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
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?
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
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.
ELEMENTS OF FUTURES
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.
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
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