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The Sigma Scan

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The Sigma Scan is a searchable set of 256 brief papers exploring potential future issues and trends over the next 50 years which may have an impact on UK public policy. The papers cover a wide range of subjects, from climate science to social science, space exploration, economics and human rights.

To produce the Sigma Scan, the Foresight Horizon Scanning Centre has drawn on material from more than 6000 document sources – from scientific journals to futurists' blogs – and interviews with 300 leading thinkers. This has been condensed into unique insights on the issues policymakers will face in the future. We use the Scan papers in workshops and projects to promote better awareness of different potential futures in government policy-making. You can browse and search these papers at, and let us know what you think of them by contacting us.

Following a major review and refresh exercise carried out with the support of RAND Europe, over a quarter of Sigma Scan papers have recently been redrafted to reflect new source material, or merged and refocused. A selection of these is featured below in our Where to start section.

Foresight would like to acknowledge the researchers and authors of the original Sigma Scan papers, Outsights, Ipsos MORI and Institute for the Future, and the contributions of Imperial College and Demos.

Where to start

A selection of interesting papers

Divided Income, Divided Society: Hardening Attitudes to Poverty

Much of the current UK debate focuses on relative poverty. Policymakers talk of providing opportunities for people to lift themselves out of poverty and social exclusion. However recent research suggests that the way poverty is perceived in Britain is often primarily on absolute grounds, and levels of public sympathy for those in relative poverty is limited.

Dangerous Climate Change and Tipping Points

There is no single definition of dangerous climate change but one way of describing it is climate change severe enough to have a major effect on societies, economies and the wider environment. This would include the occurrence of ‘tipping points’ in the climate system.

Leaving the “Ever-Closer Union”: Could Britain Withdraw From the EU?

Since the United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, there have been ongoing divisions over European Union membership, budgets, structures and priorities. Various EU member states have supported different policy priorities and had different views on how to engage with a changing security, economic and political landscape in Europe and worldwide.

Clean Coal Energy Generation Using Gasification Techniques

Coal gasification and other technologies may be employed in countries around the globe to provide 'cleaner' fossil fuel energy as countries turn to their own coal deposits to meet growing energy needs and to reduce reliance on energy supplies from other countries.

Divine Division: Could Sectarian Religious Conflict Engulf a Major Region?

A major sectarian conflict along one or more of the world's major religious faultlines could have destabilising effects around the world. Political instability or economic recession could be an axis along which conflict develops.

See the full list.

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