Futurists, What are they good for?

An article was published today in the Sydney Morning Herald about futurists:

Grappling with the day after tomorrow – Futurists are struggling with mixed fortunes in their field of commerce.

I was interviewed for the piece in August last year and am mentioned in passing via a quote about my work from one of my key clients, the YMCA. The article starts off :

“Soothsayers, pundits, fortune tellers and a long history of failures have given predictions a bad name. So why do otherwise intelligent people continue to stake their profession on predicting the future?”

and continues in a similar vein. I would like to take issue with several points made in the article. I encourage you to go and read the whole article so you can judge for yourself if my comments are made in context:

1/ “Australian futurists reckon their chosen field is moving from the kooky fringe to the commercial mainstream”

I would be very surprised if any of the professional futurists mentioned in this article would consider the field as being regarded as kooky. However the article is written in a way that implies that. I would certainly agree that there are kooks and charlatans who try and predict the way things will be. My advice to clients and audiences who ask what the future of a certain industry might be in ten years is that I will guarantee only one thing : “that such a view will be wrong” That does not mean it is not useful to think through what the future might be. It is just that in a  complex and fast moving world long term predictions mostly don’t work. I have written and spoken a fair bit on the fallacies of forecasting. If you are interested you can read more on this by going to:

How to pick a good Futurist from a snake oil salesman

2/ “BHP Billiton, Telstra, Westpac, Western Power, MLC, Foster’s Group, BNP Paribas Australia and Sara Lee are among scores of companies named as clients on futurists’ websites, though in many cases this may mean only that they have had a futurist in as a guest speaker……………Inquiries to several other firms about their engagement of futurists yielded coy responses, though Telstra confirmed it engaged futurists ”from time to time to assist with various areas of our work”. Colliers International, St George Bank and the NRMA were among companies listed as clients on futurists’ websites that professed no corporate memory of it when contacted.

I have not worked with any of these clients so this does not refer to me specifically. Our work is divided roughly into about 1/3 speaking engagements, 1/3 short consulting engagements, and 1/3 longer strategy engagements which may last up to about 18 months. It seems like sloppy “gotcha” journalism to call a very large company and ask for their response on a particular project. The spokesperson has no interest in following up such a request diligently and the process seems designed to get the answer that was written rather than to properly assess worth of the foresight practitioners involved.

3/ “Those who do admit to working with futurists speak of the benefits in vague terms”

As I am referred to in the paragraph after this statement I thought I should respond in more detail. As the work we do is primarily focused on assisting others to think differently about the future it is less able to be quantified as compared to a change management process,or a sales training program, or a software delivery project. I often think about a presentation that I saw Edward de Bono do a few years ago where he likened the process of innovation in ideas being like telling a good joke. Before you tell a joke the punchline and the thread of the story are not obvious. After the joke has been told they are. Helping people in finding new possibilities is a bit like that. Once the idea or the strategies have been created they often seem obvious in retrospect and therefore allocation of credit in a quantitative way is impossible. We worked for a client last year in generating a wide range of new possible ideas given possible changes in the future. When these were presented to the CEO by the senior manager who had worked with us he said ” I could have thought of these”. To his credit the senior manager had the courage to respond “but you didn’t did you, and if it is that easy give me two more right now”. To which there was no reply.

I come from a background in science and research and farm animal production ( I have a First Class Honours Degree in Vet Science and a Bachelor of Animal Science for research into poultry diagnostic tests). In addition I grew up in a household that was steeped in analytical processes and measurement given my father has a PhD in Metallurgy, one of my brothers is an engineer and the other holds an MBA. In all of that background and work analytical processes and measurement of results were vital, and in fact it was one of the things that attracted me to the fields I became involved in. However the training I received in doing my Masters Degree in Strategic Foresight widened my horizons and my skill sets and we have to recognise that not all things are measurable in the same way. We should always seek to measure results but we must also accept that quantitative measurement of some things is impossible. My key measurement of our success is that apart from some Google Adwords advertising as a conference speaker we do no advertising. All of our work comes from word of mouth and references from existing clients. That would not happen if we were not providing value to those clients.

