Strategic Foresight at NIOSH

Strategic foresight is an action-oriented discipline. It evolved from futures studies, a field that systematically explores multiple possible, probable, and preferable futures. Strategic foresight is not a practice that tries to accurately predict the future. It is also not intended to be a replacement for traditional strategic planning. Instead, strategic foresight is a practice that looks ahead and asks what may be coming, how it might affect us, and what we can do today to start moving toward a preferred future outcome. This forward-facing perspective can be a particularly useful element of strategic planning efforts during periods of complex instability or uncertainty, reducing the likelihood of being unprepared for or surprised by the future when it arrives as part of the mainstream.

Diagram of three gears, with arrows to denote they are working together. The top gear is labeled “Signals of change.” The middle gear is labeled “Plausible future scenarios.” The bottom gear is labeled “Strategic plans and approaches.”

The term “foresight professional” or “futurist” refers to anyone who systematically thinks about and analyzes the future.  Foresight professionals (futurists) work across a variety of industries and use a number of different tools to look for signals of change, identify primary drivers of the future, and craft a set of plausible future scenarios. These foresight outputs can then serve as valuable inputs to the development of strategic approaches and the proactive preparation for an uncertain future.

In January 2021, the NIOSH Office of Research Integration established the NIOSH Strategic Foresight Initiative (SFI) to lead strategic foresight activities and build foresight awareness and capacity at NIOSH and throughout the occupational safety and health (OSH) community.

NIOSH Foresight Framework for OSH

As one of its first tasks, the SFI developed the NIOSH Foresight Framework for OSH shown in Figure 1. The framework is an adaptation of the Framework Foresight method developed by the University of Houston, an internationally renowned approach that is versatile an flexible enough to accommodate a variety of project topics and aims while also providing a clear roadmap through the foresight process.

Visual depiction of the stages of the NIOSH Foresight Framework for OSH as a linear sequence of 6 boxes. Box 1 is labeled “Framing the OSH domain.” Box 2 is labeled “Scanning signals of change.” Box 3 is labeled “Futuring plausible scenarios.” Box 4 is labeled “Visioning implications.” Box 5 is labeled “Designing strategic approach.” Box 6 is labeled “Monitoring the OSH domain.”

Figure 1. NIOSH Foresight Framework for OSH.

Like the University of Houston Framework Foresight, the NIOSH Foresight Framework for OSH has six discrete stages that are interrelated and interdependent:

  1. Framing: identifying and describing the OSH domain or topic of interest and other project parameters.
  2. Scanning: searching for information about how things might be different in the future for the domain of interest. A variety of information sources should be reviewed during the scan.
  3. Futuring: developing alternative future scenarios (i.e., stories) for the domain.
  4. Visioning: considering the implications of the different scenarios to uncover potential risks, challenges, and opportunities and assess future preparedness.
  5. Designing: planning and constructing strategic approaches in support of a desired future.
  6. Monitoring: continuing to scan for new signals of change and updating the domain topic as needed to further refine future foresight efforts.

Partners, including representatives from government, industry, labor, and OSH research and practice, should be engaged throughout the strategic foresight process. Their involvement at each stage in the framework should be tailored to effectively support the project purpose. Additionally, though the framework is visually represented by a sequential model, the strategic foresight process is not entirely linear. Both during and at the end of each stage, the activities and outputs of all previous stages should be carefully considered to determine if any additional work is needed before proceeding through the remaining framework stages.

Building Foresight Interest and Capacity in OSH

Throughout the year, the SFI provides opportunities to learn about foresight principles and their application to OSH. Additional information is provided below for Foresight Friday @ NIOSH, the SFI flagship effort to bring foresight to OSH.

Foresight Friday @ NIOSH

The purpose of the Foresight Friday @ NIOSH  webinar series is to expand strategic foresight capacity in OSH and advance the role of foresight in OSH research, service, and practice. The series engages an interdisciplinary audience of researchers, practitioners, and other subject matter experts to share resources, support, and best practices for the application of foresight to OSH. It also provides a place where members of a growing OSH community of interest can regularly come together to strengthen their connections to foresight experts and one another.

Foresight Friday @ NIOSH is free and open to the public. Events are virtual and occur quarterly, typically on a Friday from 11:00 am – 12:00 pm ET.

