Phase 1: Envision Future Scenarios
Unit 1: Defining the scope for the Exploration
Framing of the research
In this unit:
We defined the scope of potential future contexts for both Koa Health and the lab team. To focus the scope on the correct areas, it was important to first explore Koa Health’s strategy to understand their areas of knowledge and interest.
With that information, the lab team explored the future through trend analysis and created tools to collaborate with the organisation, conjuring concepts of potential future contexts.
The spectrum of resulting contexts and insight into the organisational imagination enabled the lab to define a framework that organised the ways in which societal change may affect people in the future
To set the scope of their exploration of the future, the lab team’s first step was to learn more about the organisation.
- The team collected insights on the way the client works, their projects, and their values and identified their core value proposition.
- The lab team understood where the client’s focus was and what dimensions they were considering and using in their research.
With this knowledge, the lab team organised a workshop tailored around those dimensions and conducted some creative exercises with the client to uncover the signals of potential future trends and areas they found exciting and more valuable. The workshop helped the lab understand where to direct the next research phase.
Expanding on those areas of interest for the client, the lab team started an analysis of trends that they thought will have a relevant impact on the future of health and happiness. They used a variety of tools from different disciplines, including speculative design.
The lab team identified a series of drivers for change. A driver of change is a trend, an event or any factor that instigates a distinct change in a particular context or the world in general.
To agree which drivers of change to prioritise, the lab team had to share them with the client. It was too much content for a report or a presentation so they had to use different approaches.
- The lab team decided to create a deck of cards, which could be used as a collaborative, interactive toolkit.. Each card represented a driver of change.
- The lab team presented the toolkit, ‘Collaborative Future Trends Cards’ to the client in a workshop. The cards became a powerful tool for both the lab and for the client who quickly became familiar with the drivers of change. After the workshop, the client kept the cards in the office, continually finding value and inspiration in them.
Understanding the client
In this stage, the lab team collected insights about the client’s value proposition in order to understand the client’s way of working and align the lab team’s process to it. The research was valuable because t it organised and visualised the company strategy, which allowed the lab team to establish the scope of their work and helped the client reflect both on their current approach and on how to communicate it best.
Activity 1: Insights on the company’s way of working
The first activity for the lab team was to review all the materials the client shared with them and conduct in-depth interviews with the members of the core team. They mapped everything the client was working on, their principles, how they positioned themselves in the competitive environment and their business model. In particular strategy, for the business model, they identified strategic market segments, along with key partners and activities. Additionally, they reviewed the work done during the collaboration between the client and the Royal College of Art in the previous years, which involved the master’s students.
By analysing and synthesising all the insights collected, the lab team ended up with a detailed understanding of the client’s . They also discovered that the core value proposition for the client was using artificial intelligence to support healthy interactions, in all realms of mental health – clinical, non-clinical and wellbeing, with a particular focus on happiness.
Activity 2: Research strands definition
During the research on the company’s strategy, the lab team started to map out the research strands or areas of knowledge that characterised the projects the client had been working on. They identified five main strands of research that were influencing the client’s work: science, business, technology, design and social. Using these research strands, the lab team came up with a framework, which showed how the client took an interdisciplinary approach, starting from the different dimensions of knowledge and then converging into the creation of MVPs (minimum viable products) used as prototypes to test their assumptions.
This framework became useful for the lab team to understand how to expand the research and stay aligned with the client, but this turned out to be valuable also for the client itself, as they started using it to communicate their process to various audiences.
Activity 3: Future signals exploration workshop
After the research, the next step was to prepare a workshop to be held with the client. In this workshop, the lab team could understand the client’s interests and their existing, collective imagination of what trends may emerge in the future. The lab team first identified some of the most thought-provoking indicators of potential future trends. These indicators are called ‘signals’ and they represent clues about what the future might hold. The team used these as a source of inspiration during the workshop. They then organised a “Signal Safari”, asking the participants to discuss ideas, concepts and technologies they felt will have a significant impact in the future of their field.
The exercise resulted in a fascinating collection of future signals and reflections, which they asked the client to expand through the use of the future wheel. The future wheel is a tool frequently used in speculative design, to explore the direct and indirect consequences of a particular signal or trend.
Finally, the last exercise of the workshop was for the participants to generate a series of what-if questions based on the signals explored. Those questions helped the lab team understand what the client’s core team considered the most critical aspects and perspectives about the future.
Creating the framework for future thinking
Once the lab team got an understanding of the client’s strategy and what they were looking for, the next step was to do extensive research on future trends. They aimed to cover all the client’s main areas of interest across their strands of research: Science, technology, business, design and social.
The workshop with the client to explore future signals was crucial in helping the lab team frame the research and understand where to direct the next exploration.
During this stage, they applied tools and techniques from other disciplines, in particular speculative design. The result went beyond a simple trend report; instead, it made the lab team empathise and analyse each possible future scenario. The output was a framework to analyse and communicate the research, which took the form of a collaborative future trend toolkit.
