All futures activities, from forecasts to visioning, causal layered analysis to the Millennium Project, have a direct impact on the present: they can change peoples’ perceptions, make them aware of dangers and opportunities ahead, motivate them to do specific things, force them to invent or innovate, encourage them to change and adjust, galvanise them into collective social action, paralyse them with fear, empower them, marginalise them, or tell them they and their cultures and belief systems are important or unimportant. (Zia Sardar, 2010, p. 184).
Sardar’s quote reminds us that thinking about futures, imagining possible futures, and enacting those futures happens in the present – and that this act of thinking about futures can change peoples’ perspectives on the present. Miller (2018) asserts that the future exists in the present in the form of anticipation, while Adam and Groves (2007, p. 32) define it as “present futures amenable to contemporary futurist inquiry” and Slaughter (2002) sees it as a “principle of present action, present being [that] can be understood, explored, mapped and created, but not predicted.” A question then emerges: how we can construct a rigorous and systematic way to engage with, explore, and use the future in the present?
All Futures Studies and Foresight (FSF) work involves conversations of some form with people whose possible futures are being explored. The Futures Conversations Framework (FCF) informs the design of futures-oriented conversations in the present. The Framework integrates four existing spaces of activity/knowledge in FSF and defines them as four distinct types of conversations, all of which are essential if our understandings of possible futures are to value all possible futures that can be known in the present. Used as a design frame, the Framework has the potential to construct an open futures table, an organisational discourse about futures that aims to expand and deepen our conversations about futures.
The Framework draws on several FSF approaches: Integral Futures; scenario development; narrative foresight; and other conversational frameworks such as World Café; and Futures Search. It integrates both individual and collective assumptions that enable or constrain the construction and use of images of possible futures in organisational contexts.
The FCF should be viewed as four separate but interdependent conversations that each surface and challenge different assumptions about how we think about futures. Importantly though, the Framework is not a new method or simply a combination of methods in a new way. It is a frame to inform the design of FSF processes to ensure they include both the ‘world in here’ with the ‘world out there’ (Slaughter, 2003). When used as the frame for FSF process design, the conversations have the potential to allow a more expansive and deeper futures discourse to emerge in organisations.
I developed the Futures Conversations Framework in my doctoral research - there it was designed to demonstrate how people who worked in universities could create neutral conversation spaces that ‘forced’ them to consider other ideas of the university (our assumptions about what universities are and should be). I realised while working on the framework after my PhD that it actually had the potential of wider applications in organisations and society.
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