Please direct any questions about Foresight Friday @ NIOSH to the NIOSH Office of Research Integration (ORI@cdc.gov).

Upcoming Foresight Friday @ NIOSH

October 21, 2022 11 AM ET

Dispatches from the Future: Future Forces Shaping Work and Health

Portrait of Rachel Maguire

Register Here

Featured Speaker: Rachel Maguire, Research Director, Institute for the Future (IFTF)

Since 2006, Rachel has studied the intersecting and interacting forces shaping the future of how we learn, work, play and take care of one another. While her research efforts stem from her deep understanding of health care policy, her foresight work situates the future of health and health care within the context of external forces that are shaping the next decade. Rachel has worked with dozens of clients to develop strategic foresight to help guide their organizations’ long-term planning. She is skilled in expert aggregation techniques, routinely facilitating workshops and panels of people with diverse backgrounds to discuss and debate future scenarios.

For our next Foresight Friday @ NIOSH, Rachel will provide highlights from IFTF’s research into how the changing nature of work is influencing the health of individuals, families and communities over the coming decades. She will offer a futures perspective on how work arrangements such as gig, contingent, and shift work are combining with economic policies and technological forces to shape the future conditions for work. Rachel will also share IFTF human-centered forecasts to spark conversation about the impact these work arrangements may have on individual and collective health and well-being.

Past Foresight Friday @ NIOSH

Dr. Cho Khong

July 29, 2022

Relevance, Practice and Insights from Applying Scenarios

Dr. Cho Khong from the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford

Cho Khong is an Associate Fellow, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, where he teaches as a core faculty member on the Oxford Scenarios Programme. Cho was Shell’s Chief Political Analyst and a senior member of the Shell scenarios team for 27 years. He led Shell’s external environment assessments for country and regional reviews, and he advised on political trends and political risk. He has also led scenario projects with a range of organizations, governments, universities and business companies from around the world.

On July 29, Cho discussed how scenario planning can help organizations think strategically and respond to change. He drew on his experience in the Shell scenarios team and elsewhere, to examine and to assess the integration of strategic foresight and scenario planning into organizational planning and practice.


Kristel Van der Elst

April 22, 2022

Strategic Foresight in Government: Perspectives from Policy Horizons Canada

Kristel Van der Elst, Director General, Policy Horizons Canada, Government of Canada

Kristel Van der Elst is the Director General at Policy Horizons Canada, Government of Canada. She is former Head of Strategic Foresight at the World Economic Forum. Kristel holds 3 Masters including a MBA from the Yale School of Management. She is a Fulbright Scholar and a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar.

On April 22, Kristel spoke to the importance of foresight for governments. She also shared how Policy Horizons Canada – an organization that conducts foresight within the Government of Canada – helps future-oriented policy and strategic decision making in the face of disruptive change.


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January 7, 2022

Four Futures for Occupational Safety and Health

Sarah A Felknor, DrPH, MS, Associate Director for Research Integration, NIOSH

Sarah A Felknor is the Associate Director for Research Integration at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), where she leads the strategic alignment and collaboration among occupational safety and health research communities. Dr. Felknor established the NIOSH Office of Research Integration in 2019 to connect research communities and optimize impact by leveraging innovation and collaboration to advance the NIOSH mission. She also leads the newly launched NIOSH Strategic Foresight Unit to connect research communities to strategic foresight and provide an organizational home for foresight activities. Dr. Felknor holds a professional certificate in Strategic Foresight from the University of Houston, a Doctor of Public Health degree from the University of Texas School of Public Health, a Master of Science degree in Organization Development from American University in Washington DC, and Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and Spanish from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.

Dr. Sarah Felknor presented findings from the first NIOSH strategic foresight project. This project, which concluded September 2021, envisions four plausible futures and their implications for occupational safety and health.


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October 29, 2021

Leveraging Strategic Foresight to Advance Worker Safety, Health, and Well-Being

Jessica MK Streit, PhD, CHES®, NIOSH Office of Research Integration

Jessica MK Streit is Deputy Director of the Office of Research Integration in the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In this role, she works closely with the NIOSH Associate Director for Research Integration to lead key NIOSH efforts in the areas of strategic foresight, expanding research partnerships, and NORA intramural research. Dr. Streit has also coauthored publications examining occupational safety and health risks and hazards—in particular, psychosocial risks and hazards—faced by workers today and in the future. Her educational background is an interdisciplinary mix of psychology, statistics, and health education. She also holds professional certificates in community and public health and strategic foresight.