4/ “The sweet spot on which futurists depend for most of their living is 10 to 20 years hence. It is seen as a comfortable psychological space in which the futurist’s best stab at where things are headed is accepted as plausible and the client can plan to make the necessary changes”

I can only speak about the work that we do but 10-20 years tends to be too far away for practical value in my view. Our work has changed over the last decade to be far more focused on how do you create a strategy which deals with the fact that forecasting does not work and that “best stabs” are somewhat useless. You can read more on our approach by looking at:

How to make Strategy SEXy

5/ “Susan Oliver, the only Australian futurist invited to Kevin Rudd’s Australia 2020 Summit, insists on the case for futurist approaches but says it is getting harder in practice. ”I am not sure that we can engage in long-term planning because the world is changing too quickly in unpredictable ways,” she says. By this logic, the futurists who see rapid change as their meal ticket may be confusing their preferred with their probable futures”

Given the problems around the future summit I was probably lucky not to be invited. Our work centres around helping people deal with that rapid change and our job is to use tools which are appropriate to what is happening, not pick the tools first. This last statement in the article is a bit of a smartarse one liner that might good for a laugh but demeans what should have been a decent critique of the field of futures studies and futures consulting. It is a shame that such a decent critique did not take place.

I remember sitting in a room of graduates when a well known international futurist came to visit Swinburne University. There was a lot of bemoaning by the graduates that “we are not listened to enough and we should be because we do great work.” In response after listening for a while I said ” well maybe no-one listens to us because we are not that good at what we do?” There was complete silence in the room and the discussion went back to complaining about the lack of foresight and long term thinking in the community and with clients. Putting that aside (which has some truths to it)  I would like to make some contributions to the critique:

1/ I think there are problems because the role/job of foresight practitioners/futurists is too ill defined. The range of what we do merges into what people would define as strategy or management consultants. Unfortunately that is probably not going to change much because I am firm believer that we have to continue to change and evolve in relation to the needs of clients and the community. If you are a vet people mostly know what you do. If you are a futurist it is never going to be the case. We just have to suck it up.

2/ I think there is far too much emphasis by futurists on forecasts or in the case of the approach described by Phil Ruthven in the article on long term trends and historical cycles. People such as author Jim Collins (Good to Great, etc) make a tremendous amount of money analysing companies historical performance and then distilling the practices that supposedly achieved that great performance. The trouble is that by the time that data is collected and analysed things have changed. There have been several analyses of performance of the target companies after the studies have been done and many companies highlighted as great actually under perform in subsequent periods (anyone interested in looking that this further should read The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenweig).To be fair on the forecasting front the SMH article did mention Philip Tetlock’s work on forecasting which is a great critique of the problems with forecasting.

3/ There is a tendency (and I would include me in this category) not to challenge clients enough. In the interests of maintaining consulting income or with the flimsy excuse that “we will get in their first and then change after the first lot of work gives us entry” we do not push people to think hard enough to think differently and challenge the status quo view of the future. We are trying to change that by having an internal business model rule where we intend to reject about 1/3 of the clients that approach us on the basis that they are not pushing hard enough to think differently and are not willing to be challenged. We also push in our keynote presentations -see The Provoker for a description of that style. In recent feedback at a conference I was scored just above 8 out of 10. Analysis showed that almost 1/3 of the audience gave me 10 out of 10 but 10% gave me 1 out of 10. That is a response we actually look to achieve because unless some people reject an idea or a way of thinking it is not radical enough to move others to action. The profession needs more  of that I think. Anyway that is enough of a rant from me, I would be interested in other people’s point of view

Paul Higgins

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34 thoughts on “Futurists, What are they good for?

  1. Paul, I like your response. The original article was a lot more reasonable than others I have read about the field recently, and reflects continuing misconceptions about what thinking about the future entails. Given the time from when she talked to us, and my interaction then, to when the article was published, I’m thinking that it’s undergone some changes in style before this final version.

