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Applied Futures Research Overview, 2002


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Applied Futures Research Overview, 2002

  1. 1. Applied Futures Research: O verview, C ommon Tools, and Common Weaknesses Dr. Wendy L. Schultz Infinite Futures 2001-2002 Fulbright Lecturer, Finland Futures Research Centre [email_address] http://www.infinitefutures.com
  2. 2. Positivists vs. Futurists: design differences <ul><li>theory formation vs. futures articulation </li></ul><ul><li>reductionist vs. systemic & holistic </li></ul><ul><li>experimental vs. descriptive </li></ul><ul><li>linear systems vs. complex & chaotic systems </li></ul><ul><li>predictive vs. exploratory </li></ul><ul><li>reproducible results vs. insights </li></ul><ul><li>one hard ’truth’ vs. multiple soft ’alternatives’ </li></ul><ul><li>value-neutral vs. value-loaded </li></ul>
  3. 3. Positivists vs. Futurists: researchers’ roles <ul><li>objective vs. subjective </li></ul><ul><li>observer vs. facilitator/participant </li></ul><ul><li>knowledge revealer vs. change agent </li></ul><ul><li>reporting vs. performing </li></ul><ul><li>Futures studies assumes that the point of exploring multiple possible outcomes is to help people create the futures they desire: active, value-focussed research. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Alternative possible futures... <ul><li>Reality is a non-linear -- i .e., chaotic -- system, and thus impossible to predict; </li></ul><ul><li>Possible futures emerge from the turbulent interplay of current trends and emerging issues of change. </li></ul>trends innovations revolutions, etc. possibility one possibility two possibility three … etc.
  5. 5. … alternative possible futures <ul><li>A basic assumption of futures studies: not one future, but many possible futures; </li></ul><ul><li>of those possible futures, some are more probable than others -- evaluate changing probabilities by monitoring trend growth; </li></ul><ul><li>of those possible futures, some are more preferable than others -- evaluate preferability by dialogue within community. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Alternative futures: possible, probable, and preferable objective of futures studies: act to enhance the probability of our preferable futures. possible futures probable futures preferable futures
  7. 7. Five Key Components of Applied Futures Research ID & Monitor Change Critique Implications Imagine Difference Envision Preferred Plan and Implement Identify patterns of change: trends in chosen variables, changes in cycles, and emerging issues of change. Examine primary, secondary, tertiary impacts; inequities in impacts; differential access, etc. Identify, analyze, and build alternative images of the future, or ’scenarios .’ Identify, analyze, and articulate images of preferred futures, or ’visions .’ Identify stakeholders, resources; clarify goals; design strategies; organize action; create change.
  8. 8. Strategic Planning and Foresight stakeholder analysis SWOT VISION typical strategic planning process mission + values strategies, resources, milestones, evaluation what futures studies and foresight add: wider change scans scenarios to explore emerging possibilities … and to enrich vision … and to audit strategy flexibility CURRENT CONDITIONS: market, clients, competitors, innovations, state of organization
  9. 9. Categories of data required by common foresight tools... Environmental Scanning Visioning SWOT, Strategies, Evaluation Scenario Building Creating Change Change Futures Wheels , Impact Matrices Square boxes require data from external sources; hexagons require both. visioning requires internal value data;
  10. 10. Context: applied futures research
  11. 11. Identifying change... <ul><li>Current conditions; </li></ul><ul><li>Cycles; </li></ul><ul><li>Trends; </li></ul><ul><li>Emerging issues of change; and </li></ul><ul><li>Wild cards. </li></ul><ul><li>Locate its source; </li></ul><ul><li>Evaluate its likelihood; </li></ul><ul><li>Monitor its growth; and </li></ul><ul><li>Track its spread. </li></ul>Kinds of change…. … look everywhere!
