A roadmap to the future

© Jessica Villat Luc Hoffmann Institute
3 April 2018

How can biodiversity conservation accelerate at the pace needed to bring human society into balance with the natural world? What is the shared vision for what we want to achieve and what will help us achieve it?

These were the questions facing a diverse group of people from conservation organisations, scientific institutions, academia and think-tanks as they road-tested the ‘Three Horizons’ model during a recent workshop organised by the Luc Hoffmann Institute.

Three Horizons was co-created by Bill Sharpe, an expert in futures techniques with the International Futures Forum (IFF) and other futures practitioners. It offers a simple but potentially very effective way of examining current, dominant systems and their challenges (horizon 1), the desired future state (horizon 3) and the innovations that can help achieve the future vision (horizon 2). IFF calls horizon 2 “the gentle art of redesigning the plane whilst flying it.”

“The system is telling us that from where we are now, horizon 1, to move to horizon 3 we need a bridge and that is innovation – people trying new things and some of them leading to the future – in the same way that electric cars are forming a bridge from the internal combustion engine to a future, clean, global transport system,” said Jon Hutton, Director of the Luc Hoffmann Institute.

The institute is exploring the potential of the Three Horizons approach to help guide its strategy and work programme. “What we want to do is promote innovation in the conservation sector. We want to be incubators and accelerators, finding and supporting new ideas and champions so they become part of the future, accelerating us from an unsustainable planet to a sustainable one,” said Jon.

Three Horizons can help address urgent, complex 21st century challenges including sustainability and nature conservation. It is being used in many fields such as energy policy, health care, rural development and financial services.

Workshop participants acknowledged the difficulty the conservation community faces in agreeing on a shared vision, in contrast to the climate change community that has rallied around the target of limiting global temperature rise to below 20 Celsius. They saw the Three Horizons approach as an effective way of bringing diverse groups together to build trust, pool knowledge and develop a plan for coordinated action.

The workshop, held at Cambridge University, UK, built a Three Horizons ‘map’ by identifying the key political, economic, social and technological changes in the next 10 to 20 years that participants thought would affect biodiversity, as well as clusters of innovation that could be mobilised to help reestablish an ecological balance.

Participants were keen to see Three Horizons thinking used in strategic planning by conservation organisations and many left the workshop thinking about how they can use the approach in their daily work.

“One of the main aspects of my job is to broker conversations and relationships between different groups, often scientists and policy makers, and different sectors of policy and academia that don’t usually talk to each other such as health and environment. I’m already thinking about how I can put this approach into practice,” said Emma Woods, Head of Policy at the Royal Society, the UK’s science academy.

Two days after the workshop, the Luc Hoffmann Institute further tested the Three Horizons approach in a planning meeting for the Conservation Futures initiative. This is a partnership between UN Environment, the Luc Hoffmann Institute and the Oxford Martin School created to explore fresh perspectives and approaches that can increase the scale and impact of conservation efforts.

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