Backcasting: How to plan for the future by looking at the past.
What does the future hold? This question has probably crossed your mind many times too, especially if you are one of those people who like to prepare for all eventualities. However, predicting tomorrow’s outcomes can be challenging, making it difficult to plan for the future with confidence.
To obtain a reliable picture of what’s to come, strategic futures research turns to backcasting as the tool of choice. But what exactly is backcasting, and how can it help you achieve your goals?
What is backcasting – a definition
The term “backcasting” was first coined by John B. Robinson of the University of Waterloo in 1990. It describes one of many methods and strategies for making resilient decisions in the present to achieve a specific goal in the future.
With backcasting, we start with a specific goal in mind and work backwards to identify the actions needed to achieve it. This strategy method involves imagining what we want to achieve in the future, and then creating a well-defined action plan with a series of steps that will get us there.
In strategic data analysis, backcasting is the opposite of forecasting, as it takes the future status quo as the starting point, rather than the current status quo. The term “backcasting” was first coined by John B. Robinson of the University of Waterloo in 1990. It describes one of many methods and strategies for making resilient decisions in the present to achieve a specific goal in the future.
In today’s world, which is subject to constant and unpredictable change, technology is an key component at many levels of a company, both internal and external. However, the technologies that are important in the company’s operations are all too often subject to unpredictable developments, which in turn are subject to unexpected disruptions.
Therefore, modern approaches and methods are also needed to obtain a reliable picture of possible future situations: An apt saying by Albert Einstein is: “You can never solve problems with the same way of thinking that created them.” This is why backcasting can be a more effective strategic method for achieving goals, especially when faced with unpredictable disruptions.
To ensure that we are not limited by current thought patterns when envisioning the future, backcasting calls for a shift in focus. If we were to rely solely on present-day thinking when looking ahead, our perspective would be shaped by insights from the past. However, these insights may not be applicable in the future, and could actually hinder our ability to plan effectively. By adopting a backcasting approach, we can develop a methodology that reduces the effect of these limiting factors and viewpoints.
The strategy method backcasting
When it comes to goal setting and planning, backcasting is an effective strategy that can help us identify the steps we need to take to achieve our desired outcome. Whether applied to personal or business objectives, the tools associated with backcasting can serve as a roadmap to success that is tailored to our specific goals.
Application example “E-Mobility”
The mobility market is undergoing significant changes, largely driven by new technologies such as e-mobility. This is having a profound impact on our lifestyles and how we move from place to place. Other developments, such as automated driving, the sharing economy, and mobility-as-a-service, are also changing our daily behaviour patterns at an unprecedented pace.
Goals and added value
- Using alternative scenario construction, we can create scenarios based on two key factors and two projections for each factor. This generates four scenarios that represent extreme manifestations of our expectations for the future.
- These scenarios can be used to develop appropriate strategies, for communication purposes, or to monitor progress against our expectations.
Alternative scenario construction is a simple and robust method for generating four consistent scenarios. It is limited to two key factors, each with two opposing future projections. The scenarios are illustrated in an axial cross with four quadrants, making this approach distinct from Exploratory Scenario Construction. It is characterised less by formalisation and more by the explicit use of creative techniques, intuition, and implicit knowledge.
The scenario process aims to refine the imaginations of potential future spaces. The scenarios developed provide a consistent landscape that simultaneously offers strategic options for action in the present. The subsequent step is to create a vision based on one of the imagined scenarios.
Several aspects characterise a good scenario, including plausibility, comprehensibility, selectivity, and transparency. The quality of the outcome depends on whether it successfully captures the decisive problem dimensions and their extreme future development options. The same applies to the definition of two future projections for each main dimension. These projections should mark the extremes but remain within the realm of what is possible and plausible within the existing framework conditions’ defined time horizon.
To further enhance the scenario framework, assigning scenario archetypes to one of the four quadrants is an effective approach. Dator identifies commonly used archetypes, including Growth – current assumptions continue, Decline – collapse of the world as it currently exists, Discipline – severely limiting barriers, and Transformation – the end of the current world by reaching a new level of maturity, changing values, and technological progress.