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Blog Series: Part 2

Anticipating the Future: Shifting Paradigms

Posted on 16th of October 2023 by Sara Marcucci, Stefaan Verhulst

Anticipating the Future: Shifting Paradigms
Anticipating the Future: Shifting Paradigms

This is the second installment of our weekly blog series dedicated to exploring cutting-edge anticipatory methods for migration policy. In our previous post, we introduced the opportunities and challenges of anticipatory methods.

This week, we delve deeper by unveiling a paradigm shift that seems to be happening, which involves the increasing blurring of the once clear distinction between forecasting as a quantitative approach to anticipation and foresight as qualitative approach to anticipation. Instead, we propose a way of conceptualizing forecasting and foresight methods revolving around the objective they seek to achieve, regardless of the qualitative or quantitative approach they employ. We are thus interested in whether the aim is to predict future trends, for forecasting, or to explore future scenarios, for foresight.

In the upcoming blogs, we will provide a comprehensive breakdown of each category, exploring their subcategories and the diverse objectives they encompass. Following the blogs on the taxonomy, we will present a series of practical primers demonstrating the real-world applications of these methods. Stay tuned as we continue to unravel the world of anticipation in migration policy!

Anticipating Migration: Foresight and Forecast

Migration is a dynamic phenomenon influenced by a variety of factors. As migration policies strive to keep pace with an ever-changing landscape, anticipating trends becomes increasingly pertinent. Traditionally, in the realm of anticipatory methods, a clear demarcation existed between foresight and forecast. 

  • Forecast predominantly relies on quantitative techniques to predict future trends, utilizing historical data, mathematical models, and statistical analyses to provide numerical predictions applicable to the short-to-medium term, seeking to facilitate expedited policy making, resource allocation, and logistical planning.

  • Foresight methodologies conventionally leaned on qualitative insights to explore future possibilities, employing expert judgment, scenario planning, and holistic exploration to envision potential future scenarios. This qualitative approach has been characterized by a more long-term perspective, which seeks to explore a spectrum of potential futures in the long run.

More recently, this once-clear distinction between quantitative forecasting and qualitative foresight has begun to blur. New methodologies that embrace a mixed-method approach are emerging, challenging traditional paradigms and offering new pathways for understanding complex phenomena. Despite the evolution and the growing interest in these novel approaches, there currently exists no comprehensive taxonomy to guide practitioners in selecting the most appropriate method for their given objective. Moreover, due to the state-of-the-art, there is a need for primers delving into these modern methodologies, filling a gap in knowledge and resources that practitioners can leverage to enhance their forecasting and foresight endeavors.

Recognizing this gap, this series of blogs seeks to foster a deeper understanding of this broad and evolving field of anticipation, particularly focusing on aiding migration policymakers. Through these blogs, we aspire to:

  • Introduce a taxonomy that delineates the new mixed-method approaches, subsequently providing clear guidelines on when and how to employ each method based on the specific purpose, timescale, and urgency inherent to various predictive tasks.

  • Develop a set of primers that unpacks these contemporary methodologies, offering insights and detailed analyses to help practitioners grasp the nuances and potentials of each approach.

  • Support migration policymakers by equipping them with the knowledge and tools needed to navigate the diverse array of anticipatory methods available, thereby facilitating more informed and strategic decision-making in their policy design and implementation.

Our ultimate goal is to empower policymakers to discern the most suitable innovative methods for anticipating migration based on the distinct requirements and contexts of their work. By doing so, we aim to foster a landscape of policy making that is both future proof and grounded in robust, mixed-method analyses, promoting strategies that are adaptable, forward-thinking, and responsive to the evolving dynamics of migration.

A Shift Towards Mixed Anticipatory Methods

To get us started, we seek to explain the paradigm shift in classification of methods. The latest methodological innovations redirect attention away from the traditional dichotomy between quantitative and qualitative methodologies and instead center on the core objective of the anticipatory method—namely, whether it aims: 

  • To predict future trends - which we classify as Forecast or 

  • To explore future scenarios  -  which we classify as Foresight.

While both categories may harness a blend of quantitative and qualitative insights, they differ in the following ways:


Forecast Methods

Foresight Methods


Predict future trends

Explore future scenarios


Provide data-rich projections for decision-making, informed by qualitative context

Facilitate the adaptation of migration public policies with a view that can combine quantitative and qualitative elements to explore and achieve desired scenarios

Time Horizon

Typically, shorter-term forecasts

Longer-term scenarios and strategies

Predictive vs. Imaginative

Emphasis on prediction and specific trend identification

Emphasis on imaginative exploration and considering a range of possibilities

In our upcoming blog, we will delve into the distinct categories identified in our taxonomy, providing concrete examples and insights to further illuminate the dynamic spectrum of anticipatory techniques. 

Stay tuned as we explore these innovative approaches in greater detail, shedding light on their practical applications in the realm of migration policy!

We would like to express our gratitude to members of the BD4M Alliance Martina Belmonte (JRC), Anna Rosinka (JRC), and Alina Menocal Peters (IOM) for their valuable reviews of this piece before its publication.

The cover image of this blog was created using DALL-E and was adapted to make it relevant to the content.

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