    The comment about language was interesting – I am precious about language when it comes to the future. I dislike prediction, futurism, future proofing, all of which infer certainty. Langauge matters. Hence the last comment in the article is undermining her intent, and “kooky” reinforces all the stereotypes – I know why she did it, and it suggests the field still has a lot of work to do.

    Your last comment about not pushing clients hard enough beyond the status quo is so important – even when people say they know they need to think differently, many are trapped in the comfort of today, so I agree about the profession needing more of the provoking right up front.

  2. Paul, I like your response. The original article was a lot more reasonable than others I have read about the field recently, and reflects continuing misconceptions about what thinking about the future entails. Given the time from when she talked to us, and my interaction then, to when the article was published, I’m thinking that it’s undergone some changes in style before this final version.

    The comment about language was interesting – I am precious about language when it comes to the future. I dislike prediction, futurism, future proofing, all of which infer certainty. Langauge matters. Hence the last comment in the article is undermining her intent, and “kooky” reinforces all the stereotypes – I know why she did it, and it suggests the field still has a lot of work to do.

    Your last comment about not pushing clients hard enough beyond the status quo is so important – even when people say they know they need to think differently, many are trapped in the comfort of today, so I agree about the profession needing more of the provoking right up front.

    • Thanks Maree. I think being particular about the language is important but we are our won worst enemy when it comes to language. I think that the core problem with the message is that there is no consistent approach or process and I do not believe that should change – so it becomes trapped in a conundrum. Not that I am that worried about it – we just need too keep striving to do good work that people value. The central question is ” Does getting better at thinking about what the future might hold benefit us as a community? I think that answer is unequivocally yes. The next question is then – are we achieving that. I think that answer is more variable and cloudy.

      Paul

      • Hi Paul. Are we achieving the changed thinking we need to respond to the future and how do we measure it? Yes, variable and cloudy because we have to ask people as individuals how they see their thinking as having changed – no ready made data source that can be turned into a KPI or an ROI measure there.

        And then there is the link between that changed thinking and impact on an organisation’s performance – again no ready made data set. There’s was an article recently about the positive impact of manager’s foresight on firm performance, but that’s the only piece of research I’ve seen.

        If we can adopt broader ‘success measures’ than just those that are data based, we might have a chance of demonstrating that thinking about the future systematically does make a difference to who we are, and how we operate in the world today.

  3. I like your response Paul – thank you for saving me the trouble! I was interviewed a few times for the work but have not been quoted. My key themes: predictions are out; yes corporates do engage and many are not quoted on websites because our corporate work is often connected to competitive intelligence; serious futures work is also about taking responsibility for our part in creating our futures. I gave a couple of WA govt examples where there are not only extensive records of deep engagement but publicly available reports with results and outcomes. But I agree with you that the client is not likely to be interested in discussing the work with journalists. Overall it’s not a bad article – simply lacks understanding. Perhaps we should collaborate and write a good media piece for the work in its many and varied forms along with the utility of the different approaches?

  4. Hi Paul, long time speak!

    I too also like your response.

    The problem I have with the article is that it is taking the view that futurists need to fit within the cultural mainstream and establish a legitimate role within the current commercial status quo. I don’t actually believe current business models know how to place or provide roles for futurists or foresight practice which is why its so hard for us to demonstrate the legitimacy of our field.

    What this article fails to say is that as hard as we try to fit in and make a difference, the dominant systems businesses operate to simply don’t have the capacity to digest or utilise the type of decision making foresight fosters. If futurists continued to be engaged by companies in hope that we will reveal the paradigm shift that will turn them into the next Google, then we will continue to be under utilised and misunderstood. The reality is the Googles and Facebooks of this world are successful because their business models are agile and not built on the old school model most companies operate from. They can therefore seek out and digest the role of foresight and can apply it to what they do.

