Foresight: understanding and responding to future challenges
As a responsible, committed company, Bouygues Construction must be able to quickly adapt to changes in the world and in our society. What is this all about? Anticipating usage to fully respond to both current and future needs and trends: in technology, the environment, demographics, society and the economy. To help in this daily challenge, Bouygues Construction has a team that is dedicated to foresight. But what does foresight mean in concrete terms?
Foresight: An approach that aims, through a rational and holistic approach, to prepare for possible and desirable future scenarios. All this in order to better anticipate changes in society.
Ambition: To support the company’s transformation and nourish its strategy so it remains competitive and innovative in the long term.
- To decipher current changes in order to anticipate future disruptions
- To identify and share new challenges and usage in society
- To provide reflections and an overall (holistic) vision to nourish new business approaches.
Acting today to prepare for the future
Contrary to popular belief, foresight research and analysis is not futurology. Rather, it is a systematic approach to a subject based on facts. “As Maurice Blondel said, ‘the future cannot be predicted, it must be planned’, this is why our approach is multi-dimensional”, explains Virginie Alonzi, Bouygues Construction Strategic Foresight Director. There are three of us within the Bouygues Construction Strategic Foresight and Marketing department, which is a part of the Innovation, Digital Transformation and Sustainable development Division, and we decipher and understand changes that are taking place. Our role is to identify emerging trends, and analyse and predict risks in order to shed light on and provide positive focus for the company’s operational and strategic positions. According to needs and topics, we provide a long-term vision, by projecting ourselves from the present. We provide a 360° vision of the city, regions and usage. Our approach to foresight is based on 5 cross-functional themes (mobility, security, flexibility, data, resources) and six markets of application (education, housing, offices, health, city/neighbourhood, industry). ”
An approach co-created with external experts
When it comes to construction, Foresight is a major issue! “An urban project takes at least five years to get off the ground. It is therefore necessary to plan ahead to ensure that each of the buildings under construction meets the expectations of the citizens when they finally take possession of them. It is for this reason that we support, for example, the LinkCity teams. We are very careful to stay close to the ground, both rationally and operationally. We envisage possible future scenarios in collaboration with the various key players in a subject area. These are people who are able to bring different and complementary expertise to ours: researchers, sociologists, NGOs, start-ups, etc. We gather together the most relevant people, depending on the topic, theme or issue being considered. We form the most representative ecosystem for a topic, in order to carry out our systemic foresight work. Once these people are chosen, we carry out a joint reflection, which is for general interest, rather than any commercial goal. ”
Familiarise employees and provide inspiration to help them create relevant offerings and services
Positioned ahead of Bouygues Construction’s strategic marketing work, the foresight process carried out by Virginie Alonzi’s team influences commercial choices made by the Group’s operational teams: the creation of offerings and services, the partnerships established, etc.
Foresight: how does it work at Bouygues Construction?
“After identifying a topic – thanks to the internal Bouygues Construction team or feedback from an external contact – we carry out an in-depth survey of the topic, to see what already exists. We identify the researchers to include in this study, the topic’s main players, and the inspirational initiatives in France and internationally. Once these have been identified, we go to meet these people to initiate an open and collaborative foresight process on the topic, via multi-partner workshops on different themes. This process will last on average 8-10 months, since one topic can comprise several themes. Let’s take the example of mobility. For this one topic, we discussed the mobility of people and the mobility of goods. We talked about data and urban services, self-driving vehicles and peri-urbanisation. A topic includes, in reality, many other underlying topics. This is why our co-construction is carried out with different stakeholders, various analyses and scientific studies, the sharing of experience and inspiring initiatives. All together these guide the actions to be undertaken in a concrete and reliable manner. ”
At the end of each process, Virginie Alonzi and her team draw up a “Trend Report”. A bible, “useful both internally and externally to share, familiarise and inspire our teams and our clients. In it, we define concepts and scenarios on the basis of hypotheses that open up possible future scenarios. We make proposals for actions, solutions, concepts. As part of this process of familiarisation and information-sharing, we organise client events where we present each Trend Report. One or two of the experts that have collaborated with us in the foresight work are usually present, as are various local players connected with the topic, in order to highlight local initiatives. ”
A foresight team with a head start
Proximity, short circuits, and the ‘15-minute city’ are very topical subjects! These are themes that the Foresight team has been studying for several years. “When we undertook our work on mobility in 2018, we were already talking about ‘de-mobility’ and local services… In 2015, we also anticipated a topic that is very current today: the digital city / human city. In 2019, we carried out a study on well-being and health in regions. We were thinking about ways to design the urban environment so it is favourable to health. What this means at the scale of an urban product and a building, among others. At the time of submitting our report on the subject, the COVID-19 pandemic began. The subject of health was topical, more than ever before! ” Another topic that is just as current: carbon reduction. To best focus Bouygues Construction’s carbon strategy, the Foresight team initiated a systemic approach to urban projects and public spaces with an emphasis on intensifying the use of buildings. On the programme: the chronotope and reversibility. “These two terms will allow us to think of tomorrow’s buildings in the long term, allowing them to be in line with the different uses which they must meet in the future. ”
Changes in usage: the challenge of Foresight
Bouygues Construction’s Foresight team prioritises the study of usage. With good reason: “it is unimaginable to design, build, renovate and operate any type of living space without considering the end user. Usage and use value – very much in vogue over the past year – are subjects that we have been discussing for several years within Bouygues Construction to make progress in this area in the Group’s projects. Moreover, in order to move up a gear, two years ago we created a “Usage Observatory”. In addition to our direct discussions with end-users (citizens), we conduct surveys on various subjects and run panels of individuals with the help of multiple partners: institutes, start-ups, etc. We also sometimes carry out “Labs” with end-users to compare the results of our studies. This helps us to understand the expectations of inhabitants and citizens in the area of different usages. ”
Envisaging what tomorrow will be without falling into Utopia, understanding future habits and needs without over-exaggeration, anticipating the uses and factors that will revolutionise the future of cities and regions… A mission that Bouygues Construction’s Foresight team carries out tirelessly and passionately! “Beyond the operational, we also support Bouygues Construction’s strategic position. For example, for more than two years, we have been conducting a study on Bouygues Construction’s future, and another on an emerging issue: resilience. ”