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Module 3: Scanning

Tip Sheet: How to Share Weak Signals (And Insights)

PDF: Tip Sheet: How to Share Weak Signals (And Insights)

Remember that scanning and foresight is a highly collaborative process. Participants can scan for weak signals on their own, but to improve their effectiveness, they need a means to easily share and learn from others’ scanning hits. Below are a few options to facilitate the sharing of findings. Since an insight is simply a more refined scanning hit (more evidence, better thought through than a weak signal, often higher level), these tips also work well for sharing insights.

  1. Provide a dedicated shared network space specifically for participants to post their weak signals. This can be a shared drive if participants are in the same workplace. For examples of written weak signals, see the tip sheet “How to write weak signals and insights.” If scanning will be an ongoing activity, consider how online collaborative tools could be useful. These range from free, open-access filing services such as Pearltrees(link is external), to paid subscription services such as Shaping Tomorrow(link is external), to customizable web 2.0 platforms. Whatever the preferred repository, the simpler it is for participants, the more they will contribute (offer training when using a new tool). It is helpful to be able to filter and search a weak signal repository in different ways. Listing and tagging weak signals in an excel sheet is one simple method.
  2. Host regularly scheduled meetings to discuss scanning hits. Recurring meetings are a great way to encourage continual scanning. They boost motivation by generating feedback and context for participants’ scanning. Meetings can be as simple as a roundtable exercise where each participant is asked to share one or two weak signals. Allow a couple of minutes to describe each weak signal. (Focus questions: What is the change? How do we know this is happening? What are some plausible disruptions it might suggest?) This can be followed by inviting other participants to build on the presenter’s points. (Focus questions: Are there other related weak signals? Can you think of other plausible consequences?) If it is helpful, have a note-taker record the  discussion for future reference. For more details, see the facilitator’s guide on how to host a scanning  roundtable.
  3. Host a weak signal gallery. A weak signal gallery is a good way to visually take stock of a large bank of weak signals in order to surface new insights. (Similarly, an insight gallery can be created to surface new change drivers.) This activity assumes that the scanning group has a large repository of weak signals (e.g. 30–60) written in a standardized format.

Print out all weak signals on large sheets of paper (e.g. 11×17) in large font so they are readable from a metre away. Post weak signals on the wall at eye level around the room, or several rooms. Touring the gallery involves much reading, which can be made more manageable for participants by:

  • keeping the font and style consistent
  • inviting submitters to include a relevant picture with their weak signal
  • curating weak signals to create thematic areas/rooms

Allow participants up to 40 minutes to review the weak signal gallery; any longer and participants are likely to tire of reading (tip: sharing weak signals in advance allows keen readers to get a head start before the event). Have participants begin the gallery visit from different starting points on the wall or different rooms. This will reduce congestion and ensure broad coverage of the weak signals if there isn’t time for participants to review the whole collection. Some participants may share comments with others as they go along; this is fine. Others will prefer silence while reading; providing ear plugs in the room is a good compromise.

To provide focus for the weak signal gallery visit, the facilitator could task participants with one of the following activities (choose one rather than asking participants to do both):

  • Option 1: Ask participants to identify weak signals they find particularly noteworthy. Provide a pen and notepad for participants to write the titles of weak signals (or save time by posting sticky notes below each weak signal with the title of the weak signal pre-written, for participants to collect). Challenge participants by restricting their list of noteworthy weak signals to only a few (e.g. five). Ask participants to record why they thought the selected weak signal was noteworthy.
  • Option 2: Ask participants to watch for themes of change across weak signals. These ideas may form the start of an insight conversation.

After the gallery visit, call participants together for discussion:

  • Option 1: Facilitate a conversation where participants take turns sharing their findings from this exercise. Build the conversation thematically by allowing some cross-talk, inviting others to chime in when they have related points to share. This exercise works best with 5–15 participants sharing their observations (allow roughly 3 minutes per participant). If participants have not yet had a chance to compare weak signals as a group, this is a good activity to build their comfort.
  • Option 2: Pair participants and give them time to quickly sort and cluster the weak signals according to potential insights they see. (Sets of insight cards would need to be prepared ahead of time. The cards can then be scattered across a large table that participants can walk around).
  • Option 3: For an experienced scanning community accustomed to using cascade diagrams to develop an insight, consider asking participants to select and develop the insights they are interested in:

Step 1: Allow participants to propose an insight theme by writing on a large sticky note, posting it on the wall and briefly making a pitch to the group. Ask the group to listen for insight ideas that interest them.

Step 2: Have participants nominate their favourites by voting with sticky dots (e.g. provide each participant with five sticky dots).

Step 3: Select the top insight ideas and allow participants to self-sort into the insight discussion that interests them most (approximately 2–7 participants per topic). The aim is to develop a cascade diagram by first identifying the weak signals that contribute to an insight and then exploring potential consequences. If time permits for two or three rounds of discussion, a greater number of insights can be explored. (For experienced facilitators, a variant of this idea is to replace the sticky dot voting stage with several rounds of an Open Space(link is external) activity, where participants simply vote with their feet by walking to the discussion they most want to have; in this case “the discussion” is a cascade diagram.)