    Of course I have never worked independently as futurist so I can’t speak from that level of experience but I do provided the perspective of a futurist working within an organisation. Although I’m not recognised as a futurist, I practice and use my foresight on a regular basis in my role, unbeknownst to those I work with. Of course I’d like to be recognised for what I do but I can also see that being ‘undercover’ is the only way I can operate in the business/cultural model my organisation works from. This is because to me, foresight offers holistic benefits and perspectives (purpose, vision, values, resilience) that challenge traditional wealth focussed models. Organisations and people find this difficult to adapt to as they have had no exposure to it during their lives. This is why I try to integrate new perspectives with the people I work with (e.g. build alternative processes) rather than imposing change directly upon them. “Be the change you wish to see….”

    It’s certainly not easy but every little bit counts.

    M*

  5. Hi Paul,

    A couple of comments. Personally, I think the journalist got most things pretty right (which is better than most articles on the topic). I obviously wasn’t interviewed for it but in my opinion the field is generally regarded as kooky. If a blue chip firm publicly admitted to working with futurists on serious business decisions they’d probably be worried about the company share price dropping as ‘the market’ learned of this! Perhaps you mix in different circles.

    Clarifying benefits/evaluation is a big issue. Claiming “more effective decision-making” as success – this seems to be what many practitioners promote – is both vague and poorly differentiated. Oliver Freeman gets closest to stating a specific aim when he talked about “the extent to which it builds resilience within the organisation”, but there is little underneath this in terms of indicators, measures, and so on. I know that some practitioners like Andy Hines are very keen to get more happening on this front. Sounds like Maree is too.

    I always think back to when I was working in advertising. If your campaigns weren’t improving sales, or – more intangibly – improving brand perception/images then, well, your clients went elsewhere. As we’ve moved away from predictive accuracy as a success measure (I agree with that) nothing has been put in its place as a clear, widely adopted, success measure. That’s again something that I think the journalist got right.

    Your critique of Good to Great etc is bang-on but the problem is even deeper than this. Those writers/researchers adopt an epistemological framework known as ‘logical positivism’ which blinds them to the realities you describe. One part of this is missing the necessary conditions for particular approaches to ‘work’ and, instead, assuming they’ve found the solution “X” for problem “Y” (and not particular to the time and/or place in which “X” was “discovered”).

    All of this is the subject of my current doctoral project. I’m developing a research project that will look at how can you better evaluate foresight work in collaboration with a consultancy that uses foresight tools. (I’m hoping to collaborate with a firm called Reos Partners which is led by Adam Kahane, but this is yet to be finalised.)

    Stephen

    • Hi Stephen. Thanks for the thoughtful response.

      Certainly the field is seen as a bit kooky and I always have to explain what I do to people. I just felt that the article implied we thought it was kooky which is far from the truth.

      I would be keen for measures as well so I am interested in the work you are doing. The problem with the sort of things like “building resilience” is even if you can measure that (which is a problem in itself), what impact did a particular project or consultant have within that change? It is the same problem that not for profit organisations are wrestling with all over the world when faced with questions of impact investing – what was the specific contribution worth if the whole community improves and how do you separate out the contributing factors?

      I agree with your comments on ‘logical positivism’. We encounter that all the time and have to work with people to try and understand the problem in the first place and then work through the different contexts that apply compared to where a successful solution was put in place. The recent episode with JC Penny where the superstar CEO was brought in from Apple stores to revitalise them and appeared to apply an Apple store methodology to a totally different set of products, customers and employees is a case in point.

      I am aware of REOS and would like to keep in touch about the results of your research.

      Paul

  6. Hi Paul

    Thanks for posting this. I’m pointing the current cohort of proto-(choose your favorite descriptor here) to you Blog and the ongoing conversation and encouraging them to join in – its their field too!

    Feedback about how others see us is always very interesting, even useful if it can get past of self-guardians that are always on guard for anything too challenging.

    My view accords with much that others have said. I think Catherine has tried mightily to find a ‘narrative’ to relate what must have been an idiosyncratic journey through all of our attempts to answer the seemingly straightforward question, “So what it is you do exactly?” The narrative she ended up choosing to go with was the predictable “so what have you predicted lately?” line. Whether that was her chosen narrative or what it took to get it published, I guess we will never know.

    I agree too with the view that we tend to hard to categorise perhaps because many of us think to be free of such limitations makes us more effective. And some of us are doing foresight perhaps because it does allow us to wear the garb of the dissenter.

