Introduction to Futures Studies

What is Futurology?


Futurology is the formal and systematic study of possible, probable, and preferable futures, and of methods of foresight development for individuals, groups, and human society. Futurology is a relatively new and still underdeveloped interdisciplinary field. The plural "futures" is used to emphasize that a wide variety of futures may occur.


The Futures discipline presently goes by a number of names, including futurology (the academic field's most common term in the English-speaking world), foresight and strategic foresight (common in Australia and the UK), prospective studies (Europe), prospectiva (Spain and Latin America), prognostics (Eastern Europe), futuribles (France) and a range of lesser-used synonyms (futures studies, futuring, futuristics, etc.).

Two factors usually distinguish futures studies from the research conducted by other disciplines (although all disciplines overlap, to differing degrees). First, futurology often examines not only possible but also probable, preferable, and "wild card" futures. Second, futurology typically attempts to gain a holistic or systemic view based on insights from a range of different disciplines.

Futurology does not generally include the work of economists who forecast movements of interest rates over the next business cycle, or of managers or investors with short-term time horizons. Most strategic planning, which develops operational plans for preferred futures with time horizons of one to three years, is also not considered futures. But plans and strategies with longer time horizons that specifically attempt to anticipate and be robust to possible future events, are part of a major subdiscipline of futures studies called strategic foresight.

The futurology field also excludes those who make future predictions through professed supernatural means. At the same time, it does seek to understand the models such groups use and the interpretations they give to these models.

What is a Futurist?


Futurists (foresight practitioners) are those who look to and provide analysis of the future.

Today the term futurist applies to visionary leaders, innovators, thinkers, writers, consultants, presenters and others who "look to the future" and just as frequently to those who "provide analysis of the future" via such methods as visioning, intuition, analogy, argument, logic, planning, policy analysis, cultural criticism, strategy development, marketing, roadmapping, goalsetting, forecasting, modeling, statistics, trend analysis, operations research, investment, surveys, horizon scanning, scenario development, prediction, prediction analysis, prediction market development, risk analysis and management, and other future-oriented activities.

How to become a Futurist?


Futures Studies is a new emerging field of research. As the future does not exist yet, futurists study the future projections of and discontinuities in past trends and current views of the long-term future. You can study Futures Studies at university level at a few places in the world. You can for example learn at Finland Futures Research Centre, who runs the Master's Degree Programme in Futures Studies in Turku, Finland. The programme is taught in English. Another option is for example the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies.

Futurist Types


One categorization system notes twelve common futurist types, six social and six methodological[1].

Social Types


1. Preconventional futurist. One who thinks about the future in relation to self (ego, personal vision), but without either concern for or broad understanding of the norms and conventions of society.

2. Personal futurist. One who uses foresight to solve problems primarily for themselves, within the conventions of society, and whose current behavior is oriented to and influenced by their future expectations and plans.

3. Imaginative futurist. One who habitually develops future visions, scenarios, expectations, and plans in relation to self and others, knowing but sometimes breaking the conventions and norms of society.

4. Agenda-driven futurist. One who creates or works toward top-down developed (received, believed) ideological, religious, or organizationally-preferred agendas (sets of rules, norms) and their related problems, for the future of a group.

5. Consensus-driven futurist. One who helps create or work toward bottom-up developed (facilitated, emergent), group-, communally-, institutionally- or socially-preferred futures.

6. Professional futurist. One who explores change for a paying client or audience, who seeks to describe and advance possible, probable, or preferable future scenarios while avoiding undesirable ones, and who may seek to help their client or audience apply these insights (manage change).

Methodological Types


7. Critical futurist. One who explores, deconstructs, and critiques the future visions, perspectives, and value systems of others, not primarily to advance an agenda, to achieve consensus, or for payment, but as a methodology of understanding.

8. Alternative futurist. One who explores and proposes a range of possible or imaginable futures, including those beyond one's personal, organizational, and cultural conventional and consensus views.

9. Predictive futurist. One who forecasts probable futures, events and processes that they expect are likely to occur, in a statistical sense, both as a result of anticipated personal and social choices, and for autonomous processes that appear independent of human choice.

10. Evolutionary developmental (Evo devo) futurist. One who explores evolutionary possibilities and predicts developmental outcomes, and attempts differentiate between evolutionary (chaotic, reversible, unpredictable) and developmental (convergent, irreversible, statistically predictable) processes of universal change.

11. Validating futurist. One who seeks to evaluate, systematize, and validate the completeness (for critical and alternative futures) and accuracy (for predictive and evo devo futures) of methodologies used to consider the future.

12. Epistemological futurist. One who investigates the epistemology (how we know what we know) of the future, and seeks to improve the paradigms of foresight scholarship and practice

From these definitions it follows that most but not all futurists engage in futurology, as defined by the field's practitioners. Preconventional futurists, for example, would generally not. Also religious futurists, astrologers, mystics, and others whose work utilizes personal revelation and supernatural means would also not fall within a consensus definition of the futures studies term, again as used by most practitioners.

