Audience Dialogue

Links to the future

Futures Studies is a thriving field - perhaps because it will never be exhausted! This page contains some interesting links in the area. This page has information about...

Organizations | Books | Periodicals | Newsletters and email lists |
Major websites | Forecasting | Futures studies courses

Other futures pages on this site...
Scenario planning and related methods
Glossary of 120-odd terms used in futures studies
Paradoxes, riddles, and quotations about the future
Predictions that didn't turn out as expected


"How can you research the future?" people ask. "It hasn't happened yet." I argue that the past is a mystery too (it hasn't finished happening yet), and that the present is still unknown. Nevertheless, many people don't even want to think about the future, because they regard it as totally unpredictable. I disagree. Most aspects of the future are quite easily predictable, unless there's some freak catastrophe. The rainfall in the Atacama Desert in 2020; the time of sunrise in Sydney on 23 January 2105; the near-certainty that China will be a major world power within a decade or so (as foreseen 60 years ago by George Orwell in 1984)... Like much future history, these are almost predetermined. Perhaps because these big situations are so predictable, people focus on the unpredictable: "Will I win the first prize in the lottery?" Prediction (almost certainly correct): "No!"

It's the mixture of predictable trends with unpredictable tweaks that makes the future interesting. And even though a future situation might be quite foreseeable, its date of occurrence certainly isn't. By the time Orwell is right about China, it will be more like 2014 than 1984.

Futures organizations

There are two main organizations that people interested in the future can join:

Firstly, The World Futures Studies Federation- the leading organization for serious futurists, with a worldwide membership and focus.

Also, the World Futures Society. Despite "world" in the name, its focus is mainly American. Its website is an excellent resource for future-related matters, specially those related to technology and recent US books on futures topics.

Several other organizations have a more limited scope:

The Millennium Project, of the American Council for the United Nations University. It produces an annual publication: The State of the Future, and has published a massive review of the methods of futures studies.

African Futures - a site about possible futures for Africa.

Association of Professional Futurists. A US-based organization for futurists working commercially.

Futures publications

This section is divided into books, periodicals, and email newsletters and online discussion lists.

Futures books

A list of 60 key books on the future, by Kjell Dahle, from the Norwegian Ideas Bank. It covers 7 main areas: classics and introductions, looking back and ahead, trends, scenarios, utopias, the world problematique, and change. [Not working, December 2005]

The World Future Society has compiled a similar list of classics. December 2005: it seems to have disappeared - try the sitemap at www.wfs.org. See also the WFS "Best recent books" and Bookshelf sections.

An annotated bibliography with an emphasis on macrohistory and critical and interpretive futures, from www.metafuture.org.

The major reference books in futures studies are:

Futures periodicals

Futures.The leading scholarly magazine in this area, produced monthly by Elsevier. Unlike most other journals, this one looks a long way ahead, and covers some disturbing but important topics. For example, one forthcoming issue will feature scenarios for human extinction.

Futurist. A "pop" futures magazine, bimonthly, produced by the World Future Society. At times its uncritical "gee whiz" stance reminds me of the US popular science magazines that I used to devour as a teenager. Underlying theme: "Anything is possible." Very exhilarating, very American, but often lacking in context. This magazine is good for keeping up to date with trends (specially American ones), but for social insight look elsewhere. However, its coverage has become much broader recently.

Futures Research Quarterly. Also from the World Future Society - contains more theoretical and philosophical articles than the Futurist.

Technological Forecasting and Social Changeis a highly respected journal covering a wide range of topics, tending towards the "hard" numerical end of the futures studies spectrum.

Journal of Futures Studies. A scholarly journal, published from Tamkang University in Taiwan (in English), focusing on critical and integral futures - a good contrast with the positivist and technological focus of many of the American publications. Some of the JFS articles are available online.

Long Range Planningoften has articles touching on futures-related issues.

Foresightis a business-oriented journal, focusing on the application of foresight methods to industrial situations.

