Participants leveraged various tools and processes of strategic foresight during the Democracy Futures workshop, under the leadership of Professor Suzanne Stein and OCAD U CO, held as part of the DemocracyXChange Summit held earlier this year.
OCAD University’s graduate program, Strategic Foresight and Innovation (SFI), is opening its virtual doors to part-time students in September 2024 who want to gain forward-thinking skills to support businesses in future-proofing and innovation.
The new online part-time offering responds to a need expressed by working professionals who want to upskill or reskill but face challenges in balancing work and family responsibilities or in taking time off work to study.
Offered in the evenings, this part-time online program provides accessibility and flexibility as well as the opportunity to obtain a master’s program regardless of where they live.
The program is unique – it’s one of few offered globally – because it combines design thinking, strategy, foresight and innovation.
“Studying foresight adds another dimension to strategic planning within a business setting. It’s about looking for signals of change on the horizon that can have implications for the future. This thinking helps to “future-proof” an organization or company so it isn’t blind-sided,” explains Associate Professor Suzanne Stein, who is SFI’s Program Director.
“The business world thrives on innovation and this program teaches better strategic thinking given its focus on creating innovative business models and financial sustainability for new products, services or organizations,” she adds.
SFI students develop critical skills based in design thinking, which is different than usual business thinking because design thinking spends more time researching problems.
“Designers look at the issue of larger systems and test new models to make better-informed conclusions. While design thinking takes more work, it not only better results it also puts the user experience first,” says Stein.
The SFI graduate program has a much broader and diverse range of students, attracting lawyers, business people, engineers, scientists, architects, musicians, writers and public-sector employees. Graduates have undertaken foresight roles in public sector, including eCampus Ontario and Policy Horizons Canada, and in the private sector, including Loblaws.
SFI graduate Michelle Runch, who has a 15-year career in marketing working with big brands such as the LCBO and the Los Angeles Rams, saw the real-world impact of her work when she was a SFI graduate student researcher. She participated in the Centre for Local Innovation and Collaboration (CLIC), a partnership with the City of Richmond Hill and eCampus Ontario to help business recover from the effects of the pandemic.
In co-creating compelling innovation challenges and solutions for each of the businesses she partnered with, Runch says her experience deepened her understanding of how she can make a positive impact on the needs of businesses.
“The overall impact I felt this made was giving the businesses the opportunity to discuss and identify some of the unique challenges they may be facing and having an impartial individual help to uncover and highlight these in order to secure potential future funding and partnership opportunities,” says Runch.
For graduate Colton Schwenk, the SFI program provided real-world experience, noting that the idea of innovation can be different in the classroom versus in practice.
“OCAD U has given me the chance to meaningfully examine how innovation unfolds in actual settings and businesses. Seeing this, first-hand, has been powerful, serving to motivate me to want to do more with small businesses, and to reaffirm how excellent a decision it was to enrol in the SFI program,” he says.
OCAD U students in the Strategic Foresight program have received multiple awards in the globally recognized Association of Professional Futurists (APF) Student Recognition program. The APF competition receives submissions from futures and foresight programs around the world.
In 2023, a Master’s Individual award went to SFI grad Nicole Brkic, who placed third for her Masters Research Paper. In the Master’s Group category, Nathalie Robertson and Doug Reid placed second for their Foresight Studio final project, and Joanne Nedeljkovic, Liam Mooney, Tim Sun and Chris Wilson placed third for their Foresight Studio final project.
Deadline for applications