  12. 12. Environmental Scanning <ul><li>Primary futures tool for identifying and monitoring emergence, growth, and coalescence of change. </li></ul><ul><li>Related to issues management and competitive intelligence. </li></ul><ul><li>” Environment” refers to the information environment – all media – and ”scanning” to the logically structured, iterative monitoring of selected information sources. </li></ul>
  13. 13. Trends, emerging issues… and wild cards. Mapping a trend’s diffusion into public awareness from its starting point as an emerging issue of change. adapted from J. Coates, Issues Management WILDCARD!! TIME number of cases; degree of public awareness local; few cases; emerging issues global; multiple dispersed cases; trends and megatrends scientists; artists; radicals; lunatics specialists’ journals and websites layperson’s magazines, websites, documentaries newspapers, news magazines government institutions
  14. 14. Environmental Scanning: a basic approach…. <ul><li>Choose 5-9 information sources: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Number of sources will vary because update rate per source varies; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sector of sources MUST vary: ”360 o view;” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Specialist and fringe sources preferred. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Create scanning database: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>t itle , s ource , d escription , i mplications , STEEP c ategory (ies), ( k eywords) , ID # . </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. Common futures research tools… identifying/monitoring change. <ul><li>Data collection: historical analysis to identify cycles, database construction to identify trends. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Historical/cultural/structural bias; hidden data gaps </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Environmental scanning: emerging issues (’weak signals’) identification, evaluation, and analysis. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Identification relies on familiarity with state-of-art </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Assumption analysis: assumption identification and reversal, linked to emerging issues for ’wild card’ extrapolation. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>No rigorously defined identification method exists. </li></ul></ul>
  16. 16. … looking for impacts <ul><li>How might our homes & families change? </li></ul><ul><li>How might our work change? </li></ul><ul><li>How might our hobbies & leisure differ? </li></ul><ul><li>How might we travel & communicate? </li></ul><ul><li>How might childhood & education differ? </li></ul><ul><li>How might our environment change? </li></ul><ul><li>How might government & economy differ? </li></ul>
  17. 17. Emerging issues of change… <ul><li>24/7/365: no home-office divide – but flexibility!; </li></ul><ul><li>By 2015, we talk to our computers, they talk back, and recognize us via biometrics; </li></ul><ul><li>By 2015, augmented reality widespread; </li></ul><ul><li>By 2020, people are “globens” – world citizens; </li></ul><ul><li>By 2020, routine, computer language translation; </li></ul><ul><li>By 2030, micromachines create “smart” materials; </li></ul>
  18. 18. … emerging issues of change, cont’d. <ul><li>By 2030, anti-aging advances let us live from 35-95 as “the same age;” </li></ul><ul><li>By 2035, a manned mission to Mars; </li></ul><ul><li>3-D scanning, faxing, and “printing:” the home fabrication unit. </li></ul><ul><li>Continued global warming, with sea-level rise; </li></ul><ul><li>Loss of biodiversity, especially of marine life. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Futures Wheels: Workshop Instructions <ul><li>Enter your assigned change in the inner circle of your worksheet. </li></ul><ul><li>Everyone take five minutes by themselves to imagine possible impacts of this change over the next fifteen years. </li></ul><ul><li>Share your individual lists within your group. Which of these are immediate, or primary, impacts? Write those down next to the appropriate “spoke”. </li></ul><ul><li>Now consider each primary impact, one by one. Brainstorm two or three impacts it will have, and map those, connecting each to its primary impact. </li></ul>
  20. 20. change work? hobbies? education? home/ families? travel? communications? economy? environment? Futures Wheel primary effects secondary effects
  21. 21. Common futures research tools… critiquing impacts of change. <ul><li>Cross-impact matrices: structured, rated comparison of impacts against each other. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Spurious mathematicization; linear. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Futures wheels: brainstorming primary, secondary, tertiary impacts. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Disorganized; gaps in impact generation; doesn’t account for time differences. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Causal layered analysis: interpretation of social texts, symbols, myths re: change. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Subjective, culturally bound, subtle. </li></ul></ul>
  22. 22. Existing images of alternative futures: sources <ul><li>Individuals… what do people think? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>e.g., Surveys, Ethnographic Futures Research, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Culture... what do religions imply? political ideologies? what do artists imagine? writers? advertisers? other artifacts? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Content analysis; hermeneutic analysis, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Forecasts … what trends have researchers extrapolated? what scenarios have futurists built? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Secondary analysis of existing research and data. </li></ul></ul>
