Three horizons

Sculpt the future by understanding patterns in the present.

Three Horizons is a simple, intuitive method for working with change. The dominant paradigm is identified, along with emerging trends disrupting business as usual, and the visionary action needed to collectively move us towards a viable future.

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What is the Three Horizons framework?

The Three Horizons are an underpinning structure for conversations about the past, the present and the future. This framework examines behavioural, social and organisational patterns using three distinct lenses, called Horizons. These map the shift from established patterns of the First Horizon (past and present), that are no longer fit for purpose, to the establishment of new patterns in the Third Horizon (forecasted future), via the transition activity of the Second Horizon (current changes). 

It’s a facilitation technique that can be conducted with flexibility, depending on the audience, the context of the workshop, any specific themes of change for the horizons etc. Core elements involve defining each horizon, identifying patterns and behaviours that reinforce each, and then exploring the kinds of transformative responses that will ultimately bring about change. The aim is to understand how the third horizon of the future can become the established status quo of the present. This can be analysed for numerous purposes, including how to assist in the transition. The details emerge via participant engagement and interactive discussion. 

The First Horizon – H1 – is the current dominant system, representing ‘business as usual’. Society relies on these systems being stable and lasting, and for better or worse, much of our daily lives and lifestyles are intertwined with this paradigm. As the world changes, the norms, patterns and systems of H1 begin to feel out of place, inappropriate and, in extreme cases, a threat to future horizons. Business as usual will eventually be superseded by new ways of doing things, and actually contains the seeds of its own demise. 

The Third Horizon – H3 - emerges as the long term successor to business as usual. Fringe activity in the present continues to grow into the flourishing status quo of the future. H3 consists of completely new ways of doing things, with some trial and error, but many of its characteristics end up being much better fitted to the world that is emerging than the dominant H1 systems. Pockets of this future can already be found in the present.

The Second Horizon – H2 - is a pattern of activities, ideas, innovations that are disrupting the way things are done. Communities, companies, people, various groups all pioneer new approaches in response to the ever-changing world around them. Some of these innovations will be absorbed by H1, incorporated to prolong its life, while some will aid the transition, and set the stage for the radically different H3 systems to blossom. The disruptions of H2 can be harnessed to manage the collapse of H1, and thus support the more wholesome H3 systems to be embedded in the new H1.

The Three Horizons identify trends and behavioral patterns that are both supporting and disrupting the status quo. This method can be used amongst a group seeking to strategically influence change within their community, work or wider society.

International Futures Forum members and other futures practitioners collaboratively developed the Three Horizons framework. See Anthony Hodgson, Bill Sharpe, Andrew Curry and others in the linked research papers on the base of this page:

  • Awareness Raising
  • Business / Entrepreneurial Thinking
  • Collective Intelligence
  • Focalizer
  • Harvesting
  • Idea generator
  • Integration of input into daily life
  • Problem Solving
  • Strategy / Planning
  • Sustainability
  • Team Building / Trust Building
  • Understanding complexity
Innovation Phases
  • 1 Understanding the challenge
  • 2 Creating an Innovation-Friendly Culture
  • 3 Fostering New Perspectives & Ways of Thinking
  • 4 Idea Generation
  • 9 Evaluation
Train the Trainer seminars including Three horizons can be found here: