Foresight Methodology

The SmartEnCity project sees foresight as a methodology that supports cities’ strategic planning processes, especially in the context of zero CO2 transition. In SmartEnCity, using foresight in the five project cities was an essential step leading to the preparation of Integrated Energy Plans as well as replication roadmaps. The project team believes that the foresight methodology, however, is highly replicable and beneficial in any kind of strategic planning and decision-making process, especially as it focuses on bringing together relevant stakeholders, gathering future intelligence and building a common vision for making present-day decisions and mobilizing joint actions.

In its essence, foresight is an action-oriented instrument for policy-making that promotes structured anticipation, considers alternative futures in a multi-disciplinary context, and enables collective learning in a proactive, path-breaking, interactive and participatory way. Foresight differs from other strands of future studies and planning exercises as it addresses the implications of long-term strategic actions and seeks the participation of all stakeholders that are relevant to the topic, making urban planning a consensus-seeking process that results in actual decisions about the future.

In the SmartEnCity project, foresight is embedded into the broader Cities4ZERO strategic planning context (Step 3 “Diagnose” and Step 4 “Envision”) and is structured into four main phases. Phase 1 of the Cities4ZERO foresight exercise is about setting up the scene for the whole foresight exercise, starting with creating a dedicated steering group for coordinating the process and preparing a comprehensive SWOT analysis. 

In Phase 2, two highly influential external drivers which are uncertain to materialize are selected as axes for scenario analyses. Local working groups will then participate in a city visioning workshop, generating different future scenarios for the city based on the SWOT analysis, while addressing the strategic question within the agreed timeframe, e.g. “How will we transform our city to become carbon neutral by 2040?” “What can we do by 2030 as a mid-way milestone?” 

Once the inputs are gathered, the final scenarios are presented in Phase 3, starting a discussion to select the preferred “master scenario”. According to that master scenario, the group will develop a city vision, seeking consensus among all stakeholders. This scenario will then be the basis for developing a strategic plan, transforming the city vision into specific goals and actions (Phase 4 and beyond).

How to use & tips:

  • Make sure to dedicate time to thoroughly prepare for the participative envision phase! Scenario building techniques stress the importance of identifying key drivers, stakeholders, trends, constraints, and other important issues in a systematic way and ranking these items by importance and uncertainty. Highly relevant, but uncertain drivers of change should lead to defining the main strategic actions to be taken. 
  • SWOT and PESTLE analyses are valuable tools and even pre-conditions to provide input into city visioning and can be prepared together with the stakeholders or before the scenario-building and visioning workshops and then be validated with the stakeholders. 
  • Visioning workshop(s) are for establishing jointly scenario logics – this is a 2x2 matrix of the most impactful but uncertain trends that the participants have agreed on. The aim is to describe a future scenario whereby the city successfully takes advantage of the most important opportunities while avoiding the major threats. Finally, and through the discussions, the most attractive and realistic scenarios will be picked and guide the vision development further on. 
  • Organizing at least two scenario building workshops is recommended, but other arrangements are possible as well, e.g. organizing one intensive workshop that starts with scenario development and ends with agreeing on the preferred vision and steps to be taken towards that vision.
  • When inviting stakeholders to participate in scenario building workshop(s), make sure you get a variety of insights from various fields of expertise from “big topics” in integrated energy planning (energy supply and demand, efficiency in buildings, mobility, ICT, community engagement) and from various interest groups. 
  • The key questions to describe a scenario include: “How will developments along the scenario axes influence your city?”, “What will be the response of your city?”, “How can developments in energy, mobility and ICT domains help?”, “What will happen to real income, social cohesion and happiness of citizens in your city?”, “How does the scenario respond to your main strategic question?”, “Is it a scenario that should be prevented or strived for in today’s urban planning?”, “How can we influence the scenario through city’s Integrated Energy Plan”?
  • After the workshops, it is important to keep on engaging the stakeholders. Agree on how to move on, developing the Integrated Energy Plan and action plan. Do you need complementary activities to support the Integrated Energy Plan development process? What kind of documents will the strategic plan and action plan be? How will they fit in with the other urban plans/ strategies? Who will be the main stakeholders implementing it?
  • Want more context and guidance for using foresight in your planning processes? We advise you to start from the Cities4ZERO framework to get going! For more information on the kind of strategies that foresight can very nicely feed into, check out the section on Integrated Energy Plans and replication roadmaps.


  • Note that opportunities and threats are external to your activity, i.e. you cannot change them efficiently, and one aspect might be an opportunity and a threat at the same time (e.g. changes in national/EU legislation). Do not mix trends with internal factors (e.g. strength with an opportunity, weakness with a threat; such as “if we do that, this would be our opportunity; if we do this, this will be our threat”). Opportunities and threats are not direct consequences of your actions but are rather beyond your control.
  • It does not make sense to see foresight as a rigid and strict methodology that has to be followed perfectly. The SmartEnCity project as a whole sees adaptability as a prerequisite for replicability. Given that each city has its own identity, strengths and weaknesses, the foresight methodology should also be adjusted to fit the needs of the city. When looking into the full report on foresight in SmartEnCity, you can see that the foresight experience was a bit different for all the five project cities too. The point is that the method can be modified while still achieving the overall goal of the process – unifying stakeholders to create a common vision.

Links to more information:

Download the full report here – Report on foresight workshops and evaluation of the usage of the methodology in individual cities 
Read the scientific publication here – Cities4ZERO Approach to Foresight for Fostering Smart Energy Transition on Municipal Level 
Read the scientific publication here – Energy Vision Strategies for the EU Green New Deal: A Case Study of European Cities