Backcasting – Shaping the Future by Reversing the Process

In the realm of strategic planning and envisioning the future, a technique called backcasting has gained popularity as a powerful tool.

Backcasting offers a unique approach that involves working backward from a desired future state to identify the steps needed to achieve it.

We look into the concept of backcasting, its methodology, and its applications in various domains.

What is Backcasting?

Backcasting can be defined as a strategic planning method that starts with envisioning a desirable future outcome and then works backward to determine the necessary actions to reach that future state.

Unlike forecasting, which predicts future scenarios based on past data and trends, backcasting focuses on creating a desired future and designing a path to get there.

What is Backcasting | Explained in 2 min

The Natural Step Funnel and the Idea of Backcasting

The concept of backcasting is closely linked to the Natural Step Funnel, a model used to guide sustainability planning.

The Natural Step Funnel encourages organizations and individuals to identify a sustainable future state and then backcast to develop strategies that align with that vision.

The idea behind backcasting is rooted in the recognition that current practices and systems are unsustainable and that a transformative shift is necessary to achieve a more desirable future.

By envisioning this future state, organizations can set clear goals and develop strategies that steer them away from unsustainable practices.

Backcasting Methodology

The backcasting method typically involves the following steps:

  1. Define the desired future state: Clearly articulate the vision of the future that you want to achieve. This can include environmental, social, economic, or any other relevant aspects.
  2. Identify the gaps: Assess the current state and identify the gaps between the current reality and the desired future state. This analysis helps in understanding the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
  3. Develop pathways: Brainstorm and analyze different pathways and strategies that can bridge the gaps identified in the previous step. Consider multiple scenarios and evaluate their feasibility and impact.
  4. Implement actions: Determine the specific actions required to achieve the desired future state. Assign responsibilities, set timelines, and establish metrics to track progress.
  5. Monitor and adjust: Continuously monitor the progress of the implementation and make adjustments as necessary. Regular evaluation ensures that the strategies remain relevant and effective.

Backcasting Examples and Applications

Annie Duke Backcasting

Annie Duke, a renowned decision strategist and former professional poker player, has popularized the concept of backcasting in the field of decision-making.

She emphasizes the importance of starting with the desired outcome and working backward to make better decisions in uncertain and complex situations.

Backcasting in Transition Culture

The Transition Movement, focused on building resilient and sustainable communities, often employs backcasting as a planning tool.

Transition initiatives use backcasting to imagine future scenarios where communities are resilient to environmental challenges and then develop strategies to transition from the current state to those envisioned scenarios.

Backcasting in Business

Backcasting can be a valuable tool for businesses aiming to align their strategies with sustainability and social responsibility.

By envisioning a future where businesses operate in an environmentally friendly and socially conscious manner, organizations can identify innovative solutions and implement strategies to achieve their goals.

Backcasting in Policy and Planning

Governments and policymakers can utilize backcasting to develop long-term policies and plans that address social, economic, and environmental challenges.

By envisioning a future where these challenges are overcome, policymakers can design policies and implement initiatives to move closer to that desired future state.

Backcasting Example in Business

Let’s say you want to earn $100,000 in revenue from YouTube via Adsense (YouTube ad system) and you get 10,000 views per video per year with an RPM of $5 ($5 per 1,000 views).

To achieve this goal through backcasting, we can work backward to determine the steps required.

Here’s an example of how backcasting can be applied in this business scenario:

