Anticipation and Prospection

About this theme

How we, as individuals, organisations, and societies across different time periods, have approached thinking about the future has varied greatly. Today, when we think about predicting the future, we can easily dismiss it as the realm of crystal balls. It can seem a waste of time compared to dealing with the more immediate problems of the present moment. However, given the nature of the world we live in, characterised by increasing levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (encapsulated by the term a VUCA world), it is more important than ever that we equip ourselves with strategies for effectively reasoning about the future in order to plan and prepare for futures both anticipated and unanticipated.

While this is true across many areas of society and government, the challenges of reasoning about the future in relation to cyber security, and the imperative to do so effectively, are further intensified. The pace of technological change and its implications, both threats and opportunities, is one of the driving forces behind a VUCA world but is also intrinsic to cyber security in all its aspects. Whether it’s assessing the risk of moving proprietary data to the Cloud, considering the potential impact of emerging technology on current industry, or designing automated products fit for how society may use them, it’s critical that cyber security takes the lead in seeking out the scientific and theoretical basis for how we reason about the future and translate those insights to the questions and issues of concern for cyber security.

Discipline of Anticipation and Prospection

Anticipation is broadly defined as using the future to inform action in the present. It is the core discipline that deals with how we, as humans, reason about the future. Pioneered by academics and organisations such as UNESCO, it brings together a diverse range of fields that are invested in some way in this broad definition. A relatively recent development in the academic space, it draws upon the future-oriented insights generated from the fields of Psychology, Philosophy, Narratology, Anthropology, Political Science, Mathematics, the natural sciences and others.

Futures Literacy is a practical capability being built from this theoretical foundation. Being futures literate is defined as being conscious of and understanding why and how you’re using the future. By becoming futures literate, as individuals and organisations, it is possible to improve how we generate and consume futures, with the end goal of making more effective decisions to plan and prepare for the range of possible futures.

Prospection provides the psychological foundation and understanding of our cognitive capabilities as humans for thinking about and reasoning about the future. It falls under the umbrella discipline of Anticipation but has the potential to illuminate the underlying dynamics of our current processes and the challenges that we experience in effectively reasoning about the future. Current scholarship proposes a taxonomy of four core prospective capabilities available to us as humans. These underpin any and all futures thinking we may undertake. Understanding the dynamics of how we use those capabilities, formally and informally, as individuals and in groups, is critical to improve how we reason about the future.

Cyber Risk and Anticipation

Risk management is often treated as a prescriptive activity following specific steps to produce objective outputs; and cyber risk management has so far been heavily focused around specific processes or tools. Given the rapid digitalisation and connectivity of the products and services that society interacts with on a daily basis – risk analysts will need to become better at thinking about the future and developing narratives that can resonate with other aspects of risk.

Anticipation and Prospection can provide insights to improve cyber risk management going forward and answer long standing critical questions in this area.  Potential areas of impact include:

  • Understanding of the underlying structure of the current cyber risk management toolbox and identification of any gaps in it.
  • Provision of a framework with which to reason about the future with a multidisciplinary lens rather than a purely technical one.
  • Ability to choose the right tool(s) for a particular type of problem
  • Communication of cyber risk information in a way that is relevant to the end user
  • Development of a future cyber risk management process that can cope with future complexities in our digital systems
  • Basis for the broader skills and knowledge required of cyber risk professionals.

Digital Futures and Anticipation

Cyber risk management is one application of the insights from the fields of Anticipation and Prospection, but the concerns of cyber security go beyond the process of managing risk for specific systems or current problems. Cyber security needs to also grapple with broader questions about digital futures and consider the implications, threats, opportunities and unanticipated events, of a range of different futures. This may be in relation to the evolution of current technology, emerging and future technology and also, critically, how developments in technology may interact with and impact on society, policy, organisations and individuals. A focus on technology alone is insufficient to exploring what we care about in digital futures. We need to equip ourselves with methods to reason about the future that can bring deep expertise in technology together with a structured exploration of the range of ways in which technology may interact with the world.


If we’re to thrive and keep the country safe in this digital age then we need to all embrace the future. The expertise and infrastructure of RISCS provides an excellent foundation on which to build a community around Anticipation and Prospection in relation to cyber security.

Research Fellows

Genevieve Lively

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