Dr. Linda Groff & Dr. Paul Smoker
Co-Directors, Global Options
INTRODUCTION TO FUTURE STUDIES
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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:
- "Doom and Gloom" Futurists: so-called because they
tend to focus on current real world problems, without easy solutions (such
as the nuclear danger during the Cold War, or the continuing population
explosion, world hunger, depletion of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable
resources, and environmental preservation and pollution) and project these
trends into the future, showing that "if current trends continue,...then
the future will be much worse than the present."
It is important to note that even "Doom and Gloom" Futurists
are not totally pessimistic, however. Indeed, no futurist would dedicate
their whole life to studying change and the future if they were totally
pessimistic. The major reason for pointing out negative trends and scenarios
for the future is to alert people to the potential problems ahead, so that
we humans can be informed and change our current policies so that a more
desirable future can be created.
- Futurists who create different scenarios of the future--from
negative, "doom and gloom" views, to most probable or likely
views, to positive, visionary views (an inbetween perspective, that acknowledges
all these possibilities for the world future, and which points out that
our actions and policies NOW will help to determine which of these scenarios
actually transpires in the future).
- Positive, Visionary, and Evolutionary Futurists: they focus
more on positively imaging the more desirable futures that we would like
to create; articulating the positive values that we would like a future
world to be based on; focusing on technological, societal, and human potentials;
tracking groups that are actually trying to create such preferable futures
in the world today; and generally empowering people to see that we always
have choices (in what we think & feel, and in how we behave in the
world), and that we DO have the power to create a more desirable future
world by committing in the present to change what we are doing NOW.
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:
- Seeing Change as the Norm and It is Speeding Up
- Seeing Events as Interrelated (within a Whole Systems Context),
not Separate and Unconnected.
- Taking a Holistic, or Whole Systems Perspective in Looking at
- Accepting as a Premise that there are Many Alternative Futures.
- Distinguishing between Possible, Probable, & Preferable Futures:
- Possible Futures: anything (good or bad, probable or improbable)
that could happen in the future.
- Probable Futures: what is most likely or probable to happen
in the future (based on extending past trends or developments into the
future in some way).
- Preferable Futures: what is most desirable or preferable to
happen in the future.
- The Goal is to make preferable or desirable futures more probable,
by visualizing clearly what we want to create (including the values that
we want a future world to be based on), and then committing energy, resources,
time, and our lives to creating that future world.
- Another Goal is to also note possible futures, that though they
might not be probable or likely, if they did occur, would have a great
impact on people's lives. We should thus be aware of such possibilities.
- Helping People Realize that there are always Consequences to
what we do (or don't do), and "If we always do what we've always done,
then we'll always get what we've always gotten."
- The Importance of Ideas, Values, and Positive Visions in Creating
a Better World Future.
- Empowering People to Choose and Act Responsibly and Consciously
in the Present, Because Those Actions WILL Help in Creating the Future:
helping people to realize that we are ALL creating the future that we will
be living and working in by what we think and do every day of our lives,
and that we thus always have choices in what we do. In short, we CAN
all make a difference, and we need to all become conscious of this
fact and then make a commitment to do something--no matter how small it
may seem--that we feel could help to make this world a better place.
- Accepting the Importance of Short, Medium, and Long-Range Planning:
In short, not leaving the future to chance, but proactively trying to create
the future that we would like to be living in--for ourselves and our posterity.
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
- Near Term Future: up to one year from now.
- Short Range Future: one to five years from now.
- Middle Range Future: five to twenty years from now.
- Long Range Future: twenty to fifty years from now.
- Far Future: fifty plus years from now.
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
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.
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,
- Global Population Growth;
- Food and World Hunger;
- Energy Sources (Traditional, Nonrenewable Fossil Fuels & Alternative,
Renewable Energy Sources);
- Environmental Pollution;
- Sustainable Development; and
- Global Climate Change (including Global Warming); and
- Other Global Catastrophes.
(A) High Technologies, such as:
- Computers, Telecommunications, Robotics--the First Stage of the Information
- The new Interactive, Multimedia, Internet, World Wide Web, Virtual
Reality Technology Stage of the Information Revolution;
- Genetic Engineering, Recombinant DNA, and Gene Splicing;
- Space Exploration, Industrialization, and Settlement; and
(B) Appropriate or Intermediate Technologies, tied to Sustainable
Development, Living in Harmony with Nature, & Voluntary Simplicity.
Workplace Trends, including:
New Scientific Paradigms (or overarching worldviews);
Changing Cultural Paradigms;
Global Spiritual/Religious/Consciousness Traditions and Trends .
- New Management Styles;
- Employment/Job Trends;
- Technology & Jobs;
- Diversity and Women Working.
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
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:
- Trend Extrapolation: Projects past trends into the future, for
some given period of time. Assumes that the future will in some way be
an extension of past trends.
