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Futures Thinking Backcasting

Works backwards from a desirable future to identify the actions needed to help shape your desired future/s.

On this page:

Why you should use it
What it involves
What you will get out of it
Ideal circumstances for use
References, guides and key readings

Why you should use it

  • Helps identify the enablers and barriers to achieving your desired future/s.
  • Informs the development of an action plan to shape your desired future/s.

What it involves

  • Involves a workshop discussion where participants work backwards from the desired future/s, which have previously been developed by applying futures thinking tools. Backcasting identifies the changes that are needed to make the desired future/s happen.
  • After an initial brainstorming session, the changes identified to make the desired future/s happen are tested, further refined and analysed.
  • A pathway is chosen to get from the current to the desired future/s, and an action plan developed which sets out the key steps, events and decisions over a timeline.

An illustrated diagram of the backcasting process.

Source: Australian Government's Department of Agriculture and Water Resources' Strategic Foresight Guide

What you will get out of it

  • A shared view of the actions required to help shape your desired future/s.

Ideal circumstances for use

  • You first need to identify the range of potential futures through a separate exercise to prevent your desired future/s becoming a simple projection of ‘today’ into ‘tomorrow’.
  • Backcasting works best for issues where it’s unclear how to achieve your desired future/s or the feasibility of your desired future/s.


  • People can be subject to an optimism bias even when working backwards.
  • Backcasting doesn’t support divergent or creative thinking.

References, Guides and Key Readings

UK Government Office for Science’s Futures Toolkit (pages 68-72).

Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ Strategic Foresight Guide (pages 28-29).

European Commission’s ForLearn Guide for Futures Thinking.

Last updated: 
Friday, 28 February 2020

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