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Your signal spotter starter kit

by Futures Centre, Feb 24
6 minutes read


So you’ve heard about signals of change and you want to hone your senses to spot them in the wild. You’re in the right place!

Here’s a starter kit that will take you through everything from what a signal is, to how to pick them out from the clutter.

Just watch our short video and try out three very short exercises, and you’ll be away. We can’t wait to see what’s catching your eyes!

What is a signal of change? (6 mins)



Signals of change are new ideas or innovations that could change the game for sustainability in the future. The change could come in ways that are positive, negative, or just complex! Wherever you look, signals are waiting to be spotted.

Choose one of these categories to explore how a myriad of signals can be spotted in any one field:

Technology Policy
Business model Citizen action
Research finding Design
Application Idea / innovation

Which box did you pick?

Did any of the signals surprise you?

Starter kit essentials (1 min)

Here’s what you will need to embark on your signal spotting journey.

Pick up each of these attributes by inhaling them one deep breath at a time.

Curiosity Hawk eyes
Interest in the future Questioning mind

Great! Now that you’re all geared up, let’s dive right into our exercises.

Exercise 1 (8 mins)

Now that you know what a signal of change is, click on these four signals to learn more about each of them.

Can you identify what two things they all have in common, that is different from any other news story?

What did you come up with?

Let’s take a closer look at each signal to see what makes them tick.

Robotic vegetable factory: First time a farm is run entirely with robots, without any farmers. By cutting down on energy intensive inputs, chemicals and soil erosion, this could be a more sustainable way of producing food. If located in an urban area, the carbon footprint of transport could be reduced.
Swedish meat tax: First time a government considers a meat tax, to encourage sustainable food consumption. Farmers could then grow crops for human consumption, rather than animal feed. Consumers could also reduce meat consumption, and look for alternative sources of protein.
Flipper vessel propulsion: First time a flapping fin design is used as opposed to traditional propellers, to increase the energy efficiency of vessels. Could such designs be scaled up to propel larger ships more efficiently, decreasing their use of fuel over the same distance?
Cancer leading cause of death in China: Cancer rates are at an unprecedented high in China and is causing a public outcry. This puts pressure on the government to deal with pollution and improve public healthcare.

(*What is good / bad for sustainability is often not binary – read the full signals to weigh more implications)

So what do these signals have in common? That’s right,

1) They are all things that we’re seeing for the first time, or we’re seeing a big step up in significance.

2) Each has the potential to change the future in its own unique way, with implications for sustainability.

Great work, we are now ready to move on to the next exercise.

Exercise 2 (15 mins)

Look through these six media sources. How many of them are signals of change? *Hint you might have to scan the whole article to get the full picture.

1. Aldi launches ‘flexitarian’ Full of Beans chilled mince


2. Germany’s new crowdfunded train sounds almost too good to be true


3. Are robots coming to take investor jobs on Wall Street?


4. Duterte: Terrorism funded by illegal drug trade


5. Dubai wants all government documents on blockchain by 2020


6. Australian family rescued after night on Japan mountain


How many of those do you think are signals?

We saw two, and here’s how we got there:

1. This is heartening news of a big food company riding the flexitarian trend. However the product of beef mince and beans is not gamechanging for the flexitarian movement, so we do not consider this a signal of change.
2. This is a signal of change because it is the first time a train service has been crowdfunded by citizen-consumers, with tickets costing less than one-fifth the fare of the national service, and running on renewable energy.
3. This is more of a summary of a long term trend of increasng robotization rather than a signal of change. The trend is not a new one, and the article does not highlight specifically one thing that is disrupting the trend.
4. This is not a signal of change because it reports a link between terrorism and the illegal drug trade, which is useful to know but is not in itself an idea or innovation that can shape a sustainable future. 
5. This is a signal of change because it is the first time that a government will have its documents secured on blockchain. If blockchain is widely adopted, it could enable global decentralised organisations and self organising communities, which could help us build the future we want.
6. This is not a signal of change because it does not have wider implications for change or for sustainability.

Did you pick out the same signals that we did? Are there any you disagree with?

We love to be challenged, let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Exercise 3 (5 mins)

What signals of change have you seen recently?

Try to come up with three, and think of why each one is game-changing.

My signal of change 1:


This is a signal of change because:



My signal of change 2:


This is a signal of change because:



My signal of change 3:


This is a signal of change because:



Nice one! Share the signals you’ve spotted in the comments below so we can continue the discussion on what makes something a signal (or not), and what the implications for sustainability are.

Join the signal spotting community (5 mins)

Now that you’ve got the hang of spotting your own signals, why not use the Futures Centre as your space to keep track of change? We are a dynamic community tracking what’s new to find opportunities for a sustainable future.

Here’s how to join the community and get the most out of the site:

Congratulations! You are now a bonafide signal spotter.

Begin now!

What is the first signal that you will share with the world?

*To submit a signal you should first be registered on the site and logged in.


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