The Harman Fan
from Willis Harman's An Incomplete Guide to the Future
(example summarized and formatted by R. van der Helm; my gratitude
In An Incomplete Guide
to the Future, Willis Harman discusses the necessity for thinking
through the multiple causalities that produce an infinite array
of alternative possible futures. He then describes how to mimic
that pattern of development in scenario building. In its simplest
form, this technique is based on group brainstorming, but could
also be expanded to include phases of background research.
quickly brainstorm evocative titles for twenty-two "snapshots"
of alternative futures: not fully described scenarios, just
quick images of possibilities. This is best done using large
(8X5) post-it notes and thick (readable at a distance) chisel-tip,
watercolor magic markers (if you don't know why I specify watercolor,
you've obviously never had a permanent marker bleed through paper
onto the tablecloth beneath). As participants jot their ideas down,
the post-it notes are arrayed on a wall or large whiteboard so that
they are clearly visible to everyone.
The group then discusses
which of the "snapshots" seems closer to present conditions,
and which seem to require longer-term, transformational changes.
As the group discusses, the post-its are re-arranged to form rough
groups of "near-future," "medium-term future,"
"long-term future," and "far future." Actual
dates may be used, if the group desires and can agree on them.
On a mural-sized sheet
of paper, the facilitators have prepared a fan diagram in advance,
Participants then discuss
where in the chronology represented by the fan template different
"snapshot" images of the future fall, and whether neighboring
"snapshots" rely upon related trends and emerging issues
of change. As the group discusses timelines and related lines of
causality, the post-its are mapped onto the twenty-two different
triangles on the fan. When the fan is complete, it may be used to
tell different stories of how changes and innovations emerge, blend,
and ricochet when intersecting: the different triangles are like
stepping stones into the future, and different paths create scenarios
that unfold in different patterns.
For an example of the
Harman Fan used to explore different possible futures unfolding
for higher education and universities, view
this powerpoint presentation, transcribed by Ruud van der Helm
from an in-class exercise during the Futures
Research Methods II graduate seminar of the Summer 2002 Residential
Intensive Masters program in Studies
of the Future at the University
of Houston - Clear Lake. (All y'all ROCKED; special thanks to
NOTE: as the powerpoint
example contains "active," clickable regions, it is best
viewed in "slideshow" mode.