  1. Define the desired future state: The desired future state is to earn $100,000 in revenue from YouTube via Adsense.
  2. Identify the gaps: Currently, you are getting 10,000 views per video per year with a $5 RPM. To achieve the revenue goal, you need to identify the gaps in terms of views, engagement, and monetization.
  3. Develop pathways: Brainstorm and analyze different pathways to increase views, engagement, and monetization. Consider the following strategies:
    • Increase the frequency of video uploads: By increasing the number of videos you upload, you can potentially increase your views and reach a larger audience.
    • Improve video quality and content: Focus on creating high-quality content that resonates with your target audience. Engaging and valuable content can help attract more viewers and keep them coming back for more.
    • Optimize video titles, descriptions, and tags: Implement effective SEO strategies to improve the discoverability of your videos and attract more organic traffic.
    • Collaborate with other YouTubers or influencers: Partnering with other creators in your niche can help expand your reach and attract new viewers.
    • Promote your videos through social media and other channels: Utilize various marketing channels to increase awareness of your YouTube channel and drive traffic to your videos.
    • Engage with your audience: Respond to comments, encourage discussions, and build a loyal community around your channel. This can help increase engagement and viewer retention.
  4. Implement actions: Once you have identified the strategies, implement them systematically. Create a content calendar to ensure regular uploads, optimize your videos for SEO, reach out to potential collaborators, and actively engage with your audience.
  5. Monitor and adjust: Continuously monitor the performance of your videos, track key metrics such as views, engagement, and revenue, and make adjustments to your strategies as needed. Analyze the data to identify patterns, trends, and areas for improvement.

Let’s say you can get just the 10,000 views per video and $5 per 1,000 views in terms of ad revenue.

That’s $50 per video per year.

To get to $100,000 in annual revenue you would then to make $100,000 / $50 = 2,000 videos.

By following these steps and consistently implementing the strategies, you can work towards increasing your views and engagement, ultimately leading to higher revenue from YouTube via Adsense.

Backcasting is an iterative process, so it’s essential to regularly assess and refine your strategies to stay on track toward achieving your revenue goal.

Note: It’s important to consider that revenue from YouTube can be influenced by various factors, such as ad rates, viewer demographics, and market conditions. The example provided is for illustrative purposes and should be adapted to your specific context and goals.

The Backcasting Process and Tools

To facilitate the backcasting process, various tools and frameworks are available.

Backcasting workshops provide a structured environment for participants to collectively envision a desirable future state and identify actions to achieve it.

Templates and models can also be used to guide the analysis and planning.

Backcasting and Forecasting: Complementary Approaches

While forecasting focuses on predicting future scenarios based on past trends and data, backcasting takes a different approach by envisioning a future state and designing a pathway to reach it.

Both approaches have their merits and can be used in conjunction to create comprehensive strategies for the future.


Backcasting offers a refreshing perspective on strategic planning by envisioning a desired future state and working backward to design the steps necessary to achieve it.

By shifting the focus from predicting the future to actively shaping it, backcasting empowers individuals, organizations, and policymakers to create positive change and build a more sustainable and desirable future.

With its wide range of applications, backcasting proves to be a valuable tool for those seeking to navigate uncertainty and embrace innovation.

FAQs – Backtesting

1. What is backcasting?

Backcasting is a strategic planning approach that involves envisioning a desired future outcome and then working backward to identify the steps needed to achieve that outcome.

It is a contrast to traditional forecasting, which predicts future outcomes based on historical data.

Backcasting allows for creative thinking and the exploration of alternative pathways to achieve a specific goal or vision.

2. How does backcasting differ from forecasting?

Backcasting differs from forecasting in its approach to planning.

While forecasting uses historical data and trends to predict future outcomes, backcasting starts with a desired future outcome and works backward to determine the necessary actions and strategies to achieve that outcome.

Backcasting is more goal-oriented and flexible, allowing for the exploration of different scenarios and pathways.

3. What is the Natural Step funnel and the idea of backcasting?

The Natural Step funnel is a framework used in backcasting that helps organizations and individuals move from general sustainability principles to more specific goals and actions.

It consists of a series of steps that guide the backcasting process, starting with defining a sustainable future, identifying current barriers and challenges, and developing strategies to overcome those barriers.

The idea of backcasting within the Natural Step funnel is to envision a sustainable future and then work backward to determine the necessary actions to reach that future state.

4. How can backcasting be used in business?

Backcasting can be used in business to set strategic goals, plan for innovation, and drive sustainability initiatives.

By envisioning a desired future state, businesses can identify the necessary actions, technologies, and practices to achieve their goals.