    Cheers

    • Hi Peter,

      Personally, I think the “narrative” was subtler than that – more about a small, emerging profession (potentially) still trying to define what they do, their value to clients/society, and to achieve greater legitimacy. It’s no surprise that she looked for prediction examples, as no alternative notion of “success” has been coherently defined or clearly substantiated by the field

      Feedback is often difficult to receive – and I think we need to be more open to such feedback, rather than “shooting the messenger”, simply critiquing the message, and so on. Your point about this is important.

      Stephen.

      • Excellent pickup by you Stephen on the difficulty of defining success – hence prediction as the fallback. I wonder what some other notions might be?

        Peter

      • Yes Paul – like you did when you toasted us all in front of that European academic. I remember it like it was yesterday.

      • Hi Peter (and all),
        Good question. From my reading there’s a range of views/notions that different folk have adopted.

        Andy Hines PhD thesis provides one view. He argues against trying to pin down one definition of success that fits all cases, arguing based on literature review that “successful outcomes” are context-dependent. Nonetheless he asserts that the primary aim of foresight work is improved decision-making.

        Framing success this way – as providing useful and meaningful contributions to decision-making processes – is extremely common in the foresight literature.

        Implied here, I think, is a focus on ‘robust’ decision-making (that explicitly addresses uncertainty and ignorance). But this is often implicit or unclear in the literature – it depends on what model of decision-making is being used.

        Looking at the corporate context, there’s little clarity. The European academic who’s published more on this than anyone (to my knowledge), Rene Rohrbeck, recently commented that “I have struggled myself to decide which ‘success’ criteria or which value creation one should expect from scenario planning or corporate foresight in general”. Adding: “Is it: (1) enhancing organizational practices, such as decision-making, innovation planning, etc.; or (2) the final organizational outcome like performance, survival, superior profit?”

        Aside from lack of clarity Rohrbeck believes “we need to create more understanding about how this value creation can be achieved”. I agree!

        A related theme in the academic literature is to view the “process” as being more important, or at least as important, than the “product” (e.g. outputs like scenarios that can be compared to what later emerges) — or viewing the process as the product. Here, “success” is commonly defined as a ‘foresight’ process that enables or stimulates significant learning, and/or contributes to reflection on alternative choices or actions, but what is/isn’t significant often depends on the contexts. A process goal can often be to generate more creative and expansive thinking if it is currently conservative or unimaginative.

        In an area I’m examining in my doctoral research foresight tools are mostly seen as “tools for change”, desired outcomes are change-related and normative. “Success” might equal enabling alignment of strategies or contexualisation of expectations that helps to smooth transformation processes.

        Related areas like technology assessment (TA) seem to have greater clarity. TA practitioners are clear that prediction is not the aim; instead their aims includes reducing the human and social costs of learning how to handle new technologies in society – beyond a trial-and-error approach – which is enabled by anticipating possible impacts of technological choices and feeding this back into decision-making and development. There is a clear normative agenda, rather than neutral notion of success/failure.

        Overall, I think this is an area needing much more attention.

        Stephen

        P.S. Andy Hines in his thesis also asserts that the “dialogue amongst futurists and clients about the specifics of success remains to be negotiated “. Perhaps this indicates his view that the field lacks clarity on these matters, and doesn’t just refer to the need to determine with a specific client the success measures.

      • Hi Peter (and all),
        Good question re: other possible notions of “success”. From my reading there’s a range of views/notions that different folk have adopted.

        Andy Hines PhD thesis provides one view. He argues against trying to pin down one definition of success that fits all cases, arguing based on literature review that “successful outcomes” are context-dependent. Nonetheless, he asserts that the primary aim is improved decision-making.

        Framing success this way – as providing useful and meaningful contributions to decision-making processes – is extremely common in the foresight literature.
        Implied here, I think, is a focus on ‘robust’ decision-making (that explicitly addresses uncertainty and ignorance). But this is often implicit or unclear in the literature – it depends on what model of decision-making is being used.