  23. 23. Scenarios : imagining difference through structured processes. <ul><li>Images of alternative possible futures; </li></ul><ul><li>Based on trends and emerging issues; </li></ul><ul><li>Exploratory , NOT predictive; </li></ul><ul><li>Present both opportunities and threats; </li></ul><ul><li>Real , NOT ideal; </li></ul><ul><li>Used to create contingency plans. </li></ul>
  24. 24. Effective scenarios…. provoke ideas! <ul><li>Vividly, boldly portray difference ; </li></ul><ul><li>Clearly identify the time horizon; </li></ul><ul><li>Explain how the change unfolded – tell the story of trends and impacts growing over time; </li></ul><ul><li>Are written in the present tense, as if the future were happening now; </li></ul><ul><li>Contain a few transformed elements of the ”past” – 2002 – to contrast the ”past” with the scenario’s present day. </li></ul>
  25. 25. Basic Scenario Building: FAR/Futures Table <ul><li>Choose variables: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>specific and critical; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>uncertain. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Estimate/forecast range of outcomes: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>present trends extended vs. transformation; or </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>high, medium, low; etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Create internally consistent scenarios: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>identify and resolve ”impossible pairs;” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>organize by logical relationship. </li></ul></ul>global regional nat’l local Supplies high medium low none Tariffs. youth mass ” green” luxury Market low medium high Int. rate D C B A Var ut
  26. 26. Basic Scenario Building: SRI Scenario Parameter Matrix <ul><li>Choose variables: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>specific and critical; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>uncertain. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Label scenario ”plots:” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>usually, ”present trends extended,” positive outcomes, negative outcomes, transformations. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Extrapolate a range of plausible outcomes for each variable. </li></ul><ul><li>Sort outcomes into the ”plot” column using the rule of logical consistency. </li></ul>recycled global local national Supplies freeware high none low Tariffs. ” green” specialty mass youth Market negative high low medium Int. rate Wild Card Down-side Up-side PTE Var ut
  27. 27. Basic Scenario Building: Schwartz/GBN Approach <ul><li>Critical issue: what decision keeps you awake at night? </li></ul><ul><li>Local operating environment: what key factors will determine the success or failure of the critical issue? </li></ul><ul><li>MACRO environment: what are some of the driving forces creating change in the wider world? </li></ul><ul><li>Rank those driving forces by importance and uncertainty: MOST important AND MOST uncertain. </li></ul>
  28. 28. Basic Scenario Building: Schwartz/GBN Approach, cont’d. <ul><li>Select the scenario logics and create the scenario matrix. </li></ul><ul><li>Flesh out the scenarios by referring to the key factors, and suggest plausible events that might create that end state. </li></ul><ul><li>Implications: how does the decision look in each scenario? -- SWOT analysis. </li></ul><ul><li>What might usefully serve as leading indicators or signposts that you are heading toward one or another of these scenarios? </li></ul>
  29. 29. Schwartz/GBN Example: Scenario Matrix for ”Global Agro-Seeds, Inc.” Example -- driving forces of change: development of the South; loss of marine biodiversity; trade protectionism; decreasing water supplies; public confidence in science ; religious/philosophical conflicts; nano-bio-tech convergence. Choose two most important to you, whose outcomes are most uncertain ; drawn axes showing the extremes of their possible outcomes. South flourishes South crashes ” Science saves” ” Science stumbles” broker of national, ” natural” gene stocks ” steward” of national, ” natural” gene stocks partner in engineering new exotics from local plant stocks supplier of high-yield engineered seeds for famine relief
  30. 30. Basic scenario building, Manoa Approach: <ul><li>Choose three emerging issues from different STEEP categories; </li></ul><ul><li>Create futures wheels exploring the impacts of each emerging issue, by a set date (2022); </li></ul><ul><li>Create a qualitative cross-impact matrix exploring the interactions of all three emerging issues; </li></ul><ul><li>imagine what a day would be like in the future where ALL those changes were real. </li></ul>
  31. 31. Manoa Approach Example: Three trends for 2030 <ul><li>Three futures wheels: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>24/7/365 economy; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>hyper-reality widespread; and </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>continued global warming. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Brainstorm primary, secondary, tertiary impacts for each issue, addressing: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>government, economic structures, family life, patterns of work, education and training, arts and leisure, news and media, religion, etc. </li></ul></ul>“ 24/7/365” more workers needed “ mom’n’pop” shops fail
  32. 32. Manoa Approach Example: Three trends for 2030 Cross-Impacts: Emerging Issues “ 24/7/365” economy Hyper-reality widespread Continued global warming “ 24/7/365” economy Hyper-reality widespread Continued global warming Results of futures wheel Results of futures wheel Results of futures wheel What impacts will hyper-reality have on the 24/7/365 economy? What impacts will global warming have on the 24/7/365 economy? What impacts will the 24/7/365 economy have on hyper-reality? What impacts will global warming have on hyper-reality? What impacts will the 24/7/365 economy have on global warming? What impacts will hyper-reality have on global warming?
