In 2016, building on its legacy of environmental scanning, the ASAE Foundation began a new future-focused research initiative to understand trends affecting the association industry. This program, ASAE ForesightWorks, was developed with Signature i and Foresight Alliance though a multiphase, longitudinal environmental scanning initiative. The program is designed to deliver information on potential changes and disruptions for the association industry on an ongoing basis and to support association professionals in becoming better forecasters of the changes that will affect their work.

ASAE ForesightWorks intends to make the scanning results as practical and actionable as possible. The research team from Signature i and Foresight Alliance followed a systematic four-step process, based on foresight best practices, to generate and analyze change drivers of potential significance for the association community. Association leaders can follow this model to scan on their own for the industries they serve.

Step 1: Develop a domain map.

A domain map identifies elements of a system and potential areas of change affecting a subject (company, industry, organization, field). To create a domain map for the association community, the research team examined typical association operations and interviewed ASAE members and staff about how association operations are changing, where change is needed, and what ideas about the future should be researched. The domain map identified “hot zones” of active or potential change and became the guide for the environmental scan. The research team selected five domains—society, technology and science, the economy, politics, and business (STEPB)—to organize the findings and ensure breadth of coverage.

Step 2: Perform an environmental scan.

An environmental scan is a method for monitoring trends and forces affecting the ecosystem in which an organization operates. It differs from conventional, idea-specific research in that it is wide-ranging and meant to support ongoing change monitoring. To guide the association community’s environmental scan, the research team scanned systematically in the STEPB domains. The scan reviewed dozens of source types—interviews, news articles, academic papers, expert blogs, and other sources—which led Foresight Alliance analysts to identify more than 300 trends and forecasts that they deemed relevant to the five domains. The research team will perform environmental scans on an ongoing basis to continually update the research findings.

Step 3: Identify the drivers of change.

Foresight Alliance futurists then took the 300-plus items and clustered them to draw out larger, overarching ideas. This process revealed more than 100 clusters that could be explored as potential drivers of change; a ranking and rating exercise narrowed the list to 60, and Signature i then culled the change driver topics to 41. This list of 41 was passed to the program’s advisory group of association community members, which reviewed them and ranked them for their relevance to associations. This process is ongoing: New drivers of change and updates to existing drivers of change are made each August.

Step 4: Analyze and document the drivers of change. 

Researchers analyzed each driver of change to understand long-term implications, key unknowns, and potential forecasts. ASAE volunteers assisted in analyzing the drivers of change and identifying potential action steps for associations.The results of this multi-phase analysis were collated and documented in action briefs for the association community.
ASAE and the ASAE Foundation released the first collection of 41 drivers of change in March 2018, plus five new drivers of change in August 2018. Each change driver is described in an action brief that examines its implications and offers ideas for steps associations can take to respond to the trend.

The ASAE ForesightWorks Complete Collection includes all 50 action briefs and a user’s guide. ASAE ForesightWorks Action Sets allow you to explore drivers of change in a specific area of interest.Other resources guide you through the research and help you apply it in your organization: 

  • The ASAE ForesightWorks User’s Guide provides direction for practicing foresight and exploring the action briefs with worksheets and other materials. 
    PDF | Digital 
  • Why Associations Need Foresight is a research brief that introduces the program and suggests ways to think about and apply intelligence about drivers of change and conduct future-focused scanning on your own. 
  • An introductory set of three action briefs, free to ASAE members, covers Algorithms and Rights, Hybrid Meetings, and A World Reshaped by COVID. 

For more information about the ASAE ForesightWorks project, contact


additional publications and resources

From Foresight to Action

How Will Data Predict the Future

Plugging Into the Potential of Virtual Meetings

Special Report: 20/20 Foresight