        Looking at the corporate context, there’s little clarity. The European academic who’s published more on this than anyone (to my knowledge), Rene Rohrbeck, recently commented that “I have struggled myself to decide which ‘success’ criteria or which value creation one should expect from scenario planning or corporate foresight in general”. Adding: “Is it: (1) enhancing organizational practices, such as decision-making, innovation planning, etc.; or (2) the final organizational outcome like performance, survival, superior profit?”

        Aside from lack of clarity Rohrbeck believes “we need to create more understanding about how this value creation can be achieved”. I agree!

        An emerging theme in the academic literature is to view the “process” as being more important, or at least as important, than the “product” (e.g. outputs like scenarios that can be compared to what later emerges) — or viewing the process as the product. Here, “success” is commonly defined as a ‘foresight’ process that enables learning, and/or contributes to reflection on alternative choices or actions, but what is/isn’t significant often depends on the contexts. A process goal can often be to generate more creative and expansive thinking if it is conservative or unimaginative.

        In an area I’m examining in my doctoral research foresight tools are mostly seen as “tools for change” (see Forum for the Future), desired outcomes are change-related and normative. “Success” might equal enabling alignment of strategies (re: distribution control/influence) or contextualisation of actor expectations that helps to smooth societal transformation processes.

        Related areas like technology assessment (TA) seem to have greater clarity. TA practitioners are clear that prediction is not the aim; instead their aims includes reducing the human and social costs of learning how to handle new technologies in society – beyond a trial-and-error approach – which is enabled by anticipating possible impacts of technological choices and feeding this back into decision-making. There is a clear normative agenda, rather than a neutral notion of success.

        Overall, I think this is an area needing much more discussion.

        Stephen

        P.S. Andy Hines in his thesis also asserts that the “dialogue amongst futurists and clients about the specifics of success remains to be negotiated “. Perhaps this indicates his view that the field lacks clarity on these matters, and doesn’t just refer to the need to determine with a specific client the success measures.

    • I think that she did go beyond the question of prediction and went to success overall but that is a very hard thing to define and so in a short mainstream article I guess it was always going to default.

      Agree with Stephen about measurement but we must be careful about that as well because if success is limited to the easily measurable then we may end up looking under he lamp post because that is where the light is. I wrote a post on that on my Tumblr blog the other day – doctors use BMI as a measurement because it is easy to do but there is lots of evidence that more sophisticated measurement of lifestyle, exercise and diet work much better but because they are hard to do they get pushed to one side.

      • I used to manage two departments that produced KPIs for strategies. In one case in particular, it was after I arrived at the university and reviewed the KPIs and the strategy to discover that the data being collected was disconnected from the strategy – entirely. So the Council kept ticking these reports off, and no one was the wiser. Seek to measure = compliance response, the easiest option.

        In my view, futures work seeks to change the way people think about the future – they must be pre- and post- testing instruments that could be used in our work, but would I want to do that? Nope. I’m in the middle of creating an impact survey to ask my previous clients whether the work I did had any impact on their organisation. Might work, might not… Success is in the eyes of the people we work with, and that will mean different things to different people, whether they work in organisations, non-profits, governments.

        And to hark back to language, if we could rid the world of the word prediction and all the things that underpin it, then we would be in a better place. The usual response about ‘where’s your crystal ball?” (can’t tell you how many supposedly smart people in universities have said that to me) would disappear and people would not have the default position anymore. And different narratives might emerge. Of course, it is not that simple, but it’s a start.

      • It is a challenging, fraught area for all the reasons mentioned by you (e.g. measuring the wrong things), and Paul (disentangling causal factors to claim particular effects/impacts).

        I’m still clarifying my views on it. I generally don’t view foresight as being like the organisational interventions with detailed pre/post measurements — some business consultancies to try show the impact of their org change interventions in this way. But I also think “changing the way people think about the future” is too vague – change in what ways? How do you know if the goal has been successfully achieved? And what’s the value of doing this?

