When talking about the future, people usually engage in activities of hypothetical observation, negotiation and informed speculation. But how does one perform these activities towards gathering this information? Where does one begin to look at data within the complex realities we live in? Identifying future signals is one of those methods researchers use to recognise patterns in the landscape of our modern world.
In the run up to our Designing for Future Signals course next week, Angela-Prentner Smith and our new Product Manager, Tremis Skeete, discuss the art of Future Signals: what are they? What do you do with them? And how do you recognise them? Here's an overview of what they talked about.
1. What are future signals?
A future signal is an event designed to identify emerging patterns (i.e. sequences of events that share common traits) in an environment. With future signals, there are essentially three attributes:
1. The perceived pattern
2. The signal i.e. how the pattern appears to stakeholders
3. The meaning i.e. the way the signal is interpreted by stakeholders
An example of a future signal could be a spike in the average daily reported confirmed COVID-19 cases over a given period. By identifying the spike via signals, specialists determined that a pandemic emerged in affected countries, then acted and implemented measures against the coronavirus spread.
2. What do you do with future signals?
In the world of computers, analyzing future signals is a discipline found in the world of Business Intelligence, where signal detection techniques are used to interpret, forecast and respond appropriately to events within various markets. To accomplish this, it requires (but is not limited to) access to large amounts of data, data mining and natural language processing technology. However, the success in employing these resources is contingent upon the effectiveness of the data collected and data analysis capabilities.
In the world of customer research, future signal detection requires technology of a different kind. Powers of observation, qualitative research and interpretation techniques practised in subjects including user research, neuroscience and anthropology, have been proven to be useful in discovering the right kinds of patterns in the world around us, which leads to learning about the right kinds of customer problems.
3. How do you recognize future signals?
Analysts engaged in the practice of identifying signals essentially pay attention to the appearance of objects, behaviours, patterns or other consequences that have the potential to scale in their complexity. As you would imagine, knowing how to find signals early creates a strategic advantage for organizations. That's probably why future signals can help organizations understand when to pivot their business if needed. It can also help individuals better navigate their career development.
To point out future signals, your detection technology and strategy must support finding answers to the following questions:
1. Which idea or ideas do you believe drive change in the environment?
2. When is an event a familiar event?
3. When is an event an unfamiliar event?
4. How do we separate the detection of familiar from unfamiliar events?
5. Can these familiar and unfamiliar events be seen as a threat or opportunity for stakeholders?
6. How much time do we think is required to pass before we can consider the events to be mainstream?
7. What can we identify in these events as opportunities to learn, grow and evolve?
8. What events can be seen as "background noise" (anything that's considered to be irrelevant to the main issue) as opposed to real signals?
Future signals can arguably hold the keys to further understanding our technological, cultural, moral and ethical systems in our communities. However, the before mentioned list does not end there. While the world today has brought many advancements, its very success will always bring about tradeoffs that we as researchers must be vigilant to recognise. Through continued approaches of examination and experimentation, we can tap into behaviours via future signals that have the potential to bring about change.
See the full conversation below and the rest of the 3@3 series here.
If you're interested in finding out more about Designing for Future Signals we run this as a training. Find out more and book here.