AnM.15: Horizon Scanning (2) – Wild Cards & Weak Signals (WI-WE)

Horizon Scanning (2) – Wild Cards & Weak Signals (WI-WE)

Horizon/environmental scanning represents a first essential step in any foresight exercise. It aims at capturing "weak signals" in order to provide early warning about important future changes and enhance the capacity of adjusting flexibly and rapidly to the changing environment.
Weak signals are past or current developments/issues with ambiguous interpretations of their origin, meaning and/or implications. They are unclear observables warning us about the probability of future events which entail further consideration. As a method use din environmental scanning, their further analysis often leads to the identification of potential "wild cards".
Wild cards are surprising and unexpected events with low "perceived probability" of occurrence but with very high impact – e.g. accidental scientific discoveries.

Given that weak signals lie in the eye of the observer, practically anything could be a weak signal, e.g. current strengths, weaknesses, drivers, trends, challenges, strategies and policies; the emerging issues; future drivers, scenarios, threats and opportunities; shared visions megatrends and grand challenges; hidden issues (secrets & unknowns); past wild cards.
Wild cards include three broader groups: i) nature-related "surprises"; ii) unintentional "surprises" resulting from human actions; iii) intentional "surprises" resulting from human actions.


  • Systematic scanning data and information from the the environment for collecting, filtering, assessing and analysing potential weak signals

Data sources:

  • Scanning of media
  • Searching the web and on-line databases

A weak signal is ''a factor of change hardly perceptible at present, but which will constitute a strong trend in the future'' (Godet, 1994).

• Godet, M. (1994), From Anticipation to Action, A Handbook of Strategic Prospective, UNESCO Publishing.
• iKNOW project,