The Widening Gyre
The preceding pages introduced,
defined, and offered examples of the five cornerstone activities
of futures fluency: 1) looking for, and monitoring, change; 2)
critiquing implications; 3) imagining difference; 4) envisioning
ideals; and 5) planning achievement. Many researchers pursue
each of these cornerstone activities for themselves alone, as independent
fields of study. Yet linked together they create an art at once
powerfully critical and powerfully constructive.
Within each phase of
activity, the fluent futures thinker maximizes diversity, combining
and recombining elements of social science extrapolation, intuition,
whimsy, and fantasy. As all the loose elements of observation, analysis,
and imagination shift and fall and are viewed within this mental
kaleidoscope, the fluent mind looks for and compares the varying
trade-offs posed by each new pattern as it slides into place. The
figure that follows offers a map of the movement from one activity
to the next. It illustrates the iteration of critique between each
We begin by standing
in the present, on the foundation of the patterns of the past. We
begin by looking for change, asking, "what is happening?"
After identifying cycles, trends, innovations, and emerging issues,
we ask ourselves, "what are the implications of these changes --
and for whom?" In the new conditions and environments created, who
wins? who loses? Next, we imagine difference. Extending those
changes and their effects out to absurd but interesting extremes,
we ask, "what might happen as a result of these interacting
forces of change?" And what are the implications of what's possible
for the future? Which possible future offers more in the realms
of equity, justice, fairness? Which presents the fewest trade-offs
between human productivity and environmental quality? Which offers
the greatest opportunity for development of human potential?
All these initial exercises
help us understand how changes intertwine to create different scenarios.
They thus enhance our ability to envision our ideals very specifically.
It is too easy to say, "we want a world at peace, a world in which
people live and work in harmony with the environment, where every
child has the right to affection, health, and education;" what,
after all, would all that look like in practice? When you
fill an ideal scenario with less than ideal people, who have fears
and hatreds and petty irritations, irresponsibilities, and idiosyncrasies,
what does it look like on a day-to-day basis? The richer our vision
of a preferred future, the more it will touch our hearts -- the
more it will seem real to us. When we ask, "what do we want
to happen?" we must focus on the minutiae of individual's lives,
asking what this structure of our ideals will mean to different
real people, how it will change their circumstances, and whom it
will benefit, and whom harm.
It would be frustrating
forever to build castles in the air, and never on the ground. With
our vision richly expressed, we can ask, "how do we make
things happen?" This leads us to plan and mobilizes us for action.
But even at this stage, we must consider the implications of the
strategies and tactics designed to realize the vision. When acting
to achieve our dreams, we become forces of change ourselves, and
so must evaluate the possible effects and impacts of our actions.
Finally, after imagining,
dreaming, and planning, we are eager to see results. In order to
do so, we must complete our efforts by monitoring change,
which is merely an update of our initial efforts in looking for
change. Thus the last phase of futures fluency links back to the
first, creating an infinite cycle of vision renewal.
Yet our actions between
round one and round two mean we begin the second iteration slightly
advanced from the present. We progressed in time and in experience:
with this incremental increase in mastery of the skills involved
comes an increase in the scope, in the breadth and depth of our
imagination, ability to vision, and ability to plan achievement.
Thus our cycle of futures fluency broadens as it rises.
Futures Fluency and Strategic Planning: A Double Helix
In the summer of 1987,
as part of the U.S. A.I.D.-sponsored Asia-Pacific Development Planning
Institute, I made a presentation on the various perspectives and
techniques involved in futures studies. My audience was composed
of government planners from a variety of Pacific Island nations,
states, and territories. They asked me what the difference was between
futures research and planning. The best response I could think of
at the time was an analogy to playing cards.
Assume you are with four
or five friends in search of amusement, and you have a deck of cards.
Futures studies aims to get people to discuss which games they might
want to play, and can then try to inform players what the possibilities
are in the hands they might be dealt, and how probable it is they
will receive any one kind of hand (whether a particular hand is
preferable or not depends upon which game a given player has chosen).
Once you have the game chosen and the hands dealt, planners advise
you on how best to play the hand. This also involves considering
alternative possibilities, probabilities, and preferences, but in
a more limited way.
The question is still
a struggle. What is futures to planning, or planning to futures?
Aren't they the same thing? Why aren't they the same thing?
