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Visions R Us:
A critical management perspective
on democracy and participation in the WFSF

Wendy L. Schultz
September 18, 1991
Barcelona, Spain

Forgive me if my suggestions are less lofty, idealistic, and world-spanning than the previous speakers'; I have approached this task from a management/research administration perspective. This leads to more concrete, institutionally specific suggestions. Furthermore, while panel members were requested by the organizers to limit their listing of criticisms and focus instead on positive suggestions, I will briefly review the categories of constraints that emerge again and again as major themes in the chorus of members' complaints.

When members complain about lack of participation, they refer to constraints, which fall into four major categories: 1) financial; 2) infrastructural; 3) temporal; and 4) lack of information. The first three are common to many non-profit or voluntary organizations. Let me summarize them briefly.

  1. Financially, the Federation has insufficient funds first, to properly support membership travel needs to enable a broad range of participation particularly among younger members or potential members; and second, to pay salaries for the support staff a five-hundred member organization requires to function effectively and efficiently.
  2. Infrastructural constraints on participation include all the various problems we have communicating in a timely way due to balky phone systems, slow and unreliable postal services, lack of equally distributed fax and e-mail capabilities.
  3. The temporal constraints are obvious: too little time available away from our professional duties to participate to the level we'd like -- we sometimes seem to be a federation of workaholics; too long a time between the Federation's general assemblies and world conferences to maintain information exchange and the sense of community or network; and too little time and creative space available within the conferences when they do occur. These constraints also interact. With no money to support release time, temporal constraints are particularly onerous on the executive officers and council of this organization, who must juggle the responsibilities of keeping the organization alive with the responsibilities of earning enough salary to keep themselves alive. As Katrin Gillwald has so accurately pointed out, the most active participants in the Federation must consign their professional duties to the tag ends of their time.

But the fourth category of constraint, lack of information, is what keeps us from eradicating the other three. Robert Jungk has suggested that we are too inward-looking as an organization. On one level, I agree; perhaps we have been too narrow in defining our substantive focus, and our boundaries for action. But we seem to miss turning either our investigative training, our critical propensity, or our problem-solving skills on this organization of which we are all members. It's time to begin self-analysis -- agonizing reappraisal, if you will. As a group, we seem to know woefully little about ourselves.

The Federation has no explicitly narrated institutional history, and few formal internal requirements for institutional histories on any of its regular activities: how to organize a regional workshop, the Dubrovnik course, a world conference; what works, what doesn't; what resources exist in the world to support any of these activities; what shortcuts are effective.

When we do compile and distribute budgets of our projects and activities, they leave out in-kind donations of professional time, as well as outright donations of funds made personally by organizers and participants. Consequently, we have no idea how much it costs to have all our officers keeping the organization afloat during their professional time, and meeting their professional responsibilities on the tag ends of their personal time. In fact, we have no idea of how much it actually costs to run this organization, and little factual basis for asking for increased support in the form of grants or donations if we were aggressively searching out expanded funding.

Finally, it has been a decade-long irritation to me that new members are not automatically sent a copy of the Federation by-laws: WFSF governance procedures were arcane mysteries never fully explained to me up to and including the meetings during which I was asked to vote on the President, and on nominees for the Executive Council. Imagine my surprise on realizing, in the latter case, that all I was doing was rubber-stamping a slate of candidates, instead of having the opportunity to vote for individuals separately. I note that Peter Mettler also included by-law distribution on his list of suggestions, and upon receiving the by-laws as distributed in the President's report to the membership, has crossed that item off. Peter, you are premature: now that I have read the by-laws, it is quite clear to me WHY they were not mailed to new members.


Basically, we need more information, distributed more effectively throughout the membership, to enhance participation in both organizational decision-making and in organizational activities. The less people know about how things work, the more shut out of the system they feel. Many of us have gained a working knowledge of Federation activities by irritable persistence, badgering the "inner circle," or proximity to decision-making -- I have been "information advantaged" by close professional association with the office of the Secretary-General, and later, the President. The inner circle may argue that an "inner circle" doesn't exist -- but a structural division/power advantage does exist within the Federation with regard to information and activities.