The Manoa Journal of Fried and Half-Fried Ideas. This journal comes from the Hawaii Futures Studies Center, headed by Jim Dator. He's famous for the quote, now labelled as Dator's Law: "Any useful statement about the future should seem ridiculous." Thus it's not surprising that the journal offers half-fried ideas. In fact, that's an underestimate: most of them are close to three-quarters fried. All issues are available online.

IAIR International Journal of Futures Studies: another online journal, which ceased publication in 2000, but is still available online. [Not working March 2007]

New Renaissance. A quarterly magazine for progressive discussion on the future of society, using a holistic perspective.

Newsletters and email lists

Futures Bulletin from the World Futures Studies Federation: the current issue is for members only, but back issues are available to all on the WFSF website.

www.wfs.org/futuristupdate.htm - the World Futures Society monthly email of future trends. For members only, but membership is cheap (by rich-world standards), and open to anybody.

www.ru.org/aboutus.html - the New Renaissance newsletter, an offshoot from New Renaissance magazine.

www.innovationwatch.com - Innovation Watch, a recently established website with a wealth of information on innovation and futures-related issues.

Websites on the future

Late in 2005, futurists made a "raid" on the Wikipedia, which now has a long and detailed entry on futures studies. As the Wikipedia entry is both better-known and more comprehensive than the page you are reading, this one has been shortened, retaining only the most important entries.

Some of the most interesting websites on methods of studying the future are those run by futurists themselves, either singly or in groups.

www.metafuture.org- a site with a more "philosophical" approach to the future than you usually find elsewhere, hosted by leading futurist Sohail Inayatullah. Here you can learn about topics such as causal layered analysis, macrohistory, decolonizing received futures, exploring alternative ways of knowing, and transformative action.

www.infinitefutures.com - Infinite Futures - a group led by Wendy Schultz, who's one of the foremost experts on participative group processes for futures studies. Her paper on Systemic Approaches to Foresightis one of the most comprehensive attempts I've seen at putting futures research methods into a broader context. This website is getting better and better.

www.foresightinternational.com.au - the site of Richard A. Slaughter, editor of the authoritative Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, and a major figure in the area of "integral futures".

A new website (late 2005) with the currently most comprehensive collection of links on futures issues, is www.jovokutatas.lap.hu. Don't be put off by the fact that the website is Hungarian, because nearly all the links are in English. This is a really useful resource.

Club of Rome, Famous for its 1970s quot;doomsday" book, Limits to Growth. A loose grouping of scientists and intellectuals, that calls itself a quot;global think tank" and prefers to work in the background rather than through the media.

Finland is very active in futures work, and has some of the world's most useful websites i this area - for example the Finland Futures Academy at the Türkü School of Economics.

Material from a University of Arizona course on methods and approaches for studying the future. It includes a very brief introduction and a how-to guide to doing futures studies, a "framework for transformation," a catalogue of approaches (or futures toolbox), and a brief glossary of futures studies terms. One of the most concise introductions to the subject.

Another Arizona site is Odyssey of the Futurecompiled by Tom Lombardo. A philosophical and arts-oriented site, with interesting articles focusing on cosmic evolution and future consciousness. Also an excellent bibliography of websites on the future.

Institute for Futures Researchat the University of Houston, Texas. Much more world-oriented than most US sites.

The Delphi Method is one of the longest-established techniques of futures studies, dating back to the 1960s. Here's a home page for the Delphi Method, with links to related sites giving definitions, course notes, discussion lists, and applications.

The Swedish Morphological Society has a website specializing in morphological analysis, with a number of relevant articles and links, at www.swemorph.com.

Counterfactual research news: a site on counterfactual thinking. If your parents had never met, who would you be? This is the future, as it could have been in the past. (Or perhaps it already is, and you don't know it yet.) You'd be amazed how much has been written about counterfactuals: this site has a 20-page bibliography. (What might this tell us about the present, as we know it?)

Not a website on the future but from a future studies researcher, educator and consultant, Steve Gould, contains several publications, useful links and sample projects, have a look at Steve Gould Futures.