Activity 1: Future trends analysis
The lab team’s first activity for creating the framework was to research and analyse future signals, trends and societal shifts.
The difference between the three is mainly about scale:
- A signal of the future is a specific innovation or disruption that has the potential to grow and expand its influence or a clue that a trend is forming.
- A trend is a direction of change over time, connected with one or more signals.
- A societal shift happens at a much larger, potentially global scale and includes multiple trends to indicate a significant societal change.
To identify these signals and trends, the lab team looked at the future from various perspectives, using the client’s research strands as a starting point. They looked at what changes may happen across a range of perspectives from scientific and technological to business and societal perspectives. This process was mainly done through desk research, exploring future signals in articles, books, podcasts, trends reports, exhibitions and online.
They grouped them into what they called “key influences,” which helped them do the first synthesis of their research. As this work was not done to define how the future will be, but to inspire, they refrained from specifically defining trends at this stage (although later trends are described in a hypothetical manner). They then extrapolated potential implications from these influences using the future wheel, as they did with the client during the first workshop.
The lab team also looked at the implications of these influencers through the lenses of a custom built framework called SPEECS. The aim was to understand and expand their thinking on these trends’ implications and ensure that a broad scope of implications had been considered. With SPEECS, they covered the Societal/Ethical, Political/Legal, Environmental, Economic, Cultural/Business and Scientific/Technological aspects.
The lab team then generated some what-if questions using the key influence clusters and their analysis, which provided a broad representation of the project’s available scope.
Activity 2: Collaborative future trends toolkit
For the second activity, the lab team enriched, defined and mapped their key influences and then classified them either as related to the context or to the individual. This distinction is fundamental as it had a significant influence on the next stages. The Influences were distinguished between these two categories based on what they impacted directly.
The lab team based the framework on the notion that the two main dimensions where the key influences act are on the individual, and on the context they exist within.
These key influences were used to introduce and frame each set of signals and trends cards.
- One card for each signal or trend, (including descriptions and references).
- One ‘Key Influence’ card explaining the broader implications of each collection of signals or trends
- One card explaining how the key influences affect either the context or the individual.
This deck of cards became one of the most powerful tools and a useful reference throughout the entire project.
Exploring the future landscape with the client
After the creation of the cards, the lab team was ready to re-engage with the client. This stage’s objective was to clearly prioritise themes to focus on in the field research. The lab team went back to the client with the collaborative future trends cards to do a second workshop for future exploration.
Bringing a toolkit instead of a report of signals provided high value for the client, because the core team could interact with it, expand it, and use it as a reference tool. The client and the lab team expanded on the signals to better understand the future landscape and started imagining possible concepts that could emerge in those contexts.
Activity 1: Signal Safari
The lab team dedicated the first part of the workshop to explore the signals with the client using the collaborative future trends cards. This session was called “Signal Safari”. The lab team asked the participants from the client’s team to split into groups, and review a cluster of signals using the deck, discuss their thoughts and raise questions.
The multidisciplinary groups included designers, technologists, and scientists who gave their input and shared their perspectives.
Once the groups were familiar with the signals, they shared their reflections with the other groups about the topics that interested them the most. By using the deck of cards, the lab team managed to get everyone in the team to understand most of the signals they researched in under 2 hours, which was critical for the second part of the workshop.
Activity 2: Envision Sprint
The second part of the workshop was an “Envision Sprint”. Participants brainstormed ideas and shared them with the rest of the team. The lab team held two brainstorming sessions, one dedicated to creating scenarios and one to ideate concepts. These sessions helped them understand the way the client thinks and what they were expecting from the project. So, the envision sprint was a means to an end: the lab team was not interested in the outputs but more in the reasoning process and the themes that emerged.
The structure of the scenarios that the client imagined included a timeframe of when that future would happen, what context emerged from the signals, how they imagined happiness would be different in that context, and the potential consequences and impact of their projection.
Using these scenarios, the lab team then asked the participants to imagine new services that could emerge. Using templates they encouraged each group to brainstorm a future concept, give it a name, explain what it does, it’s key elements and visualise it through a sketch and a storyboard.
The most exciting part of the workshop was when they asked the team to review their concepts and think about their implications for the client’s objectives. This moment was an excellent opportunity for the lab team to observe the way the client prioritises ideas.
Activity 3: Prioritisation of societal dimensions related to health and happiness
Following the workshop with the client, the lab team started to analyse the themes that emerged during the discussion of the signals and brainstorming sessions.
They mapped them out concerning the main topic of health and happiness and identified six key trends to prioritise.
They then reframed them as societal dimensions of change, which in this case related to health and happiness. These were: identity, spirituality, work, body, relationships, and money. With this prioritisation, they could guide their research to the client’s areas of interest, making sure to stay aligned with their strategy.
Envision Future Scenarios
Continue exploring this phase
Envision Future Scenarios
Unit 2: Conducting the research in the field
Exploring existing product and platform strategies of the organisation, their marketplace, existing users and strategic industrial partners.