> Essays > Futures Fluency > Chapter Five: Defining Futures Fluency:
| Overview | Change | Critique | Scenarios | Visions | Planning | Summary


Thinking, Intuiting, and Imagining the Future


Dealing imaginatively and effectively with the future is critical -- but it is seldom easy. Futurists, decision-makers, and planners have developed a wide range of techniques to deal with the future more effectively. These approaches blend rigor and logic with imagination. Imagination is by necessity a foundation of futures research: there are no future facts.

What information we do have about the future comes from our records of the past, our observations of the present, and our imaginative ability to ask, "what if"? At base, these are the three key components of futures thinking. Looking at the past, we can identify cycles of events: seasons, sunspot activities, El Nino/La Nina events, elections, coronations, couturier's hemline lengths. We can study "wild card" events: watersheds in history that have restructured political, economic, or social systems. What analogous situations exist in the present, or might occur in the next millenium?

Today's sophisticated data-gathering and processing systems allow us to compile observations of our world with astonishing speed and precision. This greatly enhances our ability to spot historical cycles, to identify and monitor trends of change, and to look for trends in the making. As a species, we are immensely adaptive and innovative -- and our innovations open myriad doors of opportunity while at the same time closing doors on past habits and behaviors. Keeping an eye on inventions and technological innovations, value shifts, even fashions and fads allows us to spot emerging issues in the present that might initiate changes in the future.

We have enhanced not only our ability to observe and record the changing patterns of the world around us, but also our ability to analyze those patterns. Economists, market researchers, systems analysts, survey researchers, historians, and futurists, among others, all have techniques to extrapolate what possible outcomes might be for observed patterns of change. Whether quantitatively or qualitatively derived, we refer to these expressions of possible outcomes as scenarios. A scenario may be as simply expressed as the top line on a graph of economic growth, or as elaborately fleshed out as a science-fiction novel. But at base, it is an attempt to suggest what a possible future might be -- given certain assumptions. Scenarios of possible futures are one category of answers to the question, "what if"? Scenario-writing, as a discipline, has its own set of rules, chief of which is internal consistency. Achieving this requires that imagination be harnessed to logical rigor: the flight of fancy launched by asking "what if?" must follow a plausible path. Scenarios combine our fund of observations about the past and the present, our hypotheses about the laws of nature and society, and our creative imperative to expand our mental horizons.

But another category of answers exists for the question, "what if?" These answers come from our hearts. What if anything were possible? What would we want for the future? Creating an image of our preferred future is visioning. When a vision is created with conscious understanding of the possibilities with which it must contend, it can prove a powerful tool for strategic planning and personal motivation.

It is also critical for negotiation: everyone makes decisions based on vision, on their idea of a preferred future, even if that vision is never consciously articulated. While we cannot retrieve facts from the future, we can collect information on what the people around us think will happen in the future, and what they want to happen. Those opinions underlie individual and group choices and actions.

This chapter introduces the concept of futures fluency: proficiency and delight in creative, critical, and constructive uses of rigorously imaginative speculation. Its five cornerstone activities are 1) looking for, and monitoring, change; 2) critiquing implications; 3) imagining difference; 4) envisioning ideals; and 5) planning achievement. When practiced as a continuously rising spiral of data-gathering, analysis, synthesis, and imagination, they comprise futures fluency.

Two assumptions bear emphasis:
1. The future is uncertain. There is no single, certain forecast for ourselves, our organizations, communities, or nations, or for the planet as a whole. While we would like to eliminate this uncertainty, we must work to live with it effectively and creatively. Understanding trends and scenarios gives us a sense of the patterns of opportunities and threats, and enhances our potential effectiveness and creativity.
2. While the future is uncertain and much of it is beyond our control, we can control many aspects of it. We choose our future: we create it by what we do or fail to do. Visions and strategies linked to a clear sense of trends and scenarios make us better able to shape the future we prefer.



The sections which follow give context, examples, and approaches for each of the five elements of futures fluency. Five futures research techniques underpin these five elements. The following paragraphs briefly introduce each technique and its use in the practice of futures fluency.

Emerging issues analysis, also known as environmental scanning, is the search for and detection of changes before they reach public attention. Emerging issues analysis maximizes the opportunity to identify and monitor coming change.

Impact analysis, practiced widely by planners as part of environmental and social impact studies, refers to a family of techniques used to identify and estimate the extent of the effects of change on people and the environment. Impact analysis lets us consider and critique the effects of change.

Incasting, developed primarily by James Dator, is the deductive forecasting of alternative possible futures. Incasting hones our ability to explore different possible future states for changing systems, whether environmental, economic, political, social, or technological. Thus it is a useful first step, or precursor, to the more advanced forecasting tools for building scenarios from available data on change.

Visioning is an imaginative, idealistic and normative process which aids people in explicitly articulating their preferred future. It opens up a creative space free from constraints and the need to solve problems, in which we can envision achieving our ideals. The approach presented relies greatly on the seminal work of Robert Jungk.2 Backcasting, also known as "Apollo forecasting" or "creating future histories," bridges the gap between the events in a possible future -- usually a preferred future -- and the extended present. It is a critical first step in specifying goals and milestones for use in planning and achieving an articulated vision. The approach presented emerges primarily from previous work by Warren Ziegler.3

> Essays > Futures Fluency > Chapter Five: Defining Futures Fluency:
| Overview | Change | Critique | Scenarios | Visions | Planning | Summary

15 February 2003. Email IF.
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