and Futures Activities
for Public Policy and Planning
The Hawaii Research Center
for Futures Studies (HRCFS) and the Center for Development Studies
(CDS) -- partners in the conspiracy to infuse public policy and
planning efforts with futures research -- are housed on the seventh
floor of (what used to be called) Porteus Hall at the University
of Hawaii - Manoa. Appropriately for such blue-sky endeavours, the
seventh floor is a delight of open balconies and breezeways suspended
in the sky. Also appropriately, our closest collaborators were housed
securely and sensibly on the ground, in the garden space of the
Porteus atrium: the Department of Urban and Regional Planning (DURP).
My seven years as a research associate with the
HRCFS and CDS (1989-1995) involved projects ranging from foresight
workshops for Micronesian diplomats (sponsored by the US Foreign
Service), through Hawaii's Ocean Resources Management Plan, the
State Justice Institute's project to create a guidebook for state
court visioning, the Office of State Planning project to use scanning
results to create scenarios of possible futures for Hawaii, the
futures of alternative dispute resolution, mass transit planning,
policy strategies for sea-level rise and global warming... the complete
list is embedded in my resume.
We pushed the boundaries
of institutional worldviews, value sets, and conceptual frameworks.
Hard. We learned a lot from each other and from our project participants.
And occasionally we actually managed to make a difference.
What, you ask, is
the relationship between futures studies and planning, or public
policy? My best effort at a distinguishing metaphor is that of the
card game: 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
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?
Many of the activities defined throughout this website as comprising
futures fluency -- or applied futures studies, or foresight -- 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.
the best public policy demonstrates creativity, and emerges from
transformative leadership. Foresight -- sensitivity to emerging
change and its effects and impacts -- and vision -- the articulation
of values and goals as a preferred future -- are the heart of leadership.
If you doubt that, go reacquaint yourself with the works
on leadership I have annotated in my bibliography. MacGregor
Burns' definition of transformative leadership hinges on leaders'
abilities to communicate a compelling vision. But foresight is even
more critical to issues of planning and public policy, because planning
for communities should address the long-term using a generational
perspective: what do we want our communities to be for our children,
grand-children, great-grandchildren? Public policy should address
not merely present problems, but future goals. That anticipatory
effort requires foresight, which in turn means understanding systemic
interrelationships and learning to identify sources of potential
change: skills of foresight and future studies.