- Dynamic Systems Analysis and Computer Modelling: Shows how various
variables in different areas interact with each other, within a whole systems
context, over time.
- Simulations and Games: An attempt to take certain variables
from "reality" in some area and create a computer model or game
situation in which one can see how those variables might interact with
each other over time. Computers or humans (as role players) or both can
be involved. With computers, humans can play "what if" games,
where by making certain choices, they can then see the consequences (in
terms of policy) that follow from those choices.
- Cross Impact Analysis: Shows how choices concerning one variable
interact with choices concerning another variable, providing a table of
all possible combinations of choices for each variable, and showing which
combinations are viable and which not.
- Technological Forecasting: An attempt to forecast what technological
breakthroughs and developments are most likely to occur in future and when
they are likely to occur. In an age in which technology is a major driving
force for change, such as today, keeping on top of the latest developments
in technology is essential--especially if one works in the high technology
- Technological Impact Assessment: Looks at how new technologies
are likely to impact on society or the environment.
- Environmental Impact Assessment: Looks at how new developments
in some area will impact on the environment. Often required today, before
new building plans can be approved.
- Social Impact Assessment: Looks at how new developments in some
area will impact on society or on some community.
- Delphi Polls of Experts--on Either Probable or Preferable Futures:
Poll experts in some area on what events they think are most probable (or
preferable) and when they are most likely to occur; also the reasons for
their answers. Summarize results; give to experts; ask them to take poll
again. If they think other people's reasons for their answers are better,
they 'can' change their answer the second time; or the third time they
take the poll. Gives good results re: experts views of what's likely to
occur in future.
- Futures Wheels: A group brainstorming technique to quickly determine
what some of the first, second, and third order consequences might be,
'if' some event were to occur in the future--either for the first time,
or if something were to either decrease or increase in value in future.
Everything follows from this event put in the center of the futures wheel.
- Scenarios: A possible sequence of events that 'could' happen
in the future, based on certain initial conditions or assumptions and what
could follow from that. Futurists often construct at least two or three
different scenarios about the future in some area, believing that different
alternative futures are possible. Examples include: best case, worst case,
most probable case, and other type scenarios.
- Science Fiction: A possible story of what could happen in some
future social or world situation. Based on a scenario of some kind (i.e.,
a possible sequence of events that 'could' happen in the future) to which
characters (with their own personalities, even representing different alien
species in some cases) interact with that sequence of events over time.
Science Fiction has replaced cowboy movies as an important genre of films
today. Both dystopian and utopian science fiction stories are possible.
Science fiction does not claim to predict the future, but sometimes good
scientists (who know their topic well) intuitively write about something
in science fiction that later becomes a reality. The most famous case is
Arthur C. Clark and the communications satellite, which first appeared
in a science fiction story.
- Intuition & Intuitive Forecasting: A right brain 'a ha'
experience, in which you suddenly 'know' something to be true, or you suddenly
see patterns and relationships between things that you didn't see before.
Intuition is another way of knowing, a "sixth sense," beyond
our five senses. Intuition is important in future studies because in a
world in which change is occurring so fast, and one does not always have
time to get all the information that one would like before one must make
a decision about what to do, one must often rely on one's intuition to
fill in the missing pieces and make a decision. Intuition is also the source
of creativity and new ideas--in whatever type of work one is in. Good artists,
scientists, corporate executives, and leaders in any area all tend to be
intuitive. Our Western culture has not always valued intuition, but its
importance to creativity (a key skill in the information age) is increasingly
recognized, and training programs seek to develop this skill in many people
- Experiments in Alternative Lifestyles: One of the best ways
to find out if alternative values can work is to try them out in practice.
Those new "fads" or alternative lifestyles that work, and respond
to some social need, often see themselves becoming more mainstream with
- Social Action to Change the Future: People willing to join together
with others to educate people on some issue and to work for meaningful
change often find that their efforts 'can' effect and help to change the
- Short, Medium, and Long Range Planning: Futurists look at planning
in short, medium, and long range terms. [See Earl Joseph's five different
time periods for looking at change and the future.]
- Relevance Trees: A way to map out the sequence of events, and
in what order, that are necessary to get from where you are now to where
you want to be as your end goal by some future date.
- CERT/CPM Analysis: A method for doing complex planning of great
numbers of people and subcontractors working on some large project, such
as the space program. Indeed, this methodology was first developed for
use by NASA in planning how to get to the moon. One begins with a relevance
tree, and then adds layers of additional information. A way to map all
the different pathways that must be completed between where one begins
and the end goal one plans to achieve. One also calculates, from all these
pathways, what is the "critical path" (which will take the longest
and which one must not get behind on, or the whole project will be delayed).
