Three Horizons

Using the Three Horizons Method

The Three Horizons tool, created by Bill Sharpe of International Futures Forum, can help leaders and stakeholders understand what is happening today, articulate their preferred future and, identify preferred innovations and strategies for moving toward it.

Consider how well current approaches are working and where they are falling short. Use the present tense to describe what is happening today.

  • Take into account people’s various experiences.
  • Also discuss current approaches’ fit with the changing external environment.
  • Aim to identify some things you might want to let go of and some things you might want to keep.

Consider how well current approaches are working and where they are falling short. Use the present tense to describe what is happening today.

  • Start by considering how the external environment – including the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political landscapes –  and people’s needs are changing:
    • Bring in some information on future trends or images of the future to stretch your thinking about possibilities (see, for example, our Foundations for Flourishing Futures forecast).
    • Consider looking at ways adjacent sectors have been changing, as there might be things to learn from them – or things to avoid.
    • Consider generating or looking at scenarios for alternative futures of the system  to explore what it might look like depending how different uncertainties played out or what assumptions about change proved true.
  • Then generate ideas for your ideal future. Options include:
    • Identify attributes that you want and do not want to see in the future (be specific).
    • Consider what other people might and might not want for the future – and why.
    • Develop a rich picture that describes what people would be hearing, seeing, and experiencing (if you like, you can develop rich pictures for different personas to surface what an ideal future might look like from a range of perspectives).
    • Draw your ideal future and describe what is happening in the illustration.
    • Use another technique of your choosing.
  • Capture some key aspects of your ideal future for ongoing reference. It can help to start off, “In ten years….”

Examine current and potential innovations and strategies that could sustain horizon one or lay groundwork for horizon three. Use the conditional tense to describe approaches that could help bridge between horizons one and three.

  • Identify some current innovations and discuss whether they are sustaining innovations that will help keep horizon one going or transformative innovations that could help introduce horizon three.
  • Generate ideas for other innovations or strategies that could bridge between horizons one and three. Discuss which ones could help the topic that you are examining run as well as possible over the next few years and which ones are pushing toward your ideal future. Note that a strategy could involve discontinuing something that you or others are doing today.
  • Select which innovations or strategies seem most powerful.
  • Discuss which of those you might be able to adopt or influence.
  • Identify a few near-term actions that promise to advance those strategies or innovations.
  • Commit to reviewing these actions at a designated interval to check in about what you have been learning and what you might need to adjust.

Further guidance on working with the Three Horizons method is available from the International Futures Forum and H3Uni. These include three method facilitation guides (see the Methods section). 

Resources For This Tool