and the expectation was that the projects would be completed within 12 months. Each project resulted in a published report and policy brief.

The topics addressed by these studies included: the rise of non­communicable disease; the meaning of resilience in rapidly urbanising contexts; drivers of investment in alternative energy; urban waste; the potential of insects as food; big data as a development resource; implications of knowledge sharing for development; the future of social protection; and security provision in the cities of tomorrow. Table 1 provides a listing of the published outputs from this stream of work.

In October 2015 a one-day conference on 'Foresight and International Development' was held at IDS (Gioacchino 2016). The conference brought together 30 academics, development practitioners and foresight experts to explore a number of questions including: What is foresight in the context of international development? What kind of foresight is useful? Should the use of foresight be more widely promoted in international development? The presentation and discussion highlighted some challenges associated with small-scale foresight studies.

3 This IDS Bulletin
This issue of the IDS Bulletin focuses on the role of foresight in policy-oriented international development research. It draws directly on the work and the conference described above and seeks to draw attention to the opportunities and challenges associated with a range of foresight approaches and methods.

Kate Bingley (this IDS Bulletin) and Alun Rhydderch (this IDS Bulletin) set the stage by introducing the field of foresight, reviewing its use in international development, highlighting some potential limitations of the dominant foresight model in developing country contexts, and identifying key aspects of alternative models. Both authors argue that widening participation and engagement in foresight beyond experts and policymakers is of critical importance.

Marie de Lattre-Gasquet and Sébastien Treyer (this IDS Bulletin) compare and contrast the Agrimonde and Agrimonde-Terra foresight studies undertaken by the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA). Focused on food security and land use respectively, these studies were relatively long term and well resourced, and in these respects they reflected some well-established approaches to public sector foresight. Three key lessons emerge from the comparison. First, the design of foresight processes and the selection of methods depend on the objectives and desired changes. Second, foresight exercises take place on a sea of expectations, which can lead to both creativity but also to vulnerability, and which must certainly be managed. Finally, much more attention must be devoted to understanding the strategies of different actors, and the power relations amongst actors.

Robin Bourgeois (this IDS Bulletin) also takes a futures perspective on food security, but in this case through an analysis of briefs produced by the authors of 38 recent foresight studies. From this analysis Bourgeois argues that policy, cultural values and individual and collective behaviours have the potential to disrupt patterns of food insecurity observed today. Shifts in framing – food security to food insecurity, and from technology to people, institutions and society – and more attention to local specificities will allow foresight studies to be more relevant to the transformative agenda that is integral to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Three articles draw on the IDS experience with low-budget foresight studies. Ashish Chaturvedi and Jai Kumar Gaurav (this IDS Bulletin) describe the use of an analytical framework that combines foresight and political economy methods to explore the future of urban waste management in India. They argue that this process has opened up deliberations beyond the usual expert committees, and has the potential to help open up and democratise the policymaking process of waste management in India, particularly through the inclusion of the informal sector. Stephen Devereux, Keetie Roelen and Martina Ulrichs (this IDS Bulletin) use a foresight approach to explore the possible futures for social protection following its rapid ascendency up the development agenda. A 'wind-tunnelling' exercise highlights the importance of a country's political regime as a fundamental determinant of its approach to social protection policy. They conclude that a better understanding of political processes is needed to protect the gains made in social protection systems against possible reversals when the political climate shifts against pro-poor redistributive policies. Jaideep Gupte and Stephen Commins (this IDS Bulletin) ask 'How will security in cities be understood in the future'? Working with a number of foresight tools including the social, technological, economic, environmental and political (STEEP) framework their process developed two contrasting scenarios: 'coastal collapse' and 'post-capital commons'. A particularly important conclusion is that misconceived urban planning, policy and design are likely to create insecurity, not reduce it. In this sense there is a critical gap in the understanding of the lessons that the safest cities can provide in terms of systems thinking.

Finally, on a methodological note, Dominic Glover, Kevin Hernandez and Alun Rhydderch (this IDS Bulletin) describe how they adapted existing foresight scenario methods to investigate possible trade-offs, tensions and synergies amongst the international development goals of reducing inequalities, accelerating sustainability, and building secure and inclusive societies. They find that the trilemma triangle is particularly successful in forcing participants to confront the possibility of trade-offs and tensions, and as such helps expose some of the difficulties and challenges which might be faced in international development in the coming decades.


Bingley, K. (2014) A Review of Strategic Foresight in International Development, IDS Evidence Report 94, Brighton: IDS

Conway, M. (2008) An Overview of Foresight Methodologies, Thinking Futures,­Foresight-Methodologies1.pdf
(accessed 30 June 2016)

Gioacchino, G. (2016) Foresight and International Development: Conference Report, IDS Evidence Report 168, Brighton: IDS

© 2016 The Authors. IDS Bulletin © Institute of Development Studies | DOI: 10.19088/1968-2016.151

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original authors and source are credited.

The IDS Bulletin is published by Institute of Development Studies, Library Road, Brighton BN1 9RE, UK This article is part of IDS Bulletin Vol. 47 No. 4 September 2016: 'Foresight in International Development'.