Backcasting

(source: EFP foresight guide)

Defines a desirable future and then works backwards to identify major events and decision that generated the future, to allow organizations to consider what actions, policies and programs are needed today that will connect the future to the present. Backcasting reminds participants that the future is not linear, and can have many alternative outcomes depending on decisions made and the impact of external events on an organization.

How to do it?

The main characteristic of the Backcasting approach is to involve stakeholders at an early stage in the Foresight process and develop a future long term vision of the desired scenario. Then all participants can translate this back to actual actions (“think in jumps, act in steps”). The following steps can be followed:

  1. Strategic problem orientation and definition: Orientation on the problem to assess the present need and clarify current and future unsustainable aspects. This includes the identification of relevant stakeholders.
  2. Development of future vision: The next step is to create visions on how a future can be established where the assessed problems and unsustainable aspects are solved.
  3. Backcasting: Set out alternative solutions; possible ways to develop the desired future are developed and discussed among the participants.
  4. Explore solutions/options and identify bottlenecks: The different solution pathways are further defined and analysed to prepare on the selection process in the next step. A possible method to use can be LCA.
  5. Selection of option and implementation of action plan: The pathways are discussed among the participating stakeholders and a selection is made for one pathway to be made operational. Part of this step is developing an action plan, including ways to tackle the bottlenecks identified.
  6. Define roles of stakeholders and setup co-operation agreements: A solid platform for action is set up, in which all major stakeholders participate. Responsibilities are set in long term agreements and an innovation champion is identified who can carry the work forward.
  7. Implement research agenda: In the last step, the action plan is translated and implemented to the research and development agendas or the individual participating stakeholders

When to use backcasting?

The method is used in situations where there is a normative objective and fundamentally uncertain future events that influence these objectives. The knowledge about the system conditions and the underlying social dynamics can also have a powerful impact on the environment, but are unpredictable. The need for participation of stakeholders is strong and the future vision cannot be realised by a hierarchical approach, or limited stakeholders. The desired future cannot be achieved by simply extrapolation from the present arrangements, but need a fundamental different approach of fulfilling the social need.

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