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Foresight 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 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? 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.

But 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.


> Essays > Leadership > Libraries | Public Health | Universities | Policy

15 February 2003. Email IF.
Copyright © 2003, Wendy L. Schultz
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