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Foresight: understanding the methodology

What does the future hold for visual health?

Mathieu Feuillade, Director of the SciFI Lab at EssilorLuxottica R&D
On June 27th, 2023 |
3 min reading time
Mathieu Feuillade
Director of the SciFI Lab at EssilorLuxottica R&D
Key takeaways
  • In visual health, the major trends and weak signals are grouped into 4 areas: demand, healthcare regulators, supply, and the business ecosystem.
  • For each of these areas, the micro-scenarios produced represent all possible futures.
  • These prospective scenarios use morphological analysis: the framework of each scenario is a combination of hypotheses on the evolution of system variables.
  • Three scenarios have been developed for visual health: a highly stratified market; visual health seen as a service; and prevention.
  • The foresight approach helps R&D teams to think differently to ensure that product development will meet needs.

What are the trends facing the corrective lens industry?

There are sev­er­al devel­op­ments affect­ing our sec­tor – along with oth­er sec­tors – on a glob­al scale. Ris­ing demo­graph­ics, chang­ing lifestyles and an age­ing pop­u­la­tion all have an impact on visu­al health and access to care. Glob­al warm­ing is putting increased pres­sure on com­pa­nies and their respon­si­bil­i­ties and is influ­enc­ing peo­ple’s health. Last­ly, visu­al health is marked by an increase in dis­or­ders such as myopia, which could affect 5 bil­lion peo­ple by 2050, a short­age of med­ical staff and poor access to eye care.

These under­ly­ing trends are well iden­ti­fied and present few uncer­tain­ties. How­ev­er, the dif­fi­cul­ty lies in inte­grat­ing oth­er fac­tors. We are famil­iar with these weak sig­nals includ­ing con­sumer behav­iour, use of dig­i­tal tools and so forth, but their evo­lu­tion is uncertain.

How do you reconcile these trends and uncertainties in your foresight work?

We work with­in a cer­tain perime­ter – peri­od cov­ered, geo­graph­ic zone, etc. – but our approach is holis­tic: Fore­sight must be con­sid­ered from a glob­al per­spec­tive. This means pro­cess­ing a lot of data. To ensure that this data is intel­li­gi­ble, we group major trends and weak sig­nals into four cat­e­gories: demand, health­care reg­u­la­tors, sup­ply, and the busi­ness ecosystem.

What is the purpose of these poles?

We pro­duce micro-sce­nar­ios for each of them: they enable us to rep­re­sent all pos­si­ble futures. For exam­ple, regard­ing demand, one of the hypothe­ses con­sid­ered is that, by 2030, Euro­pean con­sumers will be divid­ed into three groups: the most demand­ing, devot­ing a sub­stan­tial bud­get to their visu­al health; a grow­ing num­ber of con­sumers con­strained by their pur­chas­ing pow­er; and con­sumers exclud­ed from the mar­ket by lack of means or by choice. The ser­vice offer­ing will become the cor­ner­stone of the pur­chas­ing act. Oth­er micro-sce­nar­ios are being con­sid­ered: sobri­ety, for exam­ple, could become the new normal.

At EssilorLuxottica, how do you anticipate future trends?

Over the past two years, we have stepped up our approach by deploy­ing an R&D fore­sight activ­i­ty with­in the Sci­ence of Fore­sight and Inno­va­tion lab­o­ra­to­ry. Our posi­tion­ing is quite spe­cif­ic: we pro­vide sup­port for inno­va­tion devel­oped with­in the com­pa­ny. Our aim is not to make pre­dic­tions, that’s nev­er the pur­pose of fore­sight. We build sce­nar­ios that tell a sto­ry. This helps our research teams to project them­selves into pos­si­ble futures.

How are these scenarios built in practice?

We used mor­pho­log­i­cal analy­sis. This method, invent­ed by Fritz Zwicky in the 1940s, enables us to explore the field of pos­si­bil­i­ties by con­struct­ing fore­sight sce­nar­ios1. The frame­work of each sce­nario is a com­bi­na­tion of hypothe­ses on the evo­lu­tion of sys­tem variables.

Our fore­sight work, car­ried out in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Futuri­bles insti­tute, is based first and fore­most on known past trends that are well described in sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture. These doc­u­ment­ed facts shed light on future trends. Next, we define hypothe­ses for future devel­op­ments. Once the micro-sce­nar­ios men­tioned above have been devel­oped, glob­al sce­nar­ios are con­struct­ed. With­in each sce­nario, we have includ­ed the same vari­ables: for exam­ple, gov­ern­ment involve­ment in visu­al health. The sce­nar­ios con­struct­ed are there­fore com­ple­men­tary and com­pa­ra­ble. The choice of time frame is also very impor­tant: in too short a time­frame, the prospec­tive work may be use­less, and in too long a time­frame, it may decrease the com­mit­ment of the teams. Our work there­fore focus­es on the 2030 horizon.

Can you describe the scenarios you developed?

In the end, we came up with three sce­nar­ios. The first is char­ac­terised by sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket strat­i­fi­ca­tion, with most of the pop­u­la­tion con­sum­ing in a sober man­ner and oth­ers with high pur­chas­ing pow­er. The sec­ond sce­nario is more ori­ent­ed towards a visu­al health path con­sid­ered as a ser­vice. Our aim would be to pro­vide access to good visu­al health in the broad­est sense, rather than just cor­rec­tive lens­es. Final­ly, the last sce­nario is more focused on pre­ven­tion, which becomes a key ele­ment in con­sumers’ health­care pathways.

In practical terms, how do these scenarios influence your R&D activities?

The point of the fore­sight approach is to help our R&D teams think dif­fer­ent­ly and chal­lenge their own assump­tions. Apart from sup­port­ing inno­va­tion, the abil­i­ty to suc­cess­ful­ly project into the future is key. For exam­ple, if we’re work­ing on a new prod­uct, for­ward-look­ing sce­nar­ios help us to ensure that devel­op­ment will meet our needs. These sce­nar­ios also encour­age us to work for visu­al health: by offer­ing sup­port solu­tions to pop­u­la­tions, we can con­tribute to lim­it­ing the inci­dence of myopia worldwide.

How­ev­er, fore­sight is only as good as the com­pa­ny’s abil­i­ty to make it its own: our sce­nar­ios are out of sync with the com­pa­ny’s day-to-day busi­ness. The work of fore­sight does not stop with the cre­ation of sce­nar­ios: com­mu­ni­ca­tion is cru­cial. We con­sid­er that it takes a min­i­mum of two years for our sce­nar­ios to become the com­pa­ny’s own.

Can your foresight work inform other industrial sectors?

Yes, in gen­er­al, knowl­edge shar­ing is very impor­tant in fore­sight. When devel­op­ing sce­nar­ios, there’s an ele­ment of intu­ition. Each com­pa­ny has a dif­fer­ent per­cep­tion of trends, and this shar­ing of knowl­edge enables us to ori­en­tate our hypothe­ses accord­ing to each sec­tor. We have many exchanges with oth­er com­pa­nies involved in fore­sight work, par­tic­u­lar­ly with­in Club Open Prospective.

Interview by Anaïs Marechal
1Véronique Lam­blin, March 2018, L’analyse mor­phologique, une méth­ode pour con­stru­ire des scé­nar­ios prospec­tifs, Prospec­tive and strate­gic fore­sight tool­box, Futuri­bles Inter­na­tion­al.

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