Between any two events along any given pathway, one usually adds estimates
of: time needed, number of people needed, budget needed, etc. One can then
calculate dates for the completion of each event along a pathway; plug
this all into a computer and print all the pathways out, and use this to
monitor a project, once it begins, to be sure it stays on time, on budget,
etc. If a particular pathway--especially the "critical path"--starts
getting behind, one can then move additional resources to that pathway,
to correct the problem, so the whole project stays on time.
Steps in Designing an Alternative Future
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,
From Marvin Soroos, "A Methodological Overview of the Process
of Designing Alternative Future Worlds," in Planning Alternative World
Futures, Ed. by Beres and Targ
- Value Specification
- Analysis of the Present and Forecasting Future Developments
- Formulation of Designs of Alternative Futures
- Evaluation of the Designs of Alternative Futures
- Drafting Transition Strategies (Of How One Gets From One's Starting
Place to Where One Wants to End Up)
- Implementation of Policies
- Feedback (On Whether Those Policies are Having the Effects One Planned
On, or Not)
- Adjustment of Strategies and Policies, Based on Feedback
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:
- The World Future Society. Located in Bethesda, Maryland, USA.
Has members from around the world, especially from North America.
- The World Futures Studies Federation. Set up by Europeans to
not be North America dominated. A smaller group of professional futurists
from different countries around the world (East and West, North and South).
Future Studies Conferences, including:
World Future Society Conferences:
World Futures Studies Federation Conferences:
- Regional Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, July 1995.
- International Conference, Washington, D.C., USA, July 1996.
- Regional Conference, San Francisco, CA, USA, July 1997.
- Regional Conference, Chicago, Illinois, USA, July 1998.
- International Conference, Washington, D.C., USA, July 1999.
Other Conferences of Other Groups:
- International Conference, Nairobi, Kenya, July 1995.
- Regional Conference, St. Petersberg, Russia, July 1996.
- International Conference, Brisbane, Australia, July 1997.
Declarations of Organizations and/or Conferences
Related to Our Global, National, or Local Futures
Future Studies Universities and Programs
- University of Houston at Clear Lake, Texas, USA
Established M.A. and Ph.D. Programs in Future Studies.
- Selye-Toffler University
Graduate Studies in Stress, Change and the Future. Calls itself
The First World University.
- Network University of the Green World, Awaji Island, Japan
Holds summer futures-related seminars of invited faculty and students
from different countries, to explore the possibility of establishing an
eventual global, networked university. Sponsored by the World Futures Studies
- Eventual Future Generations University, Australia
A planned university, focusing on Future Generations Studies, to begin
after the year 2000. Driving force behind the university is Mr. Yazaki,
Future Generations Alliance Foundation, Kyoto, Japan. Foundation also sponsors
"Future Generations" conferences in different countries around
Additional Online Universities, Programs,
ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED SOURCES:
BOTH TRADITIONAL AND ONLINE
Books and Articles:
- Cornish, Ed. Introduction to the Study of the Future. An older book
written by founder of The World Future Society.
- Fowles, Jib, Ed. Handbook of Futures Research. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood
Press, 1978. A very good introduction to different futures methodologies
and subjects studied by futurists.
- Harman, Willis W. An Incomplete Guide to the Future. New York: W. W.
- Coates, Joseph F. "The Highly Probable Future: 83 Assumptions
about the Year 2025," The Futurist (?). 1994. Based on Project 2025:
Anticipating Development in Science and Technology and Their Implications
for the Corporation. Geared towards business.
- Cetron, Marvin, and Davies, Owen. "50 Trends Shaping the World."
The Futurist, September/October 1991, pp. 11-21. Adapted from Crystal Global:
The Haves and Have-Nots of the New World Order. St. Martin's Press.
- Futures Ice Breakers. From Global Options.
BOTH TRADITIONAL AND ONLINE SOURCES:
- The Futurist. Published by the World Future Society.
- Futures Research Quarterly. Published by the World Future Society.
- Future Survey, Edited by Michael Marien. Published by the World
Future Society. Abstracts of books and articles on numerous futures topics.
- Futures: The Journal of Forecasting and Planning.An international
journal published six times a year by Butterworth Scientific Limited. ISSN
- Futurics: A Quarterly Journal of Alternative Futures & Futures
Research, published by Minnesota Futurists, a World Future Society
- Futuribles, published in Paris.
- Futuresco, published by UNESCO in Paris. Abstracts futures articles
and books from different countries, with a different theme for each issue.
- Technological Forecasting & Social Change: An International
Journal. Published by North-Holland/Elsevier Science Publishing Co.,
Inc., New York.
- World Futures: The Journal of General Evolution, Published in
cooperation with the General Evolution Research Group.
Wired Magazine: Journal of cutting-edge developments surrounding
the internet, world wide web, multimedia, and other cyberspace issues.
- World Future Society. Bethesda, Md.
- World Futures Studies Federation.
ONLINE (INTERNET & WORLD WIDE WEB) SOURCES:
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