Strategic foresight is a practice rooted in futures studies that includes the development and analysis of plausible alternative futures as inputs to strategic plans and actions. This presentation will explore strategic foresight as a tool that can enhance our capacity to anticipate, and even shape, the future as it pertains to work in order to advance worker safety, health, and well-being.


September 24, 2021

Foresight Horizons and Anticipatory Leadership (2 presentations)

  • Presentation 1: Beyond the First Horizon: An Overview of the Three Horizons Framework
  • Presentation 2: Anticipatory Leadership: How Foresight Is Transforming Future Leaders
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Presentation 1: Beyond the First Horizon: An Overview of the Three Horizons Framework

Heather Benoit, Senior Managing Director of Strategic Foresight, SGR

Heather Benoit is an innovation and foresight expert who is passionate about strategically creating better futures and finding solutions to the world’s most complex challenges. She is currently the Senior Managing Director of Strategic Foresight at SGR, and was previously Futures & Insights Lead at M3 Design where she led research in technological development, social and political trends, and environmental sustainability. Prior to that, Heather worked as a design researcher and product development engineer, where she led the development of products ranging the gamut from delicate surgical devices to ruggedized industrial equipment. She has been issued several patents for novel inventions and holds master’s degrees in engineering and business administration.

This presentation will include a review and rich discussion of the Three Horizons Framework, which is a useful tool for understanding the evolution of change over time. This key concept allows organizations to think proactively about how their products and services fit into the external environment and highlights impactful areas of opportunity.

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Presentation 2: Anticipatory Leadership: How Foresight Is Transforming Future Leaders

Jennifer Tsitsopoulos, Principal Innovation Strategist, Board of Innovation

Jennifer Tsitsopoulos is a Principal Innovation Strategist with a background that spans innovation, brand strategy, insights, and foresight. Sitting at the intersection of these fields of practice allows her to shape visions of the future and action plans starting with today. Over the course of her career, she has helped some of the world’s most iconic brands to navigate a changing world at highly-respected agencies like Omnicom’s sparks & honey and business design firm, Board of Innovation. During her spare time, Jennifer is currently studying part time for her masters in Strategic Foresight.

The world of work is changing, and so are the skills required for the next generation of leaders. This presentation will discuss how Foresight is at the core of what will make tomorrow’s leaders successful and ways in which you may start embracing these skills in your own day-to-day.


June 04, 2021

Foresight Journal Club

Exploring Drivers and Scenarios from the Institute for the Future


May 7, 2021

High Impact Projects by CDC Strategic Foresight Learning & Action Network (SF-LAN)

CDC Evidence Team

CDC Foresight Preparedness Team


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April 9, 2021

Scenario Planning

Rafael Ramírez
Professor of Practice
Saïd Business School & Green-Templeton College, University of Oxford

Rafael Ramírez directs the award-winning Oxford Scenarios Programme and serves as Academic Director of the Oxford Networked Strategy Lab. He is one of the world’s leading experts on scenario planning. As a researcher and advisor, he has worked extensively with NGOs, corporations, inter-governmental organizations, governments, and think tanks. He is the author of several books and many scholarly papers, and he sits on the editorial boards of three scenario planning journals.

On April 09, 2021, Dr. Ramírez overviewed the application and distinguishing features of the Oxford Scenario Planning Approach, which has been widely adopted by science-centric organizations (e.g., Royal Society of Chemistry, European Patent Office, and the Nuclear Safeguards unit in the International Atomic Energy Agency), NGOs (e.g., Diabetes UK), police forces, cities, and private companies. At the time of Dr. Ramírez’s presentation, the Oxford Scenario Planning Approach is being deployed by those planning the future of research on COVID-19.


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March 5, 2021

You’ve Gathered Your Futures Data: Now What?

Lyn Jeffery
Program Director, Foresight Essentials
Institute for the Future (IFTF)

Lyn Jeffery is a cultural anthropologist who collects stories of change from around the world and tracks the new social practices that make you shake your head in wonder or concern about where we’re heading. Her core interest is in exploring how people make sense of the rapidly shifting world around them. An IFTF Distinguished Fellow, Lyn leads IFTF’s Foresight Essentials program, delivering professional foresight training to public and private sector practitioners around the world.