        It is interesting to look at different approach to evaluation research. A “constructivist” perspective will argue that the value of futures work is subjective, and that the best you can do is understand the perceptions of different stakeholders. I heard a bit of this perspective in your comment Maree. A “positivist” perspective aims to prove particular impacts and to establish causality (that the foresight intervention caused such outcomes) – perhaps with a pre/post measurement. A “realist” perspective seems to be more of a middle ground.

        Your impact survey sounds interesting. I’m wondering what sorts of questions you’re asking. Are they open questions, or more closed questions seeking rating on particular criteria/the sorts of impacts you’re interested in? Would be great to hear more, if possible.

        Stephen

  7. Hi all,
    I have enjoyed very much all of your comments. As Peter H has described I am a Proto practitioner. For me the article and some of the discussions I see people have is about a better future (what ever that is). However, for me and I think Paul mentioned this as well was helping people think about the present. So although the article categories this profession in terms of thinking about the future, as a fellow cohort student so elegantly described it in a paper he posted on our blackboard blog, for him the question is more about the present. How can we help people think of the present in terms of years, lifetimes and generations, rather than days weeks or months. He goes onto say, the possible unintended consequences of their present behaviours (regardless of their values) will be reduced. Helping people understand how we all make sense of the world differently but to find a common path so we can make them care enough to act today is a message I am hoping to share with people…for me that is our profession as I see it in my current level of development.
    I was also pleased to see our profession get a mention and possibly the unintended consequence from this article is that we have all communicated and expanded our network just a little bit more.

    Simon

    • So should we go and do something. I think that while there is a general consensus here that we did not particularly like the article the criticism that is embodies in it is valid and we need to get a lot better. Should we form a group around Stephen’s thesis to think more deeply about this?

      • Hi Paul, Stephen, Maree and all,

        Please count me in on this group to ‘think more deeply about this’. I wrote a three page rebuttal on the 31st and shared it privately with a few people perhaps more as therapy. It will not be going any further though. I’m not generally one to stick my head up and get it shot off nor seek to kick off journalistic warfare so it will sit for a while and be reworked at a later date with the emotive bits removed. I vented and offered my perspective but in short felt the article twisted the trust and responses of those that had provided their time. I was not interviewed or aware of the article till I saw Paul’s posting on LinkedIn and Josh’s resend somewhere around the 28th/29th. On settling down though I agree some time needs to be put into more clearly articulating some more readily agreed broader measures and clearer definition(s) of what foresight is or is not and what we as foresight thinkers and pratitioners do. I have my views you all have yours but are we all speaking French, English or something other? The good thing perphaps is the article has spurred a need for a sense of action to revisit the the ‘professionalisation’ of that thing we do…but never ever will quite agree on. Professionalisation may mean that foresight needs a media unit /representative(s) and some well thought through responses that the profession agrees to in relation to the typical questions or irrational harangs that will come from time to time. Maybe it is time for some role playing in house (a safe space) where thinking and responses can be developed for when they are needed almost like training or simulation in being more spontaneous (not me of course), clearer and more concise if not more consistent if not just for the sake of reflecting a more professional self reflection to others of what it is we are and do.

        In short I think we need to come up with some new short pithy responses to what we are as a profession, what we do, how we do it, and on a scale of more certain to less certain the types of instruments / feedback we may use in lieu of measures. Something a questioner could say ahh yes I get that …and merrily go on their way without thinking who was that masked man / group do they have any idea how ‘kooky’ they sound because they’re all wearing different masks and singing different songs. Thats my cryptic input for the day. Feeling better for the rant and some more venting.

        Cheers,
        Brett

      • Hi Paul,
        Yes would be great to. Not sure it should be around my thesis, per se, but I’m keen to contribute to further discussions on this subject.