  33. 33. Common futures research tools…scenario building. <ul><li>Morphological analysis/FAR: linking logically consistent outcomes across parameters. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Limits unlikelihood, wild card thinking. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>SRI Scenario Parameter Matrix: uses four ’plots’ to vary outcomes across parameters. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mimics ’default’ images; confuses scenarios with vision. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>GBN/Shell approach: uses continua based on two uncertain trends to create four scenarios. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Limits uncertainties considered; polarizes; creates related scenarios. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Manoa approach: uses impacts and cross-impacts from three trends for each scenario. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Lacks structural rigor, consistency checks. </li></ul></ul>
  34. 34. Strategic Design Trade-offs: Scenario Building as an Example Degree of difference from present Time horizon Reader Sophistication scenario parameter system dynamics: World3 GBN/Shell matrix futures table/FAR Manoa divergence mapping Burchsted- Crews
  35. 35. Effective visions….inspire action! <ul><li>Vividly, boldly portray hopes, ideals, and values ; </li></ul><ul><li>Clearly identify the time horizon; </li></ul><ul><li>Describe a ”future history” of actions and projects that created the improved ”present;” </li></ul><ul><li>Are written in the present tense, as if the preferred future were real now; </li></ul><ul><li>Contain a few transformed elements of the ”past” – 2002 – to contrast the ”past” with the vision’s improved present day. </li></ul>
  36. 36. Common futures research tools… visioning. <ul><li>Future Workshops: vision based on present-day problem-solving. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Very short timeline. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Future Search: vision based on history, stakeholders, trends. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Stakeholders must have historical relationship. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Appreciative Inquiry: based on dialogue, past successes, ’language creates reality.’ </li></ul><ul><ul><li>No links to trends of change or emerging issues. </li></ul></ul>
  37. 37. Strategic Design Trade-offs: Visioning as an Example Degree of difference from present Time horizon Level of Participant Risk Future Search Nanus Appreciative Inquiry Boulding- Ziegler Futures Workshops Manoa
  38. 38. Common Research Flaws <ul><li>Flaws in choice: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Using the same tool for every project; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Attempting too much rigor; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Attempting too much creativity. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Flaws in application: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Excluding participation; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Process inflexibility. </li></ul></ul>
  39. 39. Common Research Flaws, cont’d. <ul><li>Flaws in communication: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>No explicit statement of: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>time horizon; </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>social change theory; </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>values. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Generating too much complexity. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No process links to client dialogue or action. </li></ul></ul>

Notas do Editor

  • This P owerpoint presentation – both slides and notes – was initially created as an overview to future s research and futures research tools for th e Post-graduate Studies Theme Seminar on that topic at Turun Kauppakorkeakoulu, on 28 February 2002, in Turku, Finland. Over the next two months, in the course of explaining both data-gathering and data-processing (extrapolation, impact assessment, p attern identification, systemic analysis, scenario building, a n d visioning) within futures studies, the presentation e xperienced additions, permutati o ns, and transformations. The result is this collection of slides with a ttendant notes, which I hope offers a useful i ntroductory-level overview to the philosophy, conceptual framework, tools, and weaknesses of w hat I call – dep e nding on the aud i ence – either appl i ed futures research, or integrated foresight. Please email me your comments, additions, a n d constructive criticisms. w [email_address] i tefutures.com
