Introduction to Dator and the Manoa School

SOIF are very privileged to work with Jim Dator and the Hawaii Research Centre for Future Studies’ which he founded as they celebrate their 40th anniversary – making it the longest standing strategic foresight program in the world. As a founder of the “Manoa School” of foresight, one of the most longstanding yet still radical branches of our discipline, Jim has inspired four generations of futurists. Ahead of the SOIF-HRCFS Hawaii Spring retreat  we are taking the opportunity to showcase Jim’s successful method and approach.

Jim Dator cannot be summed up in a phrase, or an essay although this has recently been attempted by his students, colleagues and alumni from the “Manoa School” in a festschrift on the impact, scope, and reach of his work for the Journal of Futures Studies. With a range of pieces that engage various aspects of Dator’s immense oeuvre, the issue provides a critical introduction to the “Manoa School” as well as personal insights into the “Living Embodiment of Futures Studies“.

Jim has played a pivotal role in challenging entrenched thinking and influencing futures studies. He served as Secretary General and then President of the World Futures Studies Federation for a decade, produced numerous publications on futures studies and emergent issues, and has consulted with governmental, educational, religious, public-interest, military, and business organizations in over 40 countries.  His students include amongst others Sohail Inayatullah, Wendy Schultz,Jake Dunnagan and Stuart Candy who have spread his approach far and wide.

The “Manoa Method” he pioneered is perhaps best explained in Jim’s own words through his essay “Alternative Futures at the Manoa School” which provides insight to how the Manoa School uses alternative futures and the visioning process. Jim provides examples to help concretize the process.  [he and his team have applied this to policy issues as diverse as Myanmar, Tourism, Families, Higher Education, logistics, Technology. HRCFS projects and publications are available online.

The journey starts with “understanding the past”, “appreciating the present”, and “forecasting aspects of the future” through analysis of trends, emerging issues and continuities from the past, what the Manoa school call ”surfing tsunamis“.

The next step is to experience alternative scenarios. Dator and the school use four generic alternative futures derived from Dator’s systematic analysis of images of the futures: continued growth, collapse, discipline and transformation.

Only having experienced this journey will participants turn to the focus of the journey – envisioning a preferred future, 20-50 years from the present. The group will then determine how best to steer to the future, what is necessary and in what order.

Jim argues for a key outcome of the work being to embed regular and ongoing futures work to ensure policy makers look ahead, whether through horizon scanning or other processes.

A recent example of translating this into policy comes form 2011, when the State of Hawaii, Office of Planning (OP) commissioned the HRCFS to organize an alternative futures exercise focusing on climate change in the islands. Using 2060 as a time horizon, HRCFS utilized the “Manoa School” method to craft experiential scenarios for the workshop’s participants, including representatives from state and county agencies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), academia, business, and Native Hawaiian communities.The results of the workshop and input from the broader community laid the foundation for the Hawaii’s Climate Change Adaptation Policy that was signed into law by Governor Abercrombie on July 9, 2012  “to improve the quality of life for Hawaii’s present and future population through the pursuit of desirable courses of action.

We are delighted that Jim and his Manoa School alumni are working with us on our joint 4-day retreat, Asia Pacific@Hawaii Futures, which will blend the Manoa method with SOIF’s four-stage foresight process to give participants a unique learning journey.

In particular we look forward to spending time with Jim and getting to know the man who has inspired generations of futurists a little better.

“We are excited to work with the School of International Futures to host this unique event. Now, more than ever, it is critical to envision alternative futures, develop the capacity to work toward preferred futures, and, perhaps most importantly, learn how to surf tsunamis. We hope that you will join us on Maui to explore both the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.”

Jim Dator, Director, Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies

Further reading on the Manoa Method