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


Planning Achievement

Imaging difference and visioning preferred futures are singularly sterile activities unless partnered by commitment to create. In fact, commitment to create is the litmus test of a vision: if it touches the heart enough to inspire action, it is a vision; if not, it is merely an entertainment. Visions can, however, be discouraging things to birth. A truly inspiring, transformational vision can seem dauntingly idealistic and romantic, completely beyond the reach of anyone's grasp. Hence the need to plan achievement: futures fluency must include the skill to facilitate creating the future that the vision depicts.

As Table 5 illustrates, seven linked activities comprise planning achievement. Backcasting throws a hypothetical timeline backward from the vision to the present, anchoring future achievement of ideals in our current behavior. Strategizing suggests ways of coordinating community activities, resources, and allies to create the conditions and events that will in turn create the vision; goal-setting merely operationalizes those events and conditions in order to monitor progress. Identifying resources serves to inventory community strengths and allocate those strengths appropriately among the chosen strategies. Devising tactics highlights discrete actions required to make strategies successful, and committing means pledging to implement a tactic. Monitoring change brings futures fluency full circle: in order to determine our rate of progress, spot the need for course corrections, and determine the impacts of our actions on our goals, ourselves, and our world, we observe trends and emerging issues, cycles and wild card events.

Table 5. Activities for Planning Achievement






(how long,
how often?)
Anchors the distant ideal in the immediate real; what needs to happen Development of environmentally friendly, sustainable tourism "Effect-and-cause" chains; deduce necessary/sufficient precursors From vision date to present: 10 to 30 years
Defines how we can make it happen Encourage B&B's, small inns and eco-tours as strategy Brainstorm; borrow strategies from analogous goals previously achieved Rule of thumb: strategies 1/10th the length of the total timeline
Defines what will serve to indicate progress: landmarks tourists staying longer at smaller inns, requesting nature guides Operationalize achievement measures for strategies At posted increments parallel to strategies
Defines who we are, what we need to make it happen Hawaii: lovely land, fragile resources, need tourism dollars Inventory and brainstorm; solicit cooperation Update per strategy
Defines which action steps comprise the larger strategies Heighten room tax on large hotels; decrease at inns Brainstorm; borrow tactics from analogous proven strategies Rule of thumb: 1/10th the length of the strategy
COMMIT Confirms our will to create the vision Lobbying at capitol; legislative support Written pledges to act, with action & timeline specified Day of vision session
MONITOR Asks: Are we making it happen? Any adjustments necessary? Any +/- impacts from our changes? Increase in small businesses; decrease in tourist busses; increase in impacts on local trails Trend analysis; emerging issues analysis; impact assessment Length of total timeline


Backcasting is arguably the most difficult of these activities, either to do or to explain. It involves creating a future history, a timeline that explains what events needed to occur for the future under discussion to emerge from the present we currently inhabit. The simplest approach considers the emerging trends implied by the given scenario, imagines possible events related to those trends, and then attempts to impose a plausible chronological order on the events list.

A more rigorous approach asks, what logical precursors are required for each characteristic or artifact of a given scenario? And what logical precursors precede those initial precursors? In short, vision designers/scenario builders construct an "effect-and-cause" chain. Researchers often suggest five-year intervals between the events, the links of the chain, to allow for social inertia. In the cases of scientific achievements or technological artifacts, the links in the chain may be shorter.

Perhaps the best-known example of backcasting was the planning effort which designed the Apollo program -- hence the technique's other label, "Apollo forecasting." This approach allowed scientists and technicians to brainstorm a logical list of what they would need to assemble, adapt, or invent in the way of techniques and technology to place a person on the moon. This example demonstrates the practicality of this futures activity: if the chain of precursor events is brought to within five or so years of the present, people can usually see a direct link to actions they could initiate within a week.

The next four activities are common to both formal and informal planning: devise strategies; set goals; inventory resources in terms of team members and their skills, allies, and material; and design tactics to meet goals. People may either create strategies from scratch, or copy and amend strategies from successes elsewhere. For example, say a community has envisioned establishing a neighborhood arts center for all ages. Strategies to accomplish this include soliciting donations of sites, or of funds for construction and activity supplies, or of in-kind contributions of labor and skills. Goals might include organizing volunteers to teach within six months; acquiring class materials and supplies within nine months; devising a minimal tuition schedule within nine months; and acquiring a temporary site within a year: first classes offered twelve months from the date of the vision workshop.
Inventorying resources can take many forms. Participants could list their own skills as related to these overall strategies. Salespeople might bend their persuasive power to solicit donations; real estate professionals, contractors, architects, and engineers might look for and review possible sites; neighborhood craftspeople, retired artisans and artists, and dedicated hobbyists might serve as potential staff. In addition, participants would attempt to enlist other community residents in contributing to, as well as implementing, the vision. Finding additional champions heightens the momentum. The greater the personal participation enlisted, the easier it is to find sources of monetary and material support.

Finally, the strategies would be split up into their component tactics, or specific tasks around which task teams can be organized. The materials and supplies team could decide to 1) apply for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts; 2) solicit national corporations for donations of equipment; 3) solicit local corporations for donations of supplies; or 4) start a neighborhood fund drive based on people "buying" a potter's wheel or TV camera which will boldly memorialize their donation with an engraved plaque. These activities bridge the ideal of the vision with the practical of the present; people who are problem-solvers glory in this phase of futures fluency.

Commitment is most commonly and concretely demonstrated every time public television embarks on fund-raising: call the community member, enlist their vocal support, suggest their fiscal support, persuade them to commit to writing a check when they receive the reminder in the mail. An effective vision planning process asks for commitment in the same way. Throughout the visioning process, participants rely on each other for verbal support for the ideas that comprise the vision. Near the end, the group as a whole asks its members for written pledges of commitment. These pledges specify what first steps, what initial tasks, participants are willing to start within the week. Finally, participants set up a mechanism by which the group as a whole can check back with each other after a month to relay individual progress on goals.

Monitoring progress towards the vision involves both observing the direction of change, and assessing the impacts of change -- whether related to the vision actions or not -- such that the vision may be constantly revised and revitalized. In a previous essay I outlined the process by which visions reify, eventually shackling further creativity rather than nurturing it. The lesson of critique in that essay suggests the necessity of a constant review of the vision and activities linked to and legitimated by it. This review includes monitoring change, critiquing impacts and implications, and continuously refreshing the vision. Thus the final component of futures fluency links back to the first in a continously refreshed cycle of observation, implication, imagination, idealization, and realization.

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

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