Happy Future Day! Five important futures publications from the last 50 years

At SOIF to celebrate Future Day we are looking back at five important futures publications from the last 50 years. Together these publications and the people involved have helped to shape strategic futures, to raise the profile and importance of strategic foresight and to embed futures into both policy and strategic planning.

Future Day on 1st March is a world holiday to focus and celebrate the energy that more and more people around the world are directing toward creating a radically better future.

The day will see a series of conversations and events around the world and if you’d like to be involved you can find out more at futureday.org, or join the discussion on twitter @futureday #futureday.

1972. The Limits to Growth [application to global resource systems and policy making]

This report produced for the Club of Rome’s project “On the predicament of mankind” was a scenario analysis of twelve possible futures to 2100. Conducted by MIT researchers, the report took an innovative approach to analysing the future, combining applied system thinking with computer modelling.

The report argued that the growth of the human ‘footprint’ would be unsustainable without global decision making – and that “managed decline” was required, or collapse would ensue. The report was widely criticised by economists and technology optimists, as well as politicians and social commentators. However, analysis of 30+ years of data suggests that large parts of the report were right. http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/videos/view/141 http://www.manicore.com/fichiers/Turner_Meadows_vs_historical_data.pdf

1973. Shell Scenarios [application to business – building resilience to deviations from a long-held “normal”]

The oil shock of 1973 caught most oil companies and wider business unawares. Royal Dutch Shell were better placed than most thanks to work done by Pierre Wack and his colleagues. Shell had started to look into long-term studies in 1965, and when Pierre joined he transformed scenario planning at Shell, creating a model that eventually moved it into the mainstream of strategic business planning.

The oil shock established Shell’s reputation for scenario planning. Its latest ‘New lens’ scenarios continue the tradition of picturing alternative futures and embedding scenario planning into strategy. A retrospective on 40 years of Shell scenarios is available on the Shell website.

1992Mont Fleur scenarios [groundbreaking application to post-conflict reconciliation]

The Mont Fleur Scenarios were conducted in the context of apartheid-era South Africa. Twenty-five participants were convened from a diverse mix of politics (government and opposition), business and civil society to envisage a post-apartheid society. Four scenarios were developed (Ostrich, Lame Duck, Icarus and Flight of the Flamingos) and used to build shared understanding of South Africa’s possible, and preferable futures.

The group was keen to communicate scenarios to the widest audience – they were even published in the national newspaper.  Adam Kahane, who faciliated the event, has written a good summary of the impact of the scenarios. Kahane went on to write Transformative Scenario Planning about his experiences there and in other countries including Colombia, Guatemala, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

2000. Kenya at the Crossroads Scenarios for Our Future [important political experiment]

Published at the turn of the century, Kenya at the Crossroads was the result of a two-year project by the Institute of Economic Affairs and The Society for International Development.

An important political experiment, the project was designed to include a research and analysis phase to define the nature of the crisis that Kenya was facing, and a wider participatory phase to bring social, political and business leaders together to develop the research into scenarios – engaging the primary audience and including them in the process.

The paper ‘What Makes Scenario Research Different‘ by Barbara Heinzen explains the motivation for developing the scenarios.

2008. Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World [helped change how the US thought about hegemony and multipolarity]

The first Global Trends report was released by the National Intelligence Council in 1997 and a new versions are now published every four years following US Presidential elections. One of the ways the 2008 report, Global Trends 2025was influential was that it helped to make the US more comfortable with the notion of multipolarity, which was a feature of several scenarios but at the time a highly controversial idea in many circles. The report used scenarios to illustrate the potential impact key drivers could have on the world.