The futures wheel is a visual representation of connections between trends or change drivers and their (future) consequences or implications. It is a mind map with the topic of discussion in the centre; the primary drivers in the first circle around the centre and the further implications branching outward from each driver. The connections between the drivers produce further implications. This diagramming technique is useful in discussions about change drivers and emerging issues, when it's important to look at their interrelationships on their relationships and effects. There are of course many interconnected drivers in the world and the futures wheel can help to select most relevant ones. Another benefit is that they clearly show how they connect to the central issue (directly or indirectly), as well as what their prerequisites and consequences might be.

Process

Prepare several tables where different drivers will be discussed.You can choose specific drivers/issues, or discuss a range of driver categories, such as STEEP. Use a big sheet of paper on the table for people to write on, markers, optionally Post-its or other cards. If there has been some research done on the drivers before the session, find a way to bring that knowledge into the map (using cards, images, quotes…).

Step 1: Frame the session as a visual enquiry into the forces (or drivers) in the macro environment that can exert influence on the situation you're examining. This can be done with a factor that is seen either as already happening or 'emergent'. If you have predefined topics of discussion (e.g. specific trends, issues or events, etc.), explain them as well.

Step 1a: (optional): If you have multiple predefined drivers or categories, and/or a large group, you can run this session as a world cafe on several tables with multiple rounds (so that everyone gets a chance to discuss several if not all drivers). Each table has a designated moderator. The moderator stays at the same table for all rounds.

Step 1b: If you don't have predefined topics, you can first discuss and distil a small number of key drivers before you begin the futures wheel or decide to use STEEP categories and look at key drivers per category.

Step 2: Discuss which trends or weak signals are you aware of in the present that could impact the issue/situation the group is exploring. Select 3–5 primary drivers that have a definite impact and connect them radially to the centre.

Step 3: Create a branching mindmap showing wider implications of each of your primary trends

Step 4: Find connections between primary drivers and describe the secondary effects that their connection might produce.

Step 4a: Look at possible connections between secondary (and further) effects and the consequences of their interactions.

Step 5: At the end of the rounds you or the moderators summarise the discussions for the whole group.