  • As I mentioned previously, these slides were produced in response to a request th a t I create a presentation introducing various futures tools and commenting on their weaknesses, for a post-graduate seminar on futures studies. T h e students partici p ating were NOT graduate students in futures studies; they were graduate students from a variety of fields who w i shed to use futures research tools during their dissertation research projects. The required reading for the semi n ar the day I was present included three chapters from the Handbook of Qualitative Research (second edition), Norman K. Den z in and Yvonna S. Lincoln, eds., Thous a nd Oaks, Calif o rnia: Sage Pu b lications, Inc., c opyright 2000. Those chapters were: 1. ”Introduction: The D iscipline and Pr a ctice of Qualitative Research” (Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln); 1 9. ”Grounded Theory: Objectivist and Constru c tiv i st Methods ” (Kathy Charma z ); 22. ”Participatory Action Research” (Stephen Kemmis and Robin M cTaggart); and 29. ”Data Managemen t and Analysis Methods” (Gery W. Ryan and H. Russell Bernard). R eading those chapters, es p ecially the first, was a bit like visiting a n alien culture – or, more accurately, like a culture I had once known in the distant past, but f rom which I had become alienated by years living in a very different culture : applied futures research. It wasn ’ t until I read Kemmis and McTaggart on participatory action research that I thought, ”Aha! Of course, this is w hy I use futures tools in interacting with c o mmunit i es.” T h i s slide, and the next, represent my att e mpt to express the differences I perceive between much of t raditional, positivist academic research, and the core concepts and approaches of applied futures research. QUALIFIER : in order to h ighlight those differences, I have exaggerated them and expressed them as polar opposites. I fully understand that in the real world, academic research is not wholly positivist, nor is futures studies as a field wholly lacking – or disint e rested in – positivist research. While futures researchers d o engage in theory formation, a n underlying g oal of the field is t he i dentification or articula t ion of images of the future. As t he past, the present, and a ny possible futures consist of interlocking [C ontinued on s ucceeding notes page…]
  • [continued from previous n o tes page…] systems and their interrelationships, the field is necessarily systemic and holistic in perspective. Because of the difficult ie s of gathering d ata in the future, f utures researchers tend to gather descriptive data about c hange in the present, and people’s atti t udes towards it, and images of the future, rather than design experimental protocols.
  • This, again, articulates an exaggerated perspective to make the point that the interrelationship between the linear and non-line a r systems which compose reality g enerates uncertainty.
  • A ssessing the probability of any given image of the future actually occurring must of necessity be an ongoing process: as trends a nd emerging issues of change grow, t ransform, plate a u, or collapse over time, the probability of a possible outcome, or possible future, may vary. Hence the need for ongoin g identification and monitoring of i ndicators of change. Secondly, e valuating any given image of the future as aligning more or less closely with community values is imp o rtant in assessing which futures offer conditions that best fit community goals in achieving a vision – a preferred future – but that evaluation of a possible set of conditions as prefer a ble is NOT THE S A ME ACTIVITY as articulating a v ision of a preferred future.
  • Should be self-explanatory (if there is anything I can add to the notes page to make it clear e r, please do not hesitate to email me).
  • While an applied futures project may be structured in a variety of ways, and its activities scheduled in different order, this basic framework is depicted assuming that you are starting from a blank slate. Some organizations may have a prior history of planning, or even of visioning. In that case, an effective research design may begin by reviewing prior strategic plans, visions, or scenarios. Or, to enhance a sense of identity and transformation, some groups wish to begin with visioning – the articulation and mapping of internal values, hopes, and goals – and then turn to investigations of external conditions and emerging change. If, however, a group begins with visioning, they would be well advised to ”re-vision” after they have collected data on change and built scenarios. Visions articulated after people have had an opportunity to explore change in greater detail, and to imagine a wide range of possibilities, are more detailed and more transformational than visions articulated with no prior exploration of future possibilities.