The best futures scholars strive to be transdisciplinary systems theorists. Many systems and processes can effect the future, even in the most narrowly-defined domains. The most respected futurists in the discipline seek to practice foresight broadly and humbly, always learning and open to correction.

Additional Course Material (Under Construction, To Be Edited)


Below is one possible generic forecasting method, derived from the scientific method, that a futurist might employ:

1. What will X be like(or how will it change) in Y years?

Stating the problem or question in the scientific method

2. What has been the history of X and how has it changed in the subsets of year Y-D, where D is a selected period of time relevant to examining change over the period of Y years from question 1.


3. Theorize a trend that will predict the changes of X in any given subset of time Y.


4. Apply trend to subsets of X over small subsets y where y<Y from step 1. Evaluate predicted changes in X with actual changes of x.

Alternately, apply trend to a past history's of X not included in step 2 to compare actual changes of X to predicted Change in X.


5. Based on comparisons evaluate the probability of trend X over time Y. Identify factors that vary from comparisons for which trends work and factors that do not work. Revise trend based upon revelation of factors and repeat process.

Theory-revise, repeat, report


This methodology is written very simply because future changes in any variable X can be, and must be, dependant on a nearly infinite number of factors. A probability must always be given, because absolute certainty is never possible.

Read the Wikipedia page on the history and contemporary usage of the word futurist by clicking the blue two. w:Futurist

Over a long enough time line


The probability of any outcome not only varies by the factors evaluated but the time period that is evaluated. The accuracy of a prediction decreases in relationship to the distance of time in the future for which the prediction is being made.Inherantly, A prediction made for the next 5 years is likely to be more accurate than a prediction made for the next 500 years. This is in large part due to the Butterfly Effect where small variations or factors create minor changes that grow larger as time goes on. This concept can graphically be represented by viewing two rays (lines with only one continuous point) originating from a single point. If the rays are seperated in direction by only 1 degree in one of three dimensions they will, over time, move a great distance apart. If we replace dimensions with factors and other variables (which are also dynamic), we find that over time the position along any line (factor) becomes increasingly complex. Greater complexity then leads to greater difficulty in accuracy. Before continuing read the wikipedia entry for Butterfly Effect by clicking the blue threew:Butterfly_effect

Relevant span of time

If you are looking to evaluate x over the next ten years it is best to derive a trend from the last ten years and maybe a few subsets of decades before that. By utilizing the data in ten year increments you can make reliable, if not simple trend predictions.

A linear trend is only good when you are looking at extremely small sets of time. For longer sets of time you need to make a statistical evaluation of changes in x versus time. Ray Kurzweil believes that information processing occurs exponentially. He believes that if you travel information process back through time you can create a nearly perfect exponential curve that is visible to us in such phenomena as Moore's law.

Non-temporal variations


While the term futures seems to suggest that all predictions will be made in reference to their change over time some studies are done in reference to other phenomena which seem fixed with time. For example, we may study the future of cosmology and instead of speaking in direct terms of centuries or millenia we might talk instead about changes in astronomy and cosmology as the galaxies drift apart. The universal drift is thought to be an accelerating phenomena that shall increase over time and so we can dispense with talking about time directly, since over billions of years it loses some meaning, and make trend comparisons, such as the development of space travel in a universe of one galaxy in the void, versus our views in a cluster of galaxy.


  1. [1] Futurist (definition): Common Types of Futures Thinking



Futurology is relatively new and still underdeveloped interdisciplinary field that seeks to teach methods and concepts that improve personal, group, and global foresight. The plural "futures" is used to emphasize that a wide variety of futures are possible, probable, and preferable depending on the stakeholder groups involved.

There are presently only ten international and English-taught Master's degree or Ph.D. programs globally in futurology (also known as strategic foresight or futures studies). In the U.S., Regent University, University of Houston and University of Hawaii are three institutions offering futurology master's and PhD programs. In Europe, the Finland Futures Research Centre, a special unit of the Turku School of Economics at University of Turku, is unique in the higher proportion of futurology courses to other courses in its required structure. In Italy the Sociology department at the University of Trento offers a Master's degree in Social Foresight. The first Futurology academic program was formed at U. Houston, Clear Lake in 1975 [2]. Each program uses a slightly different futurology framework (conceptual model for the discipline) with both overlapping and unique methods/practice and concepts/theory.

Futurology has yet to "tip" into broad academic acceptance, and educators in this discipline need to work harder to clarify the scope and methods of Futurology curriculum and make the relevancy and efficacy case for more and better foresight development programs to all appropriate stakeholders (foresight consumers, academic deans, students, others). Fortunately, a number of recent efforts to better define, standardize, and outcome-measure the field are underway, as well as to develop open source futures curriculum for free online learning platforms like Wikiversity, Merlot, OpenLearn, OTP, Curriki, and Slideshare.

See also