Research and Records


Scanning for a Brighter Future- Report from the 2012 Searchlight Workshop

Scanning for a Brighter Future- Searchlight 2012



This workshop report highlights the creative findings and ideas that emerged from the annual Searchlight gathering that brought together representatives from the participating organizations and a small group of foresight experts. The goal of the April 2012 workshop was to identify novel ways of framing critical problems facing poor and vulnerable populations with a focus on the subject matter areas of livelihoods and urbanization.

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East Africa Future Day-Nairobi November 2012

"Guns & Roses: Security, Ecology and East African Integration" was the theme for East Africa Future Day organized by Future Challenges, the Bertlesmann Stiftung Foundation, and SID East Africa with support from the Rockefeller Foundation. The event focused on the hopes, fears, opportunities and challenges faced by young East Africans as they look toward a regionally integrated future.



Future Day- Berlin July 2012

With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bertlesmann Stiftung and Future Challenges hosted the first Future Day event in Berlin. The event focused on debate and preparation to confront the biggest challenges we face as a global community. The talks focused on two megatrends: economic globalization and demographic change. For an overview of the Future Day event, please view the video below.



Mapping the Concept of Equitable Growth

What does it take to achieve equitable growth to enhance the livelihood opportunities of poor and vulnerable people? Often what it takes is the engagement and collaboration of the public, private, and civil society sectors, but what does this actually look like? The Mind Map for Equitable Growth, produced by Research Team at the Rockefeller Foundation, engages this question to conceptualize how the forces at play within these three sectors interact. Mapping the points of leverage within each sector reveals multiple, integrated approaches that could be taken by markets, governments, and civil society groups to reduce poverty and stimulate economic opportunities. The Mind Map for Equitable Growth is intended to be a conceptual tool to stimulate ideas and help development practitioners of all sorts envision new paths towards greater equity.

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View the Map



Connecting the Dots: Information Visualization and Text Analysis of the Searchlight Project Newsletters

Searchlight report cover



Searchlight newsletters provide on-the-ground analysis of a variety of development issues in particular regions around the world. This report provides a visual representation of the emerging trends- particularly those that have the potential to trigger a future shift in direction. Using the information in this report, we hope to see how addressing the global problems of today wil impact the lives of generations to follow.

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Our Strategy

Today, more than ever, the Rockefeller Foundation’s areas of interest are characterized by high levels of uncertainty and complexity. In the non-profit sector, a rapidly changing landscape is challenging established philanthropic models and beliefs. New and new types of actors—such as social entrepreneurs, private-public partnerships, and emerging donors from the developing world—coupled with the emergence of novel social networking technologies and the rise of more evidence-based approaches in managing, developing, implementing and evaluating philanthropic activities, all require much faster re-assessment and adjustment of funding strategies than in the past. In this fast moving environment, the Foundation aims to position itself as an innovative player that defines complex problems by applying a systems thinking approach and mobilizes partners across the non-profit, for-profit, and public sectors to test, scale, and evaluate cutting-edge intervention opportunities.


The Foundation’s centralized Research and Records Unit was created in 2007 in response to these new challenges to provide a broad and high-quality evidence base for decision-making, to illuminate risks and opportunities in the contextual environment in which the Foundation operates, and to identify trends that could spur the organization’s innovative capacity. The Research and Records Unit facilitates access to knowledge and knowledge sharing by serving as a steward of the Foundation’s acquired knowledge base of almost 100 years, one of the organization’s most distinguishing assets.

Focusing on the present-day, the unit surfaces crucial information and knowledge to inform ongoing behavior change. Looking into the future, it anticipates long-term contextual changes, investigates future trends, and incorporates forward-thinking perspectives to shape the organization’s overarching strategy. 

The Research and Records team is an active member of research and records networks to ensure excellence with respect to methods, tools, and innovations in the global research field, particularly in the non-profit, philanthropic, and development sector.



Searchlight Function

Anticipating and tracking long-term trends and novel research results is a critical component to understand the future of development and poverty. In addition to utilizing more widely known horizon scanning methods, the Research and Records Unit has undertaken an innovative approach to generating applicable intelligence that emerges from a forward-looking, on-the-ground perspective throughout Africa, Asia, and the Americas. It is known as the “Searchlight” function—a group of forward-looking, regionally-focused horizon scanning and trend monitoring grantees that conduct regular, ongoing scanning for novel ideas, research results, and “clues” to where the world is evolving.

The Searchlight function has its roots in the growing interest on the part of governments, philanthropies, and non-profit organizations to apply forward-looking analysis to expand opportunities, strengthen resilience, and improve the lives of poor and vulnerable populations worldwide. The importance and need of applying foresight for the purposes of development—an approach that has been termed “pro-poor foresight”—is evident in the everyday world around us, as the effects of systemic crises have led to unexpected consequences that will likely have significant impacts for years to come.

Each organization participating in the Searchlight function contributes to achieving these objectives by preparing monthly trend monitoring newsletters that reflect their points of view, areas of expertise, and knowledge of local conditions. Participating organizations create these newsletters by monitoring secondary sources in their regions—including academic journals, think tank reports, conference proceedings, newspapers, magazines, grey literature, and activities occurring in their own networks—and aggregate this trend analysis information for distribution to the Foundation and to the wider research, non-profit, and policymaking communities.

Taken together, these publicly available newsletters outline a rich mosaic of themes, patterns, and concepts that provide early indications of how various driving forces might intersect and interact with one another over time. In addition to the preparation of these written trend analysis materials, the Searchlight function is envisioned as an iterative process that builds and links together networks of talented individuals and cross-cutting institutions that can highlight how the complex, sometimes disjointed findings of today might fit together and constitute the new realities of tomorrow.