  • The top layer of this diagram represents the basic components of a typical strategic planning process. Applied futures research, or foresight, can widen organizations’ planning horizons, increase their awareness of emerging opportunities, enrich the transformational dimensions of their vision, and enhance the flexibility of their planning strategies. To repeat the point made in the notes for the previous slide, futures tools can be inserted into the planning process where they are most useful, and as often as necessary. Scenario exploration prior to visioning increases people’s knowledge of what might be possible and desirable as components of their vision; scenario exploration after strategy building can provide a ”flexibility audit” to ensure success of strategies across a wide range of external conditions.
  • One of the challenges of pursuing futures research in an academic environment is the lack of data. When data are available – whether data on change, or on people’s attitudes and values regarding change – a credible futures report will clearly track where change and value data originate, and how they are processed through various forecasting and futures tools. Environmental scanning: the process of monitoring reality for trends of change and emerging issues of change; an ongoing, broad-based research process which skims various media for indications of change in all the ”STEEP” (Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic, and Political) sectors. Futures wheels (of which an example exercise sheet is offered in the pages that follow): a tool to brainstorm and map primary, secondary, tertiary, etc. impacts of potential changes. Cross-impact matrices allow the systematic comparison of the impacts of multiple changes, one upon the other. Does the increased extinction of marine species increase or decrease the likelihood of global warming? Conversely, does global warming increase or decrease the likelihood of increased extinction of marine species? Several trends may be evaluated against each other in this fashion using a table format. Scenarios: images of alternative possible futures, created by combining the extrapolation of current trends and emerging issues of change with their potential impacts, designed to help people explore both the possible opportunities and challenges they may face in the future. Any given scenario should, like reality, contain both positive and negative characteristics. Visions: images of preferred futures, articulated to express a group’s jointly held values, hopes, desires, and goals – as statements of preferred future outcomes, they should be both wholly positive and idealistic.
  • When we think about the future, it is often in relation to a specific issue, a question or plan or hope or worry that we have. That question, plan, hope, worry is mediated by -- informed, influenced, affected by -- the concerns and worldview of the organization in which we are involved: family, company, agency, non-profit, volunteer assocation, etc. In turn, the worldview, issues, concerns, operational terms of any organization are influenced by the worldview and culture of the environment within which the organization operates. What does that mean? Well, if you are an IBM programmer, you work within a culture distinct from that of, say, Apple; but you share the underlying concerns and concepts of the global computer industry. In strategic planning, when you engage in “SWOT” analyses – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, challenges – you are assessing both your organization’s internal environment (the green circle) and, usually, the organization’s immediate operating context (the yellow circle). It is the macro environment where the futurist offers help (the orange circle), by identifying emerging issues of change – so-called “weak signals” – and monitoring their escalation or subsidence, as well as the growth of established trends of change. The futurist’s systems perspective assumes the interrelationship of all the systems: change echoes back and forth among them all, and up and down through various subsystems, via information flows, behaviors (actions and reactions), and other forms of feedback.
  • 8 The first activity in applied futures research is the hunt for new sources of change. So we begin by taking a mental snapshot of the present: what are current conditions? If we observe some part of our environment -- like, say, hemlines -- changing, can we determine whether that’s an ongoing trend, an entirely new change, or perhaps a cycle that recurs historically? In the case of hemlines, of course, the latter. Variable: a quantifiable subject of study, the value of which can change over time. Trend: a pattern of change over time in some variable of interest. Having trend data for some variable implies multiple instances of that variable. For example, one revolution in Africa is an event; two or three revolutions would call for comparative case studies; fifteen revolutions in countries in Africa within five years would constitute a trend. One of the most obvious, and largest trends, is the increase in world population. A potentially even larger trend, but much less obvious -- or even agreed upon -- would be the gradual warming of the Earth’s atmosphere. Another is the continuing decline in the cost of microchips and consequently computers. Megatrend: commonly used to indicate a widespread (i.e., more than one country) trend of major impact, composed of subtrends which in themselves are capable of major impacts. For example, global climate change will have a major impact, on all the countries of the world, and can be disaggregated into global atmospheric warming, sea-level rise, decrease in stratospheric ozone, etc. ” Weak signal” or ”emerging issue” or ”seed of change:” these terms are used by different futurists, but all mean essentially the same thing: the sources of change – the first case; the original idea or invention; the watershed event; the social outliers expressing a new value – that is, a sign of change that exists so far in only a few scattered instances, which might multiply into enough data points to constitute a trend. You might say that an emerging issue is a trend with only one or two cases -- a trend only you have noticed! “ Wild cards:” low probability but high impact changes – like a global plague, or the invention of table-top fusion.
