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  • Writer's pictureJosé-Carlos García-Rosell

Thinking ahead: using foresight and service design in small businesses

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

Today’s changes are faster and more complex than ever before. For example, global phenomena such as digitalization, climate change, and pandemics are reshaping society and marketplaces. Small businesses need expertise that helps them to ensure their continuity and success in an uncertain world. Considering this, combining and using foresight and service design thinking is one of the most important strategic moves a company can make. But what is meant by foresight and service design? Foresight refers to applied activities that aim to influence general thinking, values, and thus decision-making (Hiltunen, 2013; Rubin, 2014). Service design is a customer experience-driven design process, which is based on the principles of user orientation, problem-solving, and innovation (Miettinen 2016; Stickdorn & Schwarzenberger, 2016).

When foresight and service design are combined into one process, a small business is able to identify and build alternative futures that promote customer experience, competitiveness, and the emergence of sustainable innovation (Haanpää, García-Rosell & Kyyrä, 2013). In doing so, small business entrepreneurs can improve existing services, develop new ones, and in some cases even created totally new markets.

The role of stakeholders in foresight and service design

The average small business manager assumes that foresight and service design thinking is only possible for large companies. In practice, the opposite is often true: although small businesses have fewer resources at their disposal, they are able to adapt more rapidly to market changes due to the fact that their strategies, operations, and service development are closely interconnected (see Kyyrä, 2017; Haanpää, García-Rosell & Kyyrä, 2013). This characteristic is also an advantage for combining foresight and service design thinking.

Although there is a wide variety of foresight and service design tools, small businesses are also able to support innovation and future awareness through close interaction with different stakeholders such as customers, local authorities, and community members. Treehotel and IceHotel are good examples of small companies which have created future-oriented services and competitive business models by using the knowledge of multiple stakeholders. Treehotel's concept was developed in cooperation with architects, forest owners, and local authorities, and in the case of IceHotel, the company used the knowledge and experiences of customers, locals, and artists to develop their concept. Through cooperation, these companies have been able to map and find new information and ideas for developing their operations and even creating new markets (García-Rosell et al., 2019; Haanpää et al., 2013).

Values as drivers of foresight and service design thinking

Although different stakeholders influence the foresight and service design process, it is the values ​​of the entrepreneurs which ultimately guide it. The success of TreeHotel and IceHotel lies in entrepreneurial visions, which are driven by an idea of hospitality based on locality and a sustainable lifestyle. In addition, both companies show strong bonds to their operating environment, such as their villages, local communities, traditions, and natural elements. For example, natural landscapes like the Tornio River and the forest in Harads played a key role in the development of IceHotel and Treehotel's services and business concepts (García-Rosell et al., 2019). These entrepreneurs have a strong belief in their own work, operating environment and have been able to find partners who share similar values, interests, and goals.

In this sense, awareness of stakeholder collaboration and company values becomes a pre-condition for successful foresight and service design processes. Here are four points that small businesses should consider:

  • Think carefully about who you want to collaborate with and what kind of knowledge you may need. When doing so, considering also stakeholder from outside you own operating environment or business sector.

  • Give the collaboration time and possibilities to develop, and thus, influence the development of the service concept.

  • Identify your own strengths, values, and entrepreneurial identity.

  • Reflect on how your company’s values ​​relate to your operating environment and the place where your business is located.

In another post, I will share some tips about foresight tools that can be used by small business organizations. Stay tuned for more!

Ps. if you are interested in learning more about foresight in tourism, check the module Ennakointi ja tulevaisuusosaaminen which is part of Vastuullisen matkailun portaat (Responsible Tourism Stairs) educational training.


García-Rosell, J. C., Haanpää, M. & Janhunen, J. (2019). 'Dig where you stand’: values-based co-creation through improvisation. Tourism Recreation Research, 44:3, 348-358

Haanpää, M., García-Rosell, J. C. & Kyyrä, S. (2013). Ennakoiva tuotekehitys matkailussa. Teoksessa Soile Veijola (toim.), Matkailututkimuksen lukukirja, Rovaniemi, Lapland University Press.

Hiltunen, E. (2013). Foresight and innovation: How companies are coping with the future. Palgrave.

Kyyrä, S. (2017). Matkailun ennakointi. Teoksessa Johan Edelheim ja Heli Ilola (toim.), Matkailututkimuksen avainkäsiteet. Rovaniemi, Lapland University Press.

Miettinen, S. (2016). Palvelumuotoilu: uusia menetelmiä käyttäjätiedon hankintaan ja hyödyntämiseen. Teknologiainfo Teknova Oy

Stickdorn, M. & Schwarzenberger, K. (2016). Service design in tourism. Teoksessa Hubert J. Siller, H. J. & Zehrer, A. (toim.) Entrepreneurship und Tourismus. Unternemerisches Denken und Erfolgskonzepted aus der Praxis. Wien: Linde Verlag, 261-275.


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