The Future of Foresight


Last Thursday and Friday  was an exceptional gathering of foresight experts around the world in Brussels to talk about the methods to penetrate the future and, of course, raving about what do we actually see in the future. FTA conference, as it was called, brought together some 400 hundred people. To me, it meant that the profile of foresight is fast increasing as we are about to understand, how fundamentally European economies - and indeed societies at large - are from where they could be. Something must emerge to bring some hope into horizon.

At the start, there came a clear message from Commission. They see themselves in the situation where all in their development activities they want to increase participation, want to point out what’s relevant and want to increase interdisciplinarity. In all this aspects, foresight, if properly taken care of, can be of help. Foresight studies and practice may bring reflection on what is really happening, as Sohail Inayatullah, professor of foresight in number of Universities, said in his opening speech. And only then are we able to take care of looking at various future alternatives.

Foresight expert has a role of a troubadour in our societies. Troubadour is a messenger, sometimes with a lot of entertainment too.  She has the task make hidden explicit, to show how future is and is not unlike past, to challenge the existing paradigm, to give people hope but also give them warning.

All these roles were reflected in the conference. We talked a lot about the roles of various technologies. Simultaneously, we plunged into the worlds of evaluation and systems view. And of course, various tools, such as horizon scanning and other forms of future technology analysis were scrutinized. Particular emphasis was on various participatory methods, such as casual layered analysis.

One theme that is indeed an ascending trend in futures studies is the role of uncertainty, complexity and disruptions. Traditionally, futures studies methodologies have been geared towards understanding the trends, ascending and descending continuums.   But the more we open to understand that any single development is actually a result of wide array of explicit and implicit factors that come from other territories and often in a rather random fashion, we only start be resourced to understand larger societal changes any meaningful way.

This was particularly true with my own session that was targeted to address the issue of industrial transformation. It is a tough issue to address what is actually happening to the industry as we have learnt to know it? What will be like the European industry scene in 2050, taken into account what transformative forces there are in place? We are going to see the greatest peace-time destruction of our institutions and economies as something new is simultaneously pushing through. Those that survive and flourish are the ones have ability to foresee the fundamentals of change and ride on them.

But there is something more to it: politicians and other decision makers need to face the reality and realize that much of what they think as managerial challenges are actually about tough political choices. This topic was brilliantly addressed in the conference by prof. Andrew Stirling, who said that if  we do a lot of harm if we let this managerial touch to hide of what politics is really about: deciding on which building blocks are the best to construct the future we all want.

Summa summarum: futures studies is about going to the fringes, going there were normal and standard disciplines don’t go. Seeing connections between two separate fields. I would like to call futures studies the borderline science and universities and other knowledge brokers would be advised to support this kind of action. Only then our discipline could be best utilized.