While the intellectual origins of ‘horizon scanning’ can be traced to Ansoff’s (1975) celebrated work on the recognition of weak signals, the term was popularized and institutionalized in the UK more recently (see Schultz, 2006).
Horizon Scanning implies a search process, which is extended at the margins of “the known” environment and possibly beyond this (Loveridge, 2009) with the aim of identifying emerging issues and events which may present themselves as threats or opportunities for society and policy. In line with this explanation, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) defined Horizon Scanning in 2002 as “the systematic examination of potential threats, opportunities and likely future developments which are at the margins of current thinking and planning” and, continuing, horizon scanning “may explore novel and unexpected issues, as well as persistent problems or trends“.
At present, various forms of horizon scanning are quite wide-spread (see, e.g. Amanatidou et al., 2011), so much so that it is not easy to take stock of these activities that do not readily fit under any single label.
Despite this variability, horizon scanning offers tested approaches for collecting signals which
- articulate credible observations about current or imminent changes (sudder or gradual)
- are felt to be potential indications of new emerging issues that may have received insufficient attention
- can be meaningfully shared, elaborated, and assessed by the participants.