Last year a colleague at the International Big History Association (www.ibhanet.org) asked me how futurists work/think. This was for a book she was writing for high school students on Big History. The final chapters of these types of books tend to focus on the future, hence the request for some ideas from someone who does this for a living. I tapped out a quick, off-the-top-of-my-head answer and sent it off. In thinking about how long since I’ve posted here, I thought I’d better get back into gear, especially as there are some ideas to share coming soon… Here is the essence of what I wrote:
Most professional futurists assume that the future is not predetermined, inevitable or “fixed” in some absolute way, so that there are thought to be many alternative potential futures (plural) that might lie ahead. They study ideas about the future (often called “images”) in order to gain insights into the range of alternative futures that might be coming, including those due to natural as well as human effects, depending on the scope of the futures assessment. They also look for evidence of potential futures in the present (this is generally known as “scanning”) to see which of the many alternative futures that lie ahead might indeed be coming about.
Some futurists also focus on which futures are desirable or preferable and work to help bring these about while also trying to help avoid undesirable futures from happening. Futurists have all manner of orientations – from analysts to advisors to advocates to activists – and they choose their focus accordingly. In the same way that historians study the past in many ways and with a variety of orientations, foci of interest and time-scales, so futurists do a forward-looking future-focused analogue of history – attempting to understand the forces of continuity and change that will combine to create the future we will live through. The historian and futurist W. Warren Wagar even characterised futures inquiry as a form of applied history. In this view, the role of futurists is to help chart the course of human history as wisely as possible and advise on how to make the future we eventually live through a present and subsequent history that we will be glad to experience.
There has been an unwelcome announcement from my university in the past few months since the last posting – the Master of Strategic Foresight, into which I’ve been teaching since it began in 2001 – is to be shut down as part of a review of postgraduate programs. No new intake is planned for next year and I will be teaching it out over 2017, after which it is done. However, my Faculty are wanting to continue some form of foresight teaching, so there are discussions under way to see what this might look like and how it might work.
My fellow foresight colleague and conspirator Peter Hayward and I are planning a “wake” for the MSF for later in the year, most likely to be an “anti-debutant” ball. There is something so incredibly amusing about a retro-style, formal, doll-yourself-up in Black Tie farewell ball for a foresight course, that it is impossible to pass up this opportunity to really celebrate the course and to go out in style. 😉
Image Credit: Wadem/Flickr