  • The title of the initial presentation which was the seed of this set of slides was, ”Common Weaknesses in Applying Qualitative Futures Methods.” The description of the example technique is offered first, in bold; the potential weakness(es) bullet-pointed below.
  • 18 The following two slides offer examples of trends and emerging issues of change. As you read these trends, and I describe them, you can begin to explore their possible impacts by asking yourselves the questions listed above. You will note, by the by, that I have at no time said anything about predicting the future. Reputable futures researchers do not, in the main, offer to predict anything. They might offer to forecast quantitatively measurable trends for you. They will with great enthusiasm offer to help you explore the range of uncertainties represented by all the trends of change with the potential to affect you. Each of these trends, and their potential impacts, represent both threats and opportunities to organizational visions and goals. The exercises of mapping impacts using futures wheels, and organizing trend forecasts and their impacts via scenarios of alternative possible outcomes, helps organizations create new products, services, markets, and visions of themselves. Please note that the following trends are, again, NOT PREDICTIONS -- rather, they have been collected from the insights of numerous analysts in business, science, and academia with regard to potential changes in the next fifty years.
  • ” 24/7/365” stands for ”24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year” – which is basically the concept of round-the-clock service and product provision towards which the economy of the U.S.A. is moving. The downside for the worker is increased pressure to meet customer needs; the upside is increased flexibility in scheduling their own workdays and vacations. ” Biometrics” refer to technologies that scan for biological measurements and identifiers, like retinal prints, voiceprints, handprints, DNA, etc. ” Hyper-reality” while similar to virtual reality in using computer projections, does not replace real visuals, but creates a visual information overlay for reality: imagine glasses that provide a read-out offering names, degree programs, and hometowns that would float underneath each of your faces and help us all personalize our discussions more quickly. Micromachines: go to Sandia National Laboratories’ wonderful Intelligent Micromachine Initiative and view movies of machines the width of human hairs. http://www.mdl.sandia.gov/micromachine/movies.html
  • 18
  • Example change: ” By 2010, we talk to our computers, they talk back, and recognize us via biometrics.” working – and education – environments noisier; nobody needs to remember passwords anymore; precipitous drop in incidence of work-related carpal tunnel syndrome; market emerges for ”great voice” modules to personalize computer speech. The previous page includes the possible secondary and tertiary impacts for ”working – and education – environments noisier.” Let’s choose two more primary effects and explore some possible secondary effects: precipitous drop in incidence of work-related carpal tunnel syndrome: increase in worker productivity; decline in workers’ compensation costs; collapse of keyboard wrist rest market. market emerges for ”great voice” modules to personalize computer speech: hot new licensing endeavor for popular actors and singers – sideline for radio personalities and politicians with great voices as well; teenages pirate great voices from DVDs of favourite movies and tv shows, and ”napsterize” them: underground ”baseball card” trading culture develops of popular voice modules; storm of court cases and Congressional hearings on issue: new laws making individuals the sole owners of their own biometrics; emerging trend of visitors preferring to converse with their friends’ answering machines and homes rather than the people themselves – the house computer has a pleasant voice, is unfailingly polite, and listens really well.
  • Our cultures and languages are pervaded by images of the future, of alternative possible futures, some exciting, some transformative, some idealistic, some nightmares. A foundation assumption of futures research is that people base their decisions and subsequent actions on embedded, internalized images of the future, as well as other values, goals, and motivators. Thus one critical area of futures research is the identification and analysis of images of possible futures that already exist in our cultures, no matter their origin.
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