Arup Foresight & the Future of the Built Environment

“Foresight work is mostly about anticipating how the world is changing and we use those anticipations to create alternative futures.  What are our assumptions of the future and based on those assumptions, what do we change?”

Sohail Inayatullah

UNESCO Chair in Futures Studies

As with many other systems, the complexity of the built environment results in constant change and emergence over time.  It is thus essential that methodologies are in place for identifying factors and trends that would ultimately shape the future of the built environment.  The practice of foresight encapsulates approaches, tools and skill sets to help individuals or organisations to explore, visualise and shape the future.

Arup Foresight consists of a multi-disciplinary team of consultants and designers that assists clients in future-proofing their businesses by understanding change and the opportunities that emergence may hold.  This team understands that key drivers of change exists and that there are implications of change, requiring a business or project to be future-proof.  Working across a broad range of sectors, Arup Foresight contextualises the impact of global trends and formulate decisions for the development of resilience for the future.  The key methodologies applied for future-proofing businesses or projects include horizon scanning, trend research, scenario planning and visioning.  Consequently, the Foresight team’s focus is formulated around four main subjects:

  • Strategy and Visioning: How designs, strategies and solutions could be made future-proof through co-creating visions that provide directional frameworks for organisations
  • Insights and Trends: How emerging risks and opportunities could be identified by scaling global sources for “new trends, insights and cutting-edge thinking”.
  • Scenario Planning: How preparation for an uncertain future can be more efficient, by “challenging our tendency to favour ‘business as usual’” through scenarios to help the framing of strategic thinking and options.
  • Design and Innovation: How new business models and solutions could be developed through a range of approaches – from digital transformation to product and system implementation

Horizon scanning provides for a search process for the identification of emerging issues and events, which may pose as opportunities or threats.  The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) defined Horizon Scanning in 2002 as “The systematic examination of potential threats, opportunities and likely future developments which are at the margins of current thinking and planning. Horizon scanning may explore novel and unexpected issues, as well as persistent problems or trends.”  See also: Urban Futures and the Complex Systems Approach

Foresight Tools & Platforms:

  • The Drivers of Change programme is a toolset for identifying and investigation a wide range of key global issues and trends driving change in the built environment – from climate change to urbanisation and poverty. These key topics can also be explored in a Drivers of Change app and through five “STEEP lenses” (social, technological, economic, environmental and political).
  • The Inspire insights database and platform comprises of more than 1 500 examples of emerging innovation and change to facilitate foresight and strategic thinking. Inspire is effectively an online tool for researching innovation across the built environment.

Further publications include the following:

Future of:

Cities Alive series:

Further publications on foresight, the future and related scenarios:



DEFRA (2002): Horizon Scanning & Futues Home. URL:


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