Envisioning the Future

Brief Description:

Adapted from the OHCHR Toolkit:
Envisioning the Future is a scenario-building method that invites collective reflection about plausible futures. It works by imagining a time in the future (three to six years ahead) and assumes that the organization, section or field presence has achieved important goals.


When to use:

  • To think about the future.
  • To develop a vision of where you want to go as a section, field presence, or division.
  • To explore alternative solutions for the future.
  • To motivate and inspire a team and create cohesion around common goals.
  • Particularly suited for retreats on planning and/or team building.

How to use:

  • Decide which organizational entity will be the focus of the exercise. It can be the entire office, a field presence, a section, a cross-division team, or a branch. Normally, this will depend on who is participating in the exercise.
  • Agree on when in the future the envisioning exercise will take place. Normally, it should be more than one year ahead — otherwise the future will simply match with the completion of the annual work plan, which would defeat the “vision” element of the activity. Conversely, setting a timeframe too far in the future could take away the element of reality which is important to maintain. If the time chosen is 20 years down the road, for instance, participants will tend to think in more utopian terms and disconnect the vision from the operational steps to achieve it. If the purpose is to emphasize the vision element, a five- to six-year timeframe would be appropriate. If the emphasis is more on medium-term goals and actions and how to achieve them, a shorter timeframe of two to three years would be best.
  • Announce the positive assumption about the future. This can simply be: “Imagine that in four years’ time your team will have achieved important goals”. It can also be more specific, for instance: “Imagine that in four years’ time: “the treaty bodies system will be considerably improved”; or “you have won an award as a gender champion organization”.
  • The positive assumption is accompanied by a number of questions aimed at eliciting the elements and details to explain what was achieved, why and how. Questions could include:
    • What are the specific outcomes achieved?
    • How do you know you have achieved these outcomes?
    • What are the benefits? To whom?
    • What problems were solved?
    • How are people behaving differently?
    • What is the external recognition of what has been achieved?
  • Divide participants into groups of four to six people to answer the questions.
  • After the group work, re-convene in plenary, where each group presents their future vision. A competition element can be introduced in which participants are asked to vote for the presentation that convinced them the most. If the exercise is in the form of a competition, this should be announced from the outset so that each group can prepare to convince and captivate the plenary with a well-organized and colourful presentation.
  • Alternatively, the plenary can build a common vision with the contributions from the different groups through a consensus process. In this case, the envisioned future will be the result of a fully collective process, with more ownership from the entire group.

Tips and Lessons Learnt:

If time allows, consider the option of asking participants to write a story about the future instead of simply answering the questions. This can be done in a variety of ways. For instance, see the River of Life method.

Encourage participants to be realistic but to think out of the box and be creative. Some tips include:

  • Be provocative. Your proposal should stretch and challenge your section or field presence and force it to move beyond the parameters of its normal routines.
  • Be grand, but remain practical. Similar challenges have been met in the past and the vision represents a compelling possibility.
  • Your proposal should be desirable. Your entire group should be enthusiastic about it and want to be part of it.
  • The proposal should be stated in affirmative language. This helps you project a positive and dynamic image.
  • The proposal should be the result of a participatory process within your group.
  • The proposal should address multiple aspects, such as leadership, impact, behaviours and attitudes, communication, staff, structures, institutional practices.

Examples & Stories

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methods, reflection, vision

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