Futurists Studies Explore Complex Alternatives and Sustainability Topics
Hasan A. Yahya, Ph.Ds, Arab American Encyclopedia
Several authors have become recognized as futurists. They research trends (particularly in technology) and write accounts of their observations, conclusions, and predictions. In earlier times, many of the futurists were attached to academic institutions. For example John McHale, the futurist who wrote the book: The Future of the Future, and published a Futures Directory, directed his own Centre For Integrative Studies which was a Think Tank within the university setting. Other early times futurists followed a cycle of publishing their conclusions and then beginning research on the next book. More recently they have started consulting groups or earn money as speakers. Sociologists such as Alvin Toffler, John Niasbitt and Patrick Dixon exemplify this class.
Many business gurus present themselves as pragmatic futurists rather than as theoretical futurists. One prominent international “business futurist”, Frank Feather, coined the phrase “Thinking Globally, Acting Locally” in 1979.
Some futurists share features in common with the writers of science fiction, and indeed some science-fiction writers, such as Arthur C. Clarke, have acquired a certain reputation as futurists. Some writers, though, show less interest in technological or social developments and use the future only as a backdrop to their stories. For example, in the introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote of prediction as the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurists, not of writers: “a novelist’s business is lying”.
A study (The study consisted of 108 entries; 78 were men and 30 were women. Those from OECD nations accounted for 75 entries and non-OECD 33 entries) on what futurists think found the following shared assumptions. The shared assumptions summed up recently in a futurist report. They are:
1. Futurists are in the midst of a historical transformation. Current times are not just part of normal history.
2. Multiple perspectives are at the very heart of futures studies. Multiple methods, finding ways out of the box of conventional thinking, internal critique, cross-cultural conversations, are among the ways they are expressed.
3. Creation of alternatives. Futurists do not see themselves as merely value-free forecasters but as creators of alternative futures.
4. Complexity. Futurists believe that a simple one-dimensional or single discipline orientation is not satisfactory. Trans-disciplinary approaches that take complexity seriously are necessary. Systems thinking, particularly in its evolutionary dimension, is also seen as crucial.
5. Participatory futures. Futurists generally see their role as liberating the future in each person. Creating enhanced public ownership of the future. This is true worldwide, for the African or European futurist.
6. Long term policy transformation. While some are more policy oriented than others, almost all believe that the work of the futurist is to shape public policy so it consciously and explicitly takes into account the long term.
7. Part of the process of creating alternative futures and of influencing public (corporate, or international) policy is internal transformation. There was no divide between institutional and inner transformation that one so often notices at international meetings. Futurists saw structural and individual factors as equally important.
8. The significance of hope cannot be stressed enough as a pivotal force in creating a better future.
9. Futurists in general were motivated by a passion for change. They are not content merely to describe the world, or to accurately forecast it. They desire to play an active role in transforming the world, or playing a part in its transformation.
10. However, even with hope as a “strange attractor”, pragmatism is not lost sight of. Most believe they are pragmatists, living in this world, even as they imagine and work for another. Futurists understand that they are in a business or mission for the long term. Merely one article, book or vision does not make for transformation. Rather it is consistent effort over a life time that can help create a better world future generations.
11. Sustainability was a given. It almost didn’t need to be mentioned. Sustainable futures, understood as making decisions that do not reduce the options of future generations, that thus include the long term, the impact of policies on nature, gender and the other, appears to be the accepted paradigm. This is so for the corporate futurist and the NGO. Moreover, sustainability, in its green sense, appears to have been reconciled with the technological, spiritual and post-structural ideal of transformation. It is thus not a simplistic ideal of sustainability (i.e, back to nature) but rather a paradigm that is inclusive of technological and cultural change. (740 words) www.askdryahya.com
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