Between the first floor of Porteus Hall (Urban and Regional Planning,
University of Hawai'i) and the sixth (Futures Studies, Political
Science, University of Hawai'i), these questions have been drowned
in coffee, cola, and good brown ale, but keep surfacing. Many of
the activities defined above as comprising futures fluency either
are planning, outright, or are practiced also by planners.
How do we tell ourselves apart? We know the difference when we see
it, certainly -- why is it so difficult to define?
Perhaps because the two
fields parallel each other so closely, separated only by a matter
of degree, a shift in emphasis, a difference in attitude: planners
attempt to minimize difference and divergence, as they result in
controversy and cost over-runs; futures researchers attempt to maximize
difference and divergence, as they result in critique and creativity.
How does that play out in practice?
First let's look at the
forms of planning that most clearly resemble futures fluency: comprehensive
planning and strategic planning. Comprehensive planning uses a systems
approach that manages activities in three dimensions for defined
conditions. That is, comprehensive planning assumes that in order
to manage the forest, you must manage the watershed, the indigenous
species, the soil quality: managing the trees means managing all
the interlinked bits of their ecosystem as well. Comprehensive planning
has little temporal dimension. It assumes that you wish to maintain
conditions as they were at a defined moment in time. It is a snapshot.
Strategic planning, on
the other hand, is the movie. Strategic planning takes a probabilistic
approach that manages activities through time in the face of uncertainty
and change. Just as a good movie includes a series of clear, well-composed
stills, good strategic planning includes clear, well-composed comprehensive
planning. This definition of planning parallels futures fluency
by encompassing complexity, in the form of multiple systems, and
chaos, in the form of uncertainty and change.
To manage the forest
strategically, we must account for possible changes that might take
place, and actively design preferable changes we want to implement.
For example, say we are managing 10,000 acres of old growth forest
in the Pacific Northwest, currently classified as state lands. What
changes might take place? Some introduced parasite might damage
the trees; the state could re-classify it and sell it to a land
developer; the state could sell the timber rights; the Nature Conservancy
could buy it; some near-by long-dormant volcano could explode and
cover huge tracts of it in mud and ash. Which of these changes could
we monitor? Which could we mitigate, encourage, or constrain? Who
would be our allies in those efforts, and where would we solicit
support? Which outcome would we prefer -- or must we design another,
one not mentioned? These questions resemble those listed above under
"planning achievement." They are the questions asked by leaders
faced with uncertainty, rather than the conditions maintained by
managers entrusted with a system. Strategic planning, like futures
fluency, is linked to leadership.
Strategic planning consists
of six basic components: 1) program evaluation; 2) data-gathering;
3) describing several possible scenarios as well as the preferable
scenario; 4) mission statement definition; 5) outlining strategies
and goals; and 6) implementation. Like futures fluency, these activities
are most effective linked together in a continuous process. As plans
are realized and programs implemented, they undergo regularly scheduled
evaluations, which re-engage the strategic planning process.
Like futures fluency,
planning begins by looking around at the presently visible landscape.
In the planning scheme outlined above, that includes the organization's
internal landscape as well as what's happening outside it. The organization's
internal landscape is mapped via the program evaluation.
This defines the original conditions under which the organization
or community was formed, reviews the past problem definition and
the mandate that accompanied it, itemizes current activities, and
inventories strengths and weaknesses. It is akin to beginning futures
fluency by monitoring progress made towards an old vision. The external
landscape is mapped by gathering data on the environment
within which the organization or community exists. This parallels
the "identify/monitor change" activity of futures fluency.
The next four steps in
strategic planning map one-to-one onto futures fluency: exploring
organizational possibilities via alternative scenarios of the organization's
future; defining organizational preferences in a vision statement;
affirming organizational purpose via a mission statement; prioritizing
vision components as strategies and goals, and identifying resources,
allies, strengths and weaknesses; implementing strategies by defining
objectives and personal responsibilities of the participants to
the vision; and commitment. What is missing is the conscious investment
in critical evaluation at each stage.
What characterizes good
strategic planning? First, it should be ongoing, a permanent
organizational activity. Second, it is information intensive,
with data searches focussed on external conditions and change. Third,
good strategic planning expands the planning timeline, considering
the past, the present, and a range of possible futures for an organization
or community. To achieve constructive outcomes, it is opportunity
hungry, constantly working to identify allies, resources, and
emerging activity niches for the community. Strategic planning works
best when it melds the efforts of many people: it is participatory,
involving stakeholders, clients, and allies at each stage. Finally,
good strategic planning is future-focussed, concentrating
every participant's efforts to achieve the group's vision.