Searchlight Scanning Partners

The 12 current and previous Searchlight organizations are identified below, grouped by region.



  • Noviscape, Thailand: A start-up, for-profit consultancy focusing on large scale societal shifts—such as identity issues, the relationship between demographics and urbanization, and new trends in food production—throughout Southeast Asia. Noviscape continues to connect the trend scanning conducted for the Searchlight function with an IDRC-funded project investigating the future of megacities in the region.
  • Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, Singapore: Six university-based researchers and 11 Searchlight Associates scan for trends in the areas of trade, health, and energy. In addition, the Searchlight Associates produce podcasts, conduct interviews with thought leaders about trends and developments impacting disadvantaged communities and explore the solutions to these. In 2011, the Lee Kuan Yew School organized a high-level, forward-looking Roundtable Discussion for policymakers focused on the issue of “Rising Asia, Growing Inequality.”
  • Intellecap, India: A social-sector advisory firm that focuses on tracking new ideas emerging from social entrepreneurs in South Asia. Intellecap organized the 2011 in-person gathering of the Searchlight grantees in Mumbai, India and has distributed its newsletters widely on its blog.
  • Strategic Foresight Group, India: A forward-looking research organization that investigates a series of long-term geopolitical, economic, technological and societal trends in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia Thailand, and Vietnam. Strategic Foresight Group previously conducted trend scanning for the Searchlight function on broader contextual issues related to the Middle East and Northern Africa.
  • IndoChina Research, Cambodia: IndoChina Research is the newest Searchlight member, covering Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, and brings there experience conducting market research and customized consumer surveys to the network. IndoChina Research conducts primary survey and public opinion research as a central component of the Searchlight newsletters it produces.
  • National Institute of Science and Technology Policy and Strategic Studies (NISTPASS), Vietnam (2009-2011): Although not currently a Searchlight partner, this government organization focused on the future of science and technology issues in the region. NISTPASS used the Searchlight newsletters to inform the development of Vietnam’s science and technology strategy through 2020.


  • Society for International Development, Tanzania/Kenya: A civil society organization that tracks media, regional integration, and social issues throughout the Greater Horn of East Africa. The Society for International Development organized the April 2010 meeting of the Searchlight grantees at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Bellagio, Italy.
  • South Africa Node of the Millennium Project, South Africa: A non-governmental organization conducting broad scale scanning on a range of development-related issues in Southern Africa. This institution has also developed a knowledge sharing platform— —to serve as a public repository and social network for foresight-related resources on the continent.
  • Center for Democracy and Development, Nigeria: A non-governmental organization focusing on security, political, and social issues in West Africa. The Center for Democracy and Development reports on a different issue each month and has distributed the Searchlight newsletters to a growing network of partners throughout the region.
  • African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET), Ghana: ACET is a non-profit policy research and advisory institution that will monitor a range of topics across the region by utilizing input from selected interns located in countries throughout West Africa. ACET plans to distribute its Searchlight newsletters to decision-makers, policy-makers, and researchers within its network.


  • FORO Nacional/Internacional, Peru: A civil society organization covering a variety of political and economic issues in South America as a way to track marco-level developments in that region. FORO’s produces both an English and Spanish language version of the newsletter and has developed a systematic source base and scanning methodology, and it organized a conference on future trends in Latin America in 2012.
  • RAND Pardee Center, United States (2009-2011): Although not currently a Searchlight partner, this think tank followed poverty-related issues associated with political, economic, and social trends in the United States. RAND interacted closely with the Foundation to respond to a set of specific trend-related questions that are relevant to the Rockefeller Foundation’s issue areas and initiatives.



Searchlight Visualization Partners


While the Searchlight newsletters are designed to take a forward-looking, cross-cutting perspective, the strategic value of the information becomes most apparent when information from across the entire body of work produced as part of the Searchlight function is synthesized and analyzed together. This is accomplished by way of identifying emerging thematic clusters and creating high value-added visuals to emphasize the results and findings for the purposes of strategy development, learning, and wider dissemination. The Foundation’s Research and Records Unit is partnering with four organizations to undertake this work, including:

  • Institute for the Future (IFTF), United States: The Institute for the Future (IFTF) will analyze the content of the newsletters and develop an innovative visualization map of the themes and ideas that emerge. IFTF will also develop a web-based tool that could be updated with information from the newsletters on a regular basis. Finally, IFTF’s analysis will also likely result in an innovative, participatory foresight “game” that could involve a large number of participants from other partners, networks, and the public at large.
  • Boston University Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, United States: The Boston University Pardee Center will prepare a written report analyzing the body of information from the Searchlight newsletters using text-mining and data-mining algorithms to extract patterns and linkages.
  • University of Manchester, United Kingdom: The Manchester Institute of Innovation Research will apply a network analysis approach to the newsletters. It will also organize the publication of papers emerging from this visual and thematic synthesis in the peer-reviewed journal Foresight.
  • National Horizon Scanning Center, Government of Singapore: The National Horizon Scanning Center will use the collective material from the Searchlight newsletters as input into sophisticated trend monitoring software and will report on the results emerging from this analysis on a pro bono basis.

For additional information about the Searchlight function, please contact Claudia Juech at or Evan Michelson at


Catalysts for Change
For Change

Paths Out of Poverty

The Catalysts for Change: Paths Out of Poverty Searchlight map and online game.  


Order a paper copy and sign up to receive alerts about the online interactive map.

Read the Catalysts for Change report, Summary of an Experiment in Global Engagement.

Searchlight Newsletters
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Urban Poor

Searchlight Convening 2011 – The Future of the Urban Poor

Report and participant reflections from the 2011 convening in Mumbai.

Read Report (PDF)

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