Backcasting encourages creative thinking, fosters collaboration, and helps businesses adapt to changing market conditions and environmental challenges.

5. Can you provide an example of backcasting?

Let’s consider an example of a manufacturing company that wants to reduce its carbon emissions to achieve carbon neutrality within the next decade.

They start by envisioning a future where their operations are powered entirely by renewable energy, and their products are produced using sustainable materials.

To achieve this future state, they work backward and identify the necessary steps: implementing energy-efficient technologies, adopting renewable energy sources, optimizing production processes, sourcing sustainable materials, and investing in research and development for innovative solutions.

By backcasting, the company can create a roadmap with specific actions and milestones to guide their transition towards carbon neutrality.

6. How can backcasting be applied in the mining industry?

Backcasting can be applied in the mining industry to drive sustainable practices, minimize environmental impact, and promote responsible resource extraction.

By envisioning a future where mining operations prioritize environmental conservation, community engagement, and ethical practices, mining companies can work backward to identify the necessary strategies and actions.

This could involve implementing advanced technologies for efficient resource extraction, adopting reclamation and restoration measures, engaging with local communities, and investing in research and development for sustainable mining practices.

Backcasting helps mining companies align their operations with long-term sustainability goals while mitigating negative environmental and social impacts.

7. Are there any companies known for using backcasting?

Several companies and organizations are known for using backcasting as part of their strategic planning and sustainability initiatives.

One notable example is Interface Inc., a global flooring manufacturer that pioneered sustainable business practices.

Interface used backcasting to set ambitious goals for reducing its environmental footprint, such as eliminating waste and becoming a carbon-neutral company.

Other companies, such as Unilever, Patagonia, and IKEA, have also incorporated backcasting principles into their strategic planning to drive sustainability and innovation.

Backcasting provides these companies with a structured approach to achieving their sustainability targets and adapting to changing market demands.

8. How can backcasting be used in a workshop or group setting?

Backcasting workshops are effective for engaging stakeholders, fostering collaboration, and generating innovative ideas.

In a workshop setting, participants collectively envision a future state and then work backward to identify the necessary steps to achieve that vision.

The workshop facilitator can guide participants through the backcasting process, encouraging creative thinking, and ensuring diverse perspectives are considered.

Tools such as brainstorming and creativity sessions, scenario planning exercises, and visualization techniques can be used to facilitate the backcasting workshop.

By involving a diverse group of participants, backcasting workshops generate shared ownership of the future vision and enable the development of comprehensive strategies to achieve the desired outcome.

9. What are the key steps in conducting a backcasting exercise?

A backcasting exercise typically involves the following key steps:

  1. Define the desired future state: Envision a future outcome or goal that is desirable and sustainable.
  2. Identify current barriers: Identify the existing obstacles, challenges, or trends that hinder the realization of the desired future state.
  3. Generate alternative pathways: Explore and develop multiple scenarios or pathways to overcome the barriers and achieve the desired future state.
  4. Determine necessary actions: Identify the specific actions, strategies, and milestones required to progress along each pathway.
  5. Evaluate and prioritize actions: Assess the feasibility, effectiveness, and potential impacts of the identified actions and prioritize them based on their significance and feasibility.
  6. Develop an implementation plan: Create a detailed roadmap that outlines the sequence of actions, responsible parties, timelines, and required resources to achieve the desired future state.
  7. Monitor and adjust: Continuously monitor progress, evaluate outcomes, and adapt the implementation plan as needed to stay on track toward the desired future state.

10. How does backcasting relate to the Theory of Change?

Backcasting and the Theory of Change share a similar emphasis on envisioning a desired future state and planning the necessary actions to achieve it.

Both approaches involve working backward from the desired outcome to identify the strategies and steps needed to reach that outcome.

While backcasting is commonly used in the context of strategic planning and sustainability, the Theory of Change is often employed in social and developmental contexts.

The Theory of Change focuses on mapping out the causal pathways between activities, outputs, outcomes, and impacts to bring about social change.

Backcasting and the Theory of Change can complement each other, providing a holistic approach to planning and implementation in various domains.

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