What are the requirements
for successful strategic planning? If implemented in a hierarchical
organization, the leaders must strongly support the process, encouraging
risk-taking on the part of their subordinates. In order to encourage
suggestions, ideas and creativity from all participants, organizers
should design a process that is simple, open, and accessible. Participation
is critical, and the process should encourage diverse input, listen
rather than lecture, and acknowledge what it has heard. Successful
strategic planning incorporates mediation and conflict resolution;
it must heighten participants' sensitivity to conflict and encourage
negotiation to balance competing interests. As part of negotiation
and creativity, it must encourage flexible thinking, particularly
in the form of new problem definitions, and solutions which identify
and adapt emerging possibilities. The final three requirements for
successful strategic planning are community consensus on the vision,
encouraging a sense of personal responsibility for achieving the
vision, and a commitment to continuously review progress and renew
and requirements also fit futures fluency. To return briefly to
the card analogy, where the two differ mostly is in the scope of
the changes they consider and attempt to influence: planners attempt
to monitor and influence the conditions internal to the game; futures
researchers attempt to monitor total transformation of the game,
the players, and the room itself into something entirely different,
and entirely unlikely.
THE BENEFITS OF FUTURES
As a whole, the elements
of futures fluency enable people to state their fears and articulate
their hopes, to consider a wide range of possible changes and build
alternative future scenarios based on those possibilities, to evaluate
critically the opportunities and constraints offered by alternative
futures, and finally to articulate their vision of a preferred future
and develop strategies to achieve it. When combined, these activities
enable us to exercise creativity, flexibility, and adaptiveness
in the face of the future.
Researchers in creativity define it as, "the formulation of a specific
problem in an initially ill-defined problem domain, or as advancing
a novel and appropriate solution to an extant problem, or both."
The cognitive mechanisms seen as crucial to creativity are: the
association of two or more previously dissociated or even incompatible
elements in the existing knowledge structure; the forging of random
associations; breaking existing perceptual and cognitive sets; mental
imaging; and the suspension of judgments. The activities of futures
fluency create conditions in which each of these cognitive mechanisms
may function -- and in fact require each of these cognitive
Envisioning the human future, the future of the species, the future
of value and meaning, the future of communities and governance,
the future of laughter, music, dance, art, and games, is the great
creative act. It does not require charisma; it does not require
attainment of power; it does not require discipline or a serious
frame of mind; it requires only reflection. But it is greatly aided
by collaboration, and perhaps the best use of the skills and tools
of futures fluency leading are participatory processes leading to
community vision and enhanced constitutent leadership.
1. This introductory section
was drawn from an earlier work by W. Schultz, with C. Bezold, and
B. Monahan, Reinventing Courts for the 21st Century: Designing
a Vision Process (Williamsburg, Virginia: National Center for
State Courts, 1993), 9-10.
2. Robert Jungk and Norbert Mullert, Future Workshops: How to Create
Desirable Futures (London: Institute for Social Inventions, 1987).
3. Warren Ziegler, Envisioning the Future: A Mindbook of Exercises
for Futures-Inventors (Denver, Colorado: The Futures-Invention
4. United Nations Development Programme, Reclaiming the Future:
A Manual on Futures Studies for African Planners (London: Tycooly
International, 1986) 13-24.
5. Eleonora Barbieri Masini, "Women as Builders of the Future," Futures,
August 1987, 431-436.
6. Personal correspondence with Ray Lorenzo of Learning Environments
regarding the "Let's Image the Future" Project with children and teens
in Italy, April 22, 1991.
7. James A. Mau, Social Change and Images of the Future: A Study
of the Pursuit of Progress in Jamaica (Cambridge, Massachusetts:
8. Neil Goldschmidt (Governor), Oregon Shines: An Economic Strategy
for the Pacific Century (Salem, Oregon: Oregon Economic Development
Department, 1989), 18.
10. Personal conversations with J. William Lockhart, Courts Administrator,
Sixth Judicial Circuit Court, Clearwater Florida, March 2-4, 1992.