Time required:

30-90 min

Number of participants:

Alone or in your team


Printed model/tool
markers/ballpoint pens


The original three-horizons model was developed by Bill Sharpe - International Futures Forum, but here adapted and simplified


Want to hear more about The three horizons of the future?

Want to hear more about The three horizons of the future?

Strategic foresight doesn’t have to be as difficult as it sounds. By using this simple tool, you can quickly start meaningful conversations and reflections about the future.

Two Approaches to Using the Tool

This model can be understood from two different perspectives. One is from the realization that the long-term future will look radically different from the near future, and asking the question of how we can begin to account for that in our daily work (Ensuring relevance in the future). The other is coming from the realization that the radically different world we dream of in the long term will not happen if we do not work within the reality we are in now and strategically lay tracks pointing towards the desired future (Ensuring a relevant future).

I have personally used the model from the latter perspective to figure out how I could live with the fact that my work today cannot meet the sustainability ambitions I have for the future. Read more about it in this post, where I show my three personal-professional horizons. (I am working hard on the post, and hopefully it will soon be available for you to read :))

Understanding the Model

The model is based on the idea that short-term, medium-term, and long-term trends unfold with different weightings in the world at the same time. By identifying or deciding which trends or developments you desire in these lanes, you can begin to plan your activities in the present and near future based on what you believe in or hope to happen in the long term.

Horizon 1, which represents things as they are right now, naturally occupies the most space at any given time, but it must not fill everything. There must also be room for the other two horizons. In your strategic planning, ensure that the weighting over time will change so that the medium-term and long-term focus gets more space than the short-term. The three horizons thus create three time phases, where each of the three horizons is the most prominent.

How to Use the Model:

  1. Define Your Horizons
    When you start working with the model, it is important to clarify your purpose for using it. If your purpose is to create a strategy for ensuring that you/your organization/your project is relevant in the future, define the three horizons based on your best guess of how the future looks within the field you work in. What are the long-term trends for the industry or area you work in? How does it look right now, and what are the medium-term trends that bind the current state and long-term trends together? If your purpose is to create a relevant future with your project/organization or your work, find out what long-term change in the world you want contribute to. What is the current status? And what is the medium-term trend that could be the transition from the current to the long-term goal? Write the answers in the boxes 1, 2, 3 on the far left.
  2. Set a Time Frame
    The next thing you need to do, if not already predetermined, is to set a time frame for your horizons. Is long-term 5, 10, or 50 years? It depends on your scope and what you are working with. But spend some time setting a realistic yet ambitious time frame, as it can end up setting the boundaries for what follows.
  3. What Happens in the Three Phases?
    Consider what reality looks like in each of the three phases. What are the tactical considerations (principles, actions) you need to make in the different phases to remain relevant? And if your goal is to create change, what are your tactical considerations that create phases 1, 2, and 3? Also, write down what you specifically need to do to ensure the right balance between the three trends in a given phase.
  4. Tell Others About Your Three Horizons
    Ask them to qualify by either asking them  1) whether they are seeing the same trends/opportunities as you do (the horizons), 2)  if the timeline is correct or if it should be longer or shorter, and 3) if they agree with your tactical considerations for each of the three phases on how such futures should be tackled.

The model gives you a quick way to outline a strategy either alone or with others. It creates an overview that makes it easy to gather quick feedback from others in a playful and exciting way.

Other tools and methods:

  • Speeddating your user while making personas

    When it's not possible for you to talk directly with your user, you might invite them on an imaginative date?

    Speeddating your user while making personas

  • Thing of the Future – A Speculative Warm-Up

    Go to the future to challenge your assumptions, biases and suspend your inner critical voice, by using this tool originally designed by Stuart Candy

    Thing of the Future – A Speculative Warm-Up

  • 5 Step Storyboarding
    – Use storytelling as prototype

    Test, test, test.. You can never test your ideas ioo early or too often. The 5 Step Storyboard is a quick way to communicate your idea and get feedback.

    5 Step Storyboarding
    – Use storytelling as prototype

  • Give shape to your idea – The Pre Concept

    Create Pre-Concepts for your early ideas to better assess what will work and what needs further development.

    Give shape to your idea – The Pre Concept