Collaborative Working Practice in Foresight

One day, perhaps collaboration will genuinely be at the heart of interaction between intelligent machines and humans. But right now, collaboration is exclusively a human trait underpinned by behaviours so true collaboration happens between people and not between people and machines. 

Setting the Context

The world is increasingly subject to significant change and while the focus is often on exponential technology development like artificial intelligence, robotics, adaptive manufacturing, and immersive technologies (augmented and virtual reality) for example, political, economic, and social change are also happening at break-neck speed. This range of future forces acting on life, society, and business adds to our personal and organisational sense of complexity and uncertainty.

In the past we have been confident in our predictions about how the external environment is changing and been able to come to consensus about the way ahead. Increasingly we are far from certain about how the external environment is changing and are less able to reach consensus about the way ahead. It's this situation that often calls for a collaborative effort.

A Framework for Collaboration

Successful collaboration is an intervention based on an existing relationship, a process and an agreed outcome in addressing a shared business need; to understand a particular aspect of the emerging future, for example. Through collaboration we can generate insight and create ideas that we might not be able to do by working alone.

A quick Google search reveals a number of different and similar frameworks to support collaboration. The four-step Collaboration Cycle – connect, contract, collaborate, and  close - helps individuals and teams navigate their way through the collaborative working process, paying attention to the nature of the relationship, conversations, and activities that need to take place to ensure the desired outcomes are achieved. These are the critical components:

Connect - Initially we should share our perspectives on the issue the collaborative effort is seeking to address, consider the organisational context – the degree of support or resistance to collaboration – and set the tone for a collaborative relationship.

Contract - Step two should focus on understanding wants and offers of both parties, gain consensus on how the parties will work together, what question the parties are answering, the desired outcome, and the specific activities. The outcomes may include “how” the collaboration was conducted as well as the specific desired business outcome. 

Collaborate - In collaborating the parties should share understanding and experiences, be prepared to ask and answer challenging questions. As the collaboration moves forward the parties should consider the experiences gathered and lessons learned and be prepared to continuously re-contract.

Closing - In closing, the parties should collectively make sense of the information gathered and the outcomes achieved in the same spirit that the work was conducted.  As well as focusing on the content, it is also important to take time to consider how the wants and offers shared by the parties have been met and to agree any next steps.

Foresight Work

In foresight work, collaboration is increasingly seen as enabling different perspectives of the emerging future to emerge to enrich plausible scenarios. Different perspectives are crucially important when we try to envisage different possible futures. They help ensure that we don't re-create our potentially institutionalised views of the past or simply extrapolate a trend-based future. The trick can often be to manage the creative tension between the collaborators, valuing difference as well as similarity, to help ensure that we create something that neither party would have created alone.


  • What is your experience of collaborative working?
  • What skills and experience do you and your team have that help to enable effective collaboration?
  • What are you and your organisation prepared to concede to ensure an effective outcome from collaboration?

Image Credit: Gerd Altmann via