Backcasting is a planning method that starts with defining a desirable future and then works backwards to identify the steps or actions that will connect that specified future to the present. Much of the value is in the shared understanding of the problem space and the possible outcomes.
You can use backcasting to:
- Develop visions of the future.
- Support strategic design projects that involve multiple products and users.
- Test assumptions for a complex, multi-year project that will certainly be the “next great thing”.
- Diverge from predictions that are conveniently extrapolated from what you already know (the forecasting approach) to freely envision a reality that is an extreme success.
First establish a set of questions about the time frame, current state, future ideal states, actions, indicators, risks and opportunities that the facilitator will use during the backcasting exercise. Decide on the number of attendees and number of possible states you will explore. Brief your stakeholders on the purpose of the backcasting session and the ground rules.
- Set the timeframe. Determine how far in the future you will start from; e.g., companies often develop 5-year plans that would be candidates for a backcasting workshop.
- Baseline the current state
- Define possible future states. Conduct ideation workshops to identify the current state and future ideal states or scenarios.
- Describe the current state of the project, problem, or product. For example, you might explain the current user journey or your current business model or place in the market.
- Define one or more possible (and successful) future states. For example, you might envision futures with a sharing economy, digial equity, nano-technologies, quantum computing or brain-wave user interfaces.
- Consider each future state and work backwards to identify actions, assumptions, risks, benefits, and other indicators that could lead to these future states.
- First participants dream big and co-create the ideal vision for the future. It's important to have a specific date.
- Once they have created future focused scenarios, they work backwards to determine how to reach the desired vision or state. Through ‘backcasting’, participants identify the key events, conditions and triggers that would be needed to reach this future. The key question at this stage is “what would need to exist for this state or vision to be arrived at?” Or, in other words, “What actions and assumptions lead us to this future?”
- Finally participants ask "What do we need to do today to achieve that positive future outcome?"