  8. Hi Paul, Stephen, Maree and all,

    Please count me in on this group to ‘think more deeply about this’. I wrote a three page rebuttal on the 31st and shared it privately with a few people perhaps more as therapy. It will not be going any further though. I’m not generally one to stick my head up and get it shot off nor seek to kick off journalistic warfare so it will sit for a while and be reworked at a later date with the emotive bits removed. I vented and offered my perspective but in short felt the article twisted the trust and responses of those that had provided their time. I was not interviewed or aware of the article till I saw Paul’s posting on LinkedIn and Josh’s resend somewhere around the 28th/29th. On settling down though I agree some time needs to be put into more clearly articulating some more readily agreed broader measures and clearer definition(s) of what foresight is or is not and what we as foresight thinkers and pratitioners do. I have my views you all have yours but are we all speaking French, English or something other? The good thing perphaps is the article has spurred a need for a sense of action to revisit the ‘professionalisation’ of that thing we do…but never ever will quite agree on. Professionalisation may mean that foresight needs a media unit /representative(s) and some well thought through responses that the profession agrees to in relation to the typical questions or irrational harangs that will come from time to time. Maybe it is time for some role playing in house (a safe space) where thinking and responses can be developed for when they are needed almost like training or simulation in being more spontaneous (not me of course), clearer and more concise if not more consistent if not just for the sake of reflecting a more professional self reflection to others of what it is we are and do.
    In short I think we need to come up with some new short pithy responses to what we are as a profession, what we do, how we do it, and on a scale of more certain to less certain the types of instruments / feedback we may use in lieu of measures. Something a questioner could say ahh yes I get that …and merrily go on their way without thinking who was that masked man / woman /group do they have any idea how ‘kooky’ they sound because they’re all wearing different masks and singing different songs. Thats my cryptic input for the day. Feeling better for the rant and some more venting.

    Cheers,
    Brett

  9. Hi all,

    On the measures thing because of the diversity of the way we individually think and how we practice maybe a set of scales or some form of framework is required where we can point to the field and indicate where we are operating from and where in that particular assignment we may be practicing from or what we are applying to the assignment.

    No one likes to oversimplify what we do however some sort of 2D/3D/4D scale(s) not just certainty to uncertainty as I noted above perhaps should be explored for communication and clarity purposes. Like Simon above I like to operate from the present using awareness as the key bringing the past and future to the present so other scales or positioning could perhaps include:

    * Certainty – Uncertainty
    * Awareness
    * Thinking styles
    * Ontological perspective (???? – Logical Positivism – Metaphysics ???? )
    * The language overlay(s)
    * The tools / instruments overlay

    All of these of course need definition but could provide something we could point to to assist guide others in relation to what it is we do and where we are operating from and what we are applying. Just some more thoughts.

    Regards
    Brett

  10. In a field that has multiple philosophies and multiple ways of knowing, coming up with a universal set of success measures is unlikely to be achievable. As others have said, context matters (this should be one of the core mantras of our work), and what counts as success is in the eye of the beholder. Agreeing on how to measure success needs to be designed into a foresight process at the beginning, rather than being a hindsight exercise, and then when asked was the foresight project successful, there would be an answer.

    The APF is the best arena to deal with professionalisation – they have a white paper coming out shortly but it’s been delayed because of strong feelings about ways of knowing and philosophy…that the professional association for the field can’t agree is a sign of the wicked nature of this issue.

    Stephen, yes, happy to share the impact survey questions when they are ready – I am reworking them in the light of this conversation.

    I would like to continue to be involved in this process as well.

    • Hi Maree,

      Sounds great lets all make it happen. Re: APF, are they producing a white paper specifically on evaluation, or something different?

      I’m yet to join APF, perhaps I should to stay in the loop on these things…

      Stephen

      • The white paper is on the future of futures – as in the future of the field. Each of the authors has a particular perspective. And joining the APF is a good idea in my view, but then I’m biased. 🙂

  11. Pingback: Key issues in foresight evaluation

    • Thanks Stephen

      I am away working in NZ at the moment. When I get back will put call out to see if we can get together face to face and see if we can produce something useful out of this conversation beyond the thinking that has already been contributed.

      Paul

  12. I have come into this dialogue late. The comment from me was taken out of context. I was discussing the challenges facing any sort of planning and strategy in a volatile time, and making the case that scenario planning had the best chance of many analytical approaches to making sense of that dynamic. I agree it was a gotcha sort of article and contributed little value. cheers Susan Oliver

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