Dr. Linda Groff & Dr. Paul Smoker
Co-Directors, Global Options



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Introduction/Overview: Why Studying the Future and Change is Important

Change is happening at an ever faster rate today--driven partly by technological changes leading to changes in all other areas of our lives, and by the increasing interdependence between countries and peoples today, as well as the decentralization of societies and institutions within countries (also furthered by information technologies today). The end of the Cold War is also changing political and economic borders, systems, and alignments, as everyone seeks to become part of a global economy and society, while still maintaining national, ethnic, and cultural identities and meaning. While the danger of all-out nuclear war between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. (now Russia and fourteen other former Republics of the Soviet Union) has greatly receeded, with the end of the Cold War, nuclear terrorism remains a danger, and other issues, such as sustainable development and preservation of the environment, have gained greater ascendancy. This has made it necessary for governments, businesses, organizations, and people to better understand change and the future, since we will all be living and working in a future world that promises to be different from today in significant ways. When people better understand change, they also often see more opportunities for their lives and ways to better positively influence the future that is being created.

Brief History of the Future Studies Field

While there have always been futurists, in the sense of people who looked to the future and who tried to understand change, the field of Future Studies itself--which tends to be very interdisciplinary --really arose during World War II and in the postwar period since then.

Range of Futurist Views and Perspectives

Within the Futures field, there have always been a wide range of views and perspectives from people who have come from a very wide range of different disciplines and backgrounds and interests. Futurists run a whole gamut of views between the following two poles, and everything inbetween:

Characteristics of a Futurist Perspective

While Futurists themselves represent a wide range of backgrounds, interests, and perspectives (as noted above), there are nonetheless certain characteristics of a futurist perspective that most futurists would agree upon, and which distinguish Future Studies as a field from many others disciplines and fields of study. These characteristics include:

Time Periods for Studying the Future

There are various time periods for studying the future, which were outlined by Earl Joseph of the Minnesota World Future Society Chapter. These periods are:

Most individual people, as well as most businesses and governments, only look ahead as much as four to five years in their planning (in politics until the next election and in business through the next five years). It is important to look further ahead, however, in a world undergoing such rapid change today. Joseph stresses that we are creating the world that we will be living in in five to twenty years from now (the Middle Range Future) by what we are doing right now. Thus almost anything can be created--'if" we have a vision of what we want to create AND are also committed personally to that vision--in five to twenty years from now.

It is also important to remember that while past-present-& future are all somehow interconnected, the only place from which to change the future is in the NOW. The power for change resides in the present moment, for that is the only place from which our thoughts or actions can actually be changed.

Holistic/Systems View of Our Place in the Universe (as Systems within Systems within Systems)

While it is common, especially in the West, to look at the universe and world as being made up of separate, unconnected individuals and things (which is especially characteristic of industrial-era, Newtonian Physics thinking, as well), Future Studies as a field tends instead to look at the universe and world as being made up of dynamically changing, interdependent parts. The universe and world can thus be seen as being made up of systems within systems within systems within systems. Every system is in turn made up of smaller, interacting, interdependent parts; and each of these parts is in turn another system with its own interdependent, interacting parts.

One could thus diagram these relationships as follows: [INSERT DIAGRAM]

Key Subjects Studied by Futurists

While futurists can study the future of anything and everything, and while people who call themselves futurists often have a holistic, systems approach that looks at connections and relationships between changes in one area of life as these relate to changes in other areas of life, there are nonetheless certain key subjects that futurists tend to study a lot. These include:

  • The Global Megacrisis Issue, including the Relationships Between:
  • Global Peace, Conflict, and War;
  • The End of the East-West Conflict and the Cold War;
  • The United Nations System and Global Governance;
  • North-South Relations, and the Increasing Gap (Both Between and Within Countries) Between Rich and Poor. Today there are not only economic haves and have nots; there are also technological haves and have nots, and it is vitally important that everyone who wants access to modern information age technologies (and hence to information about our rapidly changing world) can increasing gain such access.
  • The Emergence of Larger Regional Economic Blocs, including the Asia/Pacific Region; the European Community (EC); the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA); and now other regional blocs, including blocs of countries in the South. In the 1980s, talk that the 21st Century would be the century of the Pacific Rim (or Asia/Pacific), no doubt led Europeans to move more quickly towards a formal European Community (to compete), which in turn furthered development of NAFTA in North America, and the emergence of other regional economic blocs.
  • Global Economic Trends, including the emergence of a global economy, as well as larger regional economic blocs (above), and privatization of economies within countries, as well as reactions to privatization (as is occurring in parts of the former Soviet Union, such as Russia, where pulls to both the right and left economically and politically are occurring, along with reforms).
  • Global Political Trends, including democratization, and reactions to that (especially by those who feel disenfranchised or left out of all the modern changes happening in the world).
  • Societal Fragmentation, as the glue that held the industrial age, centralized nation-state together breaks up and diversifies and decentralizes society; as media diversifies and people no longer all watch the same programs (except perhaps CNN); and old beliefs and identities are challenged by rapid change which creates anxiety in people, fear of change and the future, and hence resistance to change, which sometimes takes the form of fundamentalism, and an attempt to go back to an earlier, so-called better, simpler, idealic time (which never existed quite as people remember it). The only problem is that one cannot go back, one can only go forward--while hopefully also taking into the future what was best and worth preserving from the past.
  • Societal Restructuring and Environmental Impacts of New Technologies, including:
  • (A) High Technologies, such as:

    (B) Appropriate or Intermediate Technologies, tied to Sustainable Development, Living in Harmony with Nature, & Voluntary Simplicity.

  • Workplace Trends, including:
  • Educational/Learning Trends;
  • New Scientific Paradigms (or overarching worldviews);
  • Changing Cultural Paradigms;
  • Global Spiritual/Religious/Consciousness Traditions and Trends .
  • One can also sometimes distinguished between futurists who are generalists (and look at the interactions of changes in a number of diverse areas) and futurists who deal more with change in a particular area, such as the future of energy. In general, however, people who choose to call themselves "futurists" tend to fit the former definition, and even if futurists tend to specialize in particular areas, they usually look at the area within the broader context of numerous other changes happening in the world that impact upon their particular area of interest.

    Methodologies for Studying Change and the Future

    Since the future has not yet happened, futurists have had to develop a number of different methodologies for studying the future and change that are different from traditional scientific methodologies for studying the present and the past--on which data already exists or can be generated. These methodologies range from quantitative, left brain methods to visionary, creative, intuitive right brain methods, and various combinations inbetween. It is important to remember here that futurists believe in many alternative futures--including probable, possible, and preferable futures. Futurists are thus not only interested in looking at probable futures (based on extending past trends and developments into the future), but also at designing preferable alternative futures, and showing how one can plan to get from the present state to this more desirable future. A wide range of methodologies must thus be employed to cover these very diverse different views of the future. Some of the more prominent futures methodologies include the following:

    Steps in Designing an Alternative Future World

    There are perhaps unlimited potential versions of the steps that one must go through to design an alternative future world. Marvin Soroos came up with five stages,* to which we have added three additional stages (the last three). We have also added different future studies methodologies (from the previous list above) which are relevant to each of these stages, as follows:

  • From Marvin Soroos, "A Methodological Overview of the Process of Designing Alternative Future Worlds," in Planning Alternative World Futures, Ed. by Beres and Targ
  • Key Organizations Involved in the Study of the Future and Change

    Two of the most prominent international organizations devoted to the study of the future include:

    Future Studies Conferences, including:

  • World Future Society Conferences:
  • World Futures Studies Federation Conferences:
  • Other Conferences of Other Groups:
  • Declarations of Organizations and/or Conferences Related to Our Global, National, or Local Futures

    Future Studies Universities and Programs

    Additional Online Universities, Programs, and Courses



    Books and Articles:


    Simulations,Games,Interactive Exercises:





    Net Directories:



    On-Line Museums:

    Web Home Pages:

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