Enhancing reporting and historical documentation will also increase the effectiveness of our activities, and our efficiency in pursuing them. Efficiency is often a dirty word among the politically critical, but if our officers must work with the tag ends of their time, then they must use that time as productively as possible. We should not be in the business of recreating wheels with regard to our usual activities. More specifically, we need:

  1. more complete reports of what worked and what didn't in the organization and activities of conferences and workshops -- evaluation forms offered to participants might be useful;
  2. budgets which include staff time donated by members ("in-kind" donations, in research admin jargon), so that we can begin to estimate the real costs of total support of WFSF activities, so that we can aggressively pursue financial support, so that we can eventually rid ourselves of constraints #1, #2, and #3, all of which are solvable given sufficient funding;
  3. to summon up our energies to search out grants from governments, corporations, foundations, or to devise some profit-generating activities;
  4. to stop wasting time at international conferences by forcing the Executive Council to sit through meetings with agendas identical to those of the General Assembly convocations -- presuming the Executive Council exists to make decisions when circumstances preclude convening the membership, when circumstances DO bring the membership together for General Assemblies we have no need for separate Council meetings (I am assuming the Council has no reason to keep their proceedings from the members at large);
  5. documentation of our organizational structure and formal rules for functioning -- all new members should be sent copies of the Federation by-laws and organizational structure, and either the by-laws or the organization restructured, I don't care which, so that they MATCH each other;
  6. to spread the responsibilities around -- we ARE rich in human resources, but a great percentage of those resources are woefully underutilized, while a small percentage are close to being tapped out in terms of time and energy -- by delegating, as Bart von Steenbergen has suggested, more tasks to newer/younger members, such as inviting them to chair conference working groups -- or just formally inviting them to perform/facilitate/speak as members of the working group panel -- we are seeing the same faces over and over again during this conference (I'm one of them, and I've heard entirely too much from myself...), and given the intellectual resources of Federation members, that repetition is absurd and unnecessary.

We must trust each other more with the Federation's goals. Tony Judge quipped that democracy was both bad and boring -- by which I supposed him to mean that peculiar activity in which we indulged ourselves during this most recent General Assembly, of listening to reports, entertaining prepackaged proposals from overworked peers, yawning in the warmth, and lackadaisically voting to approve whatever that motion just was. That particular approach to hearing all voices, that example of democracy, may be both bad and boring -- but participation is not. If we are going to trust each other more to work towards Federation goals in our futures activities, we need to ask ourselves what our goals are. Answering that one question will power the shifts in perspective and the changes required to remove the constraints with which we currently struggle. If we clarify what purpose we want the WFSF to serve in the next two decades, what we want to DO, we will clarify what the Federation should look like in structure, and what related tasks members might independently initiate to contribute to those long-term goals.

I submit to you that the Federation had at its inception a vision, a mission, which its members have faithfully pursued over two decades -- and achieved. It never seems to have been explicitly stated, but interpolating from the structures, the interpersonal relationships, the kinds of activities now considered traditional, that mission seems to have been one of support and nurturance for the then-nascent field of futures studies: allowing the early explorers a sanctuary for working out ideas, a community of support to reinforce the sanity and usefulness of building futures studies as an intellectual discipline, a proving ground for foundation concepts in the field, and a beacon to attract like-minded adventurers to join the creative project. In my feeble reading of the Federation's history, that initial vision focussed the organization on supporting all individuals and activities that would create futures studies as a respected, viable, and growing intellectual discipline. It looks to me like much of that has been accomplished -- look to the growth in membership.

In the last few days, I have heard fears voiced that perhaps the Federation is stagnating. Say rather that we have stalled in a calm; we are missing the wind of renewed vision. My final suggestion, then, is that our next great task is to organize, as a group, an ACTIVE meeting -- not a world conference -- made up of small teams dedicated to creating a new vision of WFSF goals and activities for the next-quarter century. I am sure that the Finnish futures group is planning a challenging meeting for us all in '93; but I regret that it is too late to focus the whole agenda on imaging a preferred future the Federation. I hope that it is not too late to request that one entire day, at the least, be set aside for such an effort. As futures researchers, we need to envision ourselves first.


> Essays > Futures Studies > Virtuous Circles and Variety
>> Imagination/Innovation: Innovations | Science Fiction | Archetypes
>> Education/Outreach: Plausibility | Details | Overview
>> Articles/Presentations: Strengths and Weaknesses | Scanning | Scenario Analysis | Good for You | Essential Visioning |
>> A/P continued: Words, Dreams, and Action | Unpacking Our Cultural Baggage | Visions R Us | Sidling (Creativity/Critique)

15 February 2003. Email IF.
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