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Weak signals as a flexible framing space for enhanced management and decision-making

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This paper revisits theories of weak signal analysis using the concepts of 'framing' and 'meta-framing' to provide an enriched methodological environment for management and decision-making in turbulent contexts. This attempt takes place within the effort that futures studies have deployed to cope with the need to be 'early' in change processes, and is intended to improve firms' preparedness regarding uncertainties, threats and opportunities. The weak signal notion is one of the metaphors coined to accomplish that, thanks to the seminal role played by Igor Ansoff in the 1970s and 1980s, and the inputs of more recent continuators who have shaped a wide methodological environment. After over 20 years of weak signal exploration, some pending issues suggest the need to re-open some basic hypotheses as well as the use of a wide-angle lens to review the Ansoff legacy and its relevance for management and decision-making. The concepts of framing and meta-framing are the means that will allow us to do this by adding a more reflexive dimension to weak signal analysis, taking account of analysts' and commissioning organisations' own biases, and enhancing firms' robustness against possibly disruptive futures. Pragmatic managerial orientations of how to make use of methodological blends involving reflexive steps will be outlined, also suggesting diverse tracks for further research on weak signal theories and their contributions to both futures studies and strategic management.

Keywords: constructivism; framing; paradigmatic biases; reflexivity; weak signal

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: College of Management of Technology, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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