TO FUTURE STUDIES
Dr. Linda Groff & Dr. Paul Smoker
Why Studying the Future and Change is Important
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.
History of the Future Studies Field
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.
of Futurist Views and Perspectives
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:
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."
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
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).
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.
of a Futurist Perspective
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
- Taking a
Holistic, or Whole Systems Perspective in Looking at Change
as a Premise that there are Many Alternative Futures.
between Possible, Probable, & Preferable Futures:
Futures: anything (good or bad, probable or improbable)
that could happen in the future.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
Periods for Studying the Future
are various time periods for studying the future, which were outlined
by Earl Joseph of the Minnesota World Future Society Chapter. These
- Near Term
Future: up to one year from now.
Range Future: one to five years from now.
Range Future: five to twenty years from now.
- Long Range
Future: twenty to fifty years from now.
- Far Future:
fifty plus years from now.
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
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.
View of Our Place in the Universe (as Systems within Systems within
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.
could thus diagram these relationships as follows: [INSERT DIAGRAM]
Subjects Studied by Futurists
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:
Global Megacrisis Issue, including the Relationships Between:
and World Hunger;
Sources (Traditional, Nonrenewable Fossil Fuels & Alternative,
Renewable Energy Sources);
Climate Change (including Global Warming); and
Peace, Conflict, and War;
- The End
of the East-West Conflict and the Cold War;
- The United
Nations System and Global Governance;
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.
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
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).
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).
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.
Restructuring and Environmental Impacts of New Technologies,
High Technologies, such as:
Telecommunications, Robotics--the First Stage of the Information
new Interactive, Multimedia, Internet, World Wide Web,
Virtual Reality Technology Stage of the Information Revolution;
Engineering, Recombinant DNA, and Gene Splicing;
Exploration, Industrialization, and Settlement; and
Appropriate or Intermediate Technologies, tied to Sustainable
Development, Living in Harmony with Nature, & Voluntary
and Women Working.
Scientific Paradigms (or overarching worldviews);
Spiritual/Religious/Consciousness Traditions and Trends .
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.
for Studying Change and the Future
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:
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.
Systems Analysis and Computer Modelling: Shows how various
variables in different areas interact with each other, within
a whole systems context, over time.
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
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.
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
Impact Assessment: Looks at how new technologies are likely
to impact on society or the environment.
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.
Impact Assessment: Looks at how new developments in some
area will impact on society or on some community.
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.
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.
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.
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
& 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 today.
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 time.
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 future.
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
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.
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.
in Designing an Alternative Future World
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:
of the Present and Forecasting Future Developments
of Designs of Alternative Futures
of the Designs of Alternative Futures
Transition Strategies (Of How One Gets From One's Starting
Place to Where One Wants to End Up)
(On Whether Those Policies are Having the Effects One Planned
On, or Not)
of Strategies and Policies, Based on Feedback
From Marvin Soroos, "A Methodological Overview of the Process
of Designing Alternative Future Worlds," in Planning Alternative
World Futures, Ed. by Beres and Targ
Organizations Involved in the Study of the Future and Change
of the most prominent international organizations devoted to the
study of the future include:
World Future Society. Located in Bethesda, Maryland, USA.
Has members from around the world, especially from North America.
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).