Rational for Futures Thinking Consultations
In the process of its development as an academic discipline, Futures Studies passed through four basic stages, which developed in turn to four approaches dedicated to helping scholars study the future. Each approach had its advantage and weaknesses.
The first approach, the classical school, aimed at identifying the most probable trends.
The second, the scenarios school, aimed at identifying some possible trends.
The third, the wild cards school, aimed at identifying the implausible trends,
and the fourth, the futures designer school, aimed at developing preferable futures.
Following is a synopsis of the philosophical foundation of each approach. It is important to keep in mind the principles of these approaches while attempting to use Futures Thinking in decision making processes.
The first approach, also known as the classical approach, focuses on the prediction of trends, and is based on the assumption that there is logic to evolution. The futurists of this approach try to find patterns of logic, which express themselves in evolutionary processes, and to translate them to valid, reliable models. The reliability of the models, according to a number of studies conducted during the last decade, runs on the average of 0.70 (Cornish, 1997). Futurists identified with this approach use these models to draft forecasts in order to help organizations adapt themselves to newly developing trends. This approach was dominant among senior decision makers in the 1940s and 1950s, primarily in the United States.
Today, futures’ research tends to focus on five ranges of future time. Just as there are institutions, organizations, institutes, and experts who are involved with research into different aspects and approaches of the future, it follows that they specialize in different ranges of time. The following are the five ranges of future time discussed in the literature (Joseph, 1974): The immediate range—up to five years, the short range—five to ten years, the median range—ten to thirty years, the long range—thirty to fifty years and the very long range—fifty to one hundred years.
The second approach, the scenarios approach, takes as its point of departure the assumption that, even with the understanding of evolution available to us today, it is still beyond the realm of the possible to understand sufficiently how systems develop, and to draft predictions. This approach, which began to develop in Europe toward the end of the 1960s, maintains that the more the pace of change is accelerating, the less valid are the models we have at our disposal. For this reason, the practitioners of this approach suggest the preparation of a number of possible and reasonable scenarios. They suggest making a thorough analysis and formulation of those scenarios, together with the client organizations, in order to plan the procedures of the organizations' response in a way that will be most fitting for each scenario.
The third approach, in contrast, assumes that if one is to focus on scenarios which logically speaking are unlikely to develop, and then on the basis of those scenarios, prepare response procedures in case they might really happen, s/he will be preparing themselves better for any complex and extreme possibility that might occur. The goal of the third approach is what is called the dealing of wild cards, and the preparation of the society for any extreme situation.
The fourth approach, which aims at inventing the future, assumes that it is the task of the futurists not to make predictions whilst systems are in soaring disequilibrium, but to help the members of any social, political, or business entity to mold for themselves future images or a shared vision of the future stemming from their collective wisdom. This approach began to make headway in the mid-1980s and today is considered to be one of the approaches with the broadest acceptance.
It is important to note that these approaches and their derived methodologies and procedures are tiers standing on each other. Entities willing to better prepare themselves for the future use all these approaches in constructing their futures’ imagery. Others choose the most urgent for their needs and invest their resources accordingly.