On March 05, 2021, Dr. Jeffery shared strategies for moving from signals and drivers of change to forecasts: communicable and thought-provoking views of the future.


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February 5, 2021

Scanning 101

Eric Popiel
Strategic Workforce Analyst
Strategic Workforce Foresight Team
US Office of Personnel Management (OPM)

Eric Popiel is a Strategic Foresight Analyst for OPM and co-manager of OPM’s Strategic Workforce Foresight Team (SWFT). He is responsible for the long-term futures program that informs federal workforce policy for OPM and assists federal agencies in Strategic Human Capital Management. In addition, he serves as a co-chair of the Federal Foresight Community of Interest (FFCOI).

On February 05, 2021, Mr. Popiel returned to NIOSH and provided a practical overview of a widely-accepted approach to  searching for and organizing signals of change that may influence the future.


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January 15, 2021

A Short History of the Future: Foresight Studies at RAND

Steven Popper
Senior Economist, RAND
Professor, RAND Pardee Graduate School

Steven Popper focuses his work on decision making under deep uncertainty, science and technology policy, multi-stakeholder strategic decision processes, foresight and future studies, and security planning. He coauthored Shaping the Next One Hundred Years: New Methods for Quantitative, Long-Term Policy Analysis (2003), the report of a flagship study providing a Robust Decision Making (RDM) methodological framework for decision making under deep uncertainty. Dr. Popper is the current chair for education and training of the Society for Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty (DMDU).

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Richard Silberglitt
Senior Physical Scientist, RAND
Professor, RAND Pardee Graduate School

Richard Silberglitt has over 40 years of experience performing, evaluating, and managing advanced technology research. He developed an energy scenario analysis method that has been applied in the U.S., Southeast Asia, and Brazil. He also led a road-mapping effort for the U.S. government’s Nano-Enabled Technology Initiative and is co-developer of a method for research and development (R&D) portfolio analysis and management that has been applied for the U.S. Army, Navy, National Security Agency, National Institute of Justice, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On January 15, 2021, Dr. Popper and Dr. Silberglitt provided an overview of the roots of foresight and discuss the foresight studies RAND conducts today.


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December 4, 2020

Strategic Foresight Initiative

Eric Popiel
Strategic Workforce Analyst
Strategic Workforce Foresight Team (SWFT)
US Office of Personnel Management (OPM)

Eric Popiel is a Strategic Foresight Analyst for OPM and co-manager of OPM’s Strategic Workforce Foresight Team (SWFT). He is responsible for the long-term futures program that informs federal workforce policy for OPM and assists federal agencies in Strategic Human Capital Management. In addition, he serves as a co-chair of the Federal Foresight Community of Interest (FFCOI).

On December 04, 2020, Mr. Popiel discussed OPM’s Strategic Foresight Initiative, which assists federal agencies in the development of foresight methodologies and processes to effectively plan for the workforce of the 21st century.


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November 6, 2020

HORIZON: A Prototype CDC Scanning Tool Demonstration
Tom Savel
Chief, Emerging Technology and Design Acceleration Branch (ETDAB)
Customer Engagement Office (CEO)
Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO)

Tom Savel is chief of CDC’s Emerging Technology and Design Acceleration Branch (ETDAB).  ETDAB collaborates with CDC programs and external partners to rapidly define program and staff needs and identify or develop innovative tools, technologies, and techniques to positively impact public health practice.

On November 06, 2020, Dr. Savel provided a live demonstration of HORIZON, an exciting new CDC Strategic Foresight Scanning tool.


October 2, 2020

Strategic Foresight: September 2020 Training Evaluation

Jessica Streit
Deputy Director, Office of Research Integration

ORI held the inaugural Foresight Friday on October 02, 2020. This invitation-only meeting served as a debrief session to a September 2020 strategic foresight training delivered to NIOSH leadership by the University of Houston. During this meeting, ORI introduced NIOSH’s new strategic foresight efforts, reviewed training evaluation results, and discussed next steps for building foresight capacity at NIOSH.


Recommended Foresight Resources

Those interested in learning more about strategic foresight and its applicability to OSH are invited to review the 2021 NIOSH foundational paper. A link to this publication is provided at the top of this page.

Additional resources are offered below to help jumpstart new explorations into the practice of foresight.

Page last reviewed: August 18, 2022