We often hear the adage ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’ But how can this sentiment help those trying to imagine a different future?

For business leaders wanting to innovate –and bring others on that journey – visualising the path ahead can be a way to better identify what needs to change and how to get there. It can be easy to get stuck in the status quo, so embracing mapping tools can also assist organisations in aiming for bigger and bolder innovative change and impact.

When two become one

There are two core visual mapping tools – Three Horizons and Challenge Mapping – that are often used individually by change-makers. Building on these frameworks, The Yunus Centre is exploring new opportunities and capabilities by bringing them together. 

New horizons

Three Horizons is a framework developed by members of the International Futures Forum, to highlight the mindsets, intentions and actions that may be needed to bring about positive change. 

The Three Horizons span the present, near future and future. Horizon 1 (H1) is the current way of doing things. Organisations depend on H1 systems to get things done and ‘keep the lights on’, but many of these systems are falling short and are out of step with emerging conditions.

Jumping forward to Horizon 3 (H3), these are the envisioned future systems that are thought to be a better fit with new needs and opportunities. It’s the utopia-state – they are focussed on transformative change and new patterns beyond the reach of the present. There are usually many competing visons here and early versions can often look quite unrealistic. H3 helps identify these different visions and understand what’s influencing them.

Horizon 2 (H2) is the meaty middle territory – the transition and transformation zone. There is a strong pull towards the ‘tried and true’ here, however H2 can help make visible which of the competing solutions may be most effective in moving organisations towards H3 and pulling away from the vested interests of H1 stakeholders. It makes a good start at identifying some stepping-stones to arrive at the future-state, but it can be quite top-line. So, The Yunus Centre believes there is a need for more granular tools to help bridge what is learnt in this stage, and channel it into action.

New challenges

Enter tool number two. The core framework for Challenge Mapping is based on the mission maps developed by Mazzucato. The Yunus Centre has made a conscious shift to challenge-led research and innovation practices (you can read more about it here), in a bid to explore how the interest of multiple and diverse stakeholders can become better aligned to make change.

The Challenging Mapping framework helps foster a more collaborative environment and encourages a ‘test-and-learn’ approach, with a healthy respect for discovering the unknowns. It involves determining the big audacious goals, the coherent fields of action, and any key stakeholders or ‘critical actors’ who will need to action steps along the way.

Impact projects will grow out of this. These are typically bottom-up projects that encourage experimentation and learning, further facilitated by an impact map, which helps outline a working hypothesis around how each individual project will contribute to the bigger directional goal over time.

Explore the full visual mapping tool here.

Importantly, the Challenge Map is not suggesting a linear, strategic planning approach to creating change, but rather it seeks to visualise and organise the many different learnings needed to direct innovation towards a goal.

“For business leaders wanting to innovate –and bring others on that journey – visualising the path ahead can be a way to better identify what needs to change and how to get there.”

Happy businessperson

Better together

Undertaking a Three Horizons exercise helps groups of actors work through the overall directional goal they can agree on, but it can generate somewhat one-dimensional visions for how we get from the present to the future, as stakeholders tend to focus on what they could do themselves and/or list out single or a ‘wish-list’ of actions to undertake in their own contexts.

What can be missing is an overall view of the multi-actor and (often) cross-sector experiments, involving diverse portfolios of action, that will be needed in order to learn the way towards the directional goal. The Challenge Mapping process introduces this diverse perspective — bridging the space between H1 and H3 and helping to identify and shape existing H2 ‘stepping stone’ projects.

This process articulates the relationships between the layers of change, and the learnings needed to ultimately take action.

Intentional Futures
Mapping Towards Intentional Futures: The Yunus Centre, Griffith University 2021
Where to next?

By continuing to experiment with a combination of these two visual tools, The Yunus Centre hopes to make the process of systemic change more engaging and accessible and work towards its own goal of growing impact that supports transitions towards regenerative and distributive economies. 


Professor Ingrid BurkettProfessor Ingrid Burkett is a social designer, designing processes, products and knowledge that deepen social impact and facilitate social innovation. She has contributed to the design of policy and processes in a diversity of fields, including community development, local economic development, disability, procurement and social investment.

Ingrid is Co-Director of The Yunus Centre at Griffith University.

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