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Horizon Scanning

Horizon Scanning

A structured process of looking for early signs of change that could disrupt the issue you are studying in unexpected ways.

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

  • To identify the drivers of change that may impact your policy area.

What it involves

  • Horizon scanning involves reading a range of materials (e.g. academic articles, news articles, blogs and early research reports) to identify signals of change. It can also involve stakeholder interviews and workshops.
  • Different frameworks can be used for horizon scanning. For example, PESTLE and its variants can be used to identify signals of change across the five domains of Political, Economic, Societal, Technological, Legislative and Environment.
  • These signals of change are generally collated, clustered into themes and relationships between them considered (see the diagram below). This information provides a basis to consider and discuss with stakeholders how emerging trends may affect your policy area.
Step 1: Identify horizon scan hits
Step 2: Cluster them (name)
Step 3: Determine links
Step 4: Choose for further analysis
Horizon Scanning - cluster hits
Horizon Scanning - determine links
Horizon Scanning - further analysis


The way individual observations are organised / clustered might vary

There is more than one way to explore the relationship between different clusters / observations

Choose for relevancy (to policy) or for novelty (in policy thinking)

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

What you will get out of it

  • Identifies drivers of change so you can be prepared to respond.
  • Helps to surface and test assumptions about the future.

Ideal circumstances for use

  • Horizon scanning works best as an open ended acitvity, keeping information fresh and therefore relevant.


  • Cognitive biases of individuals conducting horizon scanning may mean they don’t include important or insightful information.
  • To add value, the information from the horizon scanning needs to be interpreted to identify what changes are likely to be important and make sense of how these changes may affect your policy area.

References, Guides and Key Readings

UK Government Office for Science’s Futures Toolkit (pages 27-28),

Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ Strategic Foresight Guide (pages 14-18).

European Commission’s ForLearn Guide for Horizon Scanning.

Policy Horizon Canada’s Foresight Training Materials.

Last updated: 
Friday, 28 February 2020

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