Forecasting

Forecasting and future studies are uneasy bedfellows: related, but far from identical. Though forecasting is not always prediction, it's essentially numerical. When you make a forecast, you find some variable that can be repeated over time. You measure it repeatedly, and then estimate its likely value (or range of values) at some future time.

Though you'll find broader views of forecasting than this - e.g. in the journal Technological Forecasting and Social Change- the above definition is the most commonly accepted: i.e. forecasts are expressed as numbers.

However, forecasts are often rendered useless by a change in the relevance of the variable being measured. A good example is the 1975 report Telecom 2000 from the organization that was at the time Telecom Australia. It produced a very accurate forecast of the percentage of Australian households with a telephone in 2000 (about 98%, if you care), but it failed to see that, in 2000, household penetration would be all but irrelevant. In the age of mobile telephony, a more relevant measure is the percentage of peoplewith a telephone. The same report also failed to forecast that in 2000 Telecom Australia might no longer have a monopoly. Its implicit assumption was that the 98% of households would be customers of that organization - which turned out to be far from true.

A key difference between forecasters and futurists is the normative dimension: futurists look beyond "what will be" to "what could be". If a forecaster comes up with a statement such as "Microsoft is expected to have 90% of the world market for operating system in 2015," the forecast is delivered without question: it's just a plain statement. The only doubt expressed may be about the actual percentage. A futurist's approach would be to ask a lot more questions, such as "Microsoft may have almost the entire world market for operating systems in 2015. Is this desirable? If it happens, what are its implications? What's the most desirable future for operating systems?"

Another difference between forecasters and futurists is that futurists take a critical approach, questioning hidden assumptions. A critical futurist's approach to the above statement about Microsoft in 2015 would be to ask "90% of what, precisely? What are you going to count as an operating system? Software only, or hardware as well? Operating systems for what - just for computers, or for other items as well: cars? refrigerators? light bulbs? footballs? Will the concept of operating systems still make sense in 2015?"

Critical futurists also poke their noses into the consequences of forecasts: "If Microsoft really does get a 90% share of operating systems, how many gazillions of dollars will that bring Microsoft - and how is it likely to use all that money? And how might it use the information it collects through all those sales? Who will control Microsoft's decisions? What if it buys a country outright (Micronesia, perhaps, depopulated by AIDS, going cheap, and relevantly named) and begins to operate as a world power?"

Back to forecasting... Scott Armstrong is perhaps the world's foremost expert on useful forecasting, and his website at forecastingprinciples.com is well worth a visit. This is a comprehensive site, including the full text of his book Long-range Forecasting (1985) - still unsurpassed for its clarity, though now outdated. His 2001 Handbook of Forecasting is more comprehensive, but duller to read.

Where to study the future

There aren't many places in the world where you can learn futures studies. In 2002 the Australian Foresight Institute surveyed the available courses, and found 18 universities around the world that offered degrees in futures studies. They were in Europe (6), USA (2), Latin America (3), Taiwan (2), Australia (3), South Africa (1), and one international multi-campus university. Another 17 universities offered individual courses, but not whole degrees.
Late 2005: the Australian Foresight Institute seems to exist no longer. It's still possible to study futures at Swinburne University (the AFI's home institution) but only as a standard postgraduate course, seemingly without an institute to back it with research.

Are there any online courses on futures studies? The only one I could find in English is from Stellenbosch University in South Africa. They offer an online master's degree in futures studies. However you have to live in South Africa do to this course.

Other futures pages on this site

Scenario planning and related methods
Paradoxes, riddles, and quotations about the future
Predictions that didn't turn out as expected
The development of scenario network mapping (my doctoral thesis)
Glossary of 100-odd terms used in futures studies.

Meanwhile, if you wish to improve your financial future and live in Adelaide or South Australia, sound financial planning would be useful, and I suggest you contact David Siostrom for no obligation advice and useful tools like the wealth wall, Adelaide Financial Planning

Updated by John Goslino 26 March 2010