Challenges and Opportunities for Professional Futurists.
Futures work is on the verge of a "profound transition," according to Andrew Curry, futurist with the London-based Futures Company, and 14 contributors from consulting firms and research institutes based across the planet, in The Future of Futures. Together they explore new directions in which futures studies might be heading, and the changes within technology and scientific research that are driving it.
Among these contributors are some of the best-known names in futuring, including Tom Abeles, president of Sagacity, Inc.; Verne Wheel-right, founder of the Personal Futures Network; and Andy Hines, executive-in-residence at the University of Houston's futures program. The Association of Professional Futurists underwrote and published the book.
Abeles writes about the implications of the emergence of complexity science, a set of theories that questions the veracity of standard mathematical models and posits that mathematical "constants" are only really constant some of the time. The scientific community's growing acceptance of complexity science is fomenting shake-ups in science in general, according to Abeles. He expects that futures studies and practice could in turn undergo substantial change. Whether the change is for the better, however, will depend on whether futuring is able to effectively jump to a complexity-based paradigm, he concludes.
Futuring in Atrica is the subject of a chapter by Tanja Hitchert, a South African futures practitioner who directs The Millennium Project's South African Node. She describes her home continent as both a vibrant subject for futuring and the base of a dynamic futurist community. She also outlines the factors that are shaping Africa's future development (such as the growth of megacities and slums and the persistence of corruption in government), and the opportunities that Africa's futurists have in helping to direct their continent's future toward the best ends possible.
Noah Raford, international strategic planner, writes on several cutting-edge scenario planning innovations, such as how crowdsourcing could allocate much of the futures to the general public. He also describes young multimedia-inclined futurists employing video and graphics to illuminate society's future pathways, a niche that he calls "design futures." Examples include a film that depicts life in a future era of mass commercial space flight and vastly expanded electronic banking, a live dramatization of an auction of early twenty-first-century wares in the year 2059, and an artistic display that illustrates the buildup of plastics in our oceans from the twentieth century through 2030.
"Design can be used to create both compelling visions of tomorrow, and powerful lenses to reinterpret today" Raford writes.
Riel Miller, a strategic foresight practitioner who serves as head of foresight at UNESCO in Paris, stresses the increasing importance of futures practitioners adhering to a "discipline of anticipation" that defines thinking about and using the future. Specifically, they and their clients need this discipline to help them find ways to live and act without truly knowing the future.
The challenge now is to move away from conventional methods of planning and probability that extrapolate from the present and make too little room for novelty, and to reconcile the use of anticipatory methods with the fundamental impossibility of knowing the future, Miller explains. A discipline of anticipation is already emerging within futures thought, and he is hopeful that it will enable futurists to produce faster and higher-quality work.
"Success in using the future without a discipline is reaching its limits," he writes.
Editor Curry reflects on the futuring field in general. He forecasts that it will grow progressively more distributed and more networked, and that it will engage more fully with complex and emerging systems as futurists gain a better awareness of the field's history and contexts. Practitioners will operate with a richer understanding of methods and rationale, stronger philosophical underpinnings, and an awareness of the variety of ways of knowing. And as the world at large contends with trends of descent--i.e., economic regression and resource scarcities--visioning may resurge.
Curry reminds readers that it isn't just futurists' career prospects that are at stake. The world's well-being relies to an extent on futurists meeting the challenge to adapt.
"New ways of imagining the world are more urgent than ever," Curry writes. "Never was there a better time to test the implicit claim made by all futurists, that good futures work can make a difference."
The Future of Futures is concise, at only 48 pages, but offers a starting point for more extensive discussions about futuring and where the field itself is heading. The ideas and insights that it presents make it a worthwhile addition to any practicing futurist's library.
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|Title Annotation:||The Future of Futures|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2013|
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