Futures studies is a rather problematic term. You can’t study something that doesn’t exist and that is of course the essential thing about the future. You are in any given present standing in front of many potential futures. That’s why I talk about futures studies with future in the plural. On the other hand you can’t help trying to study the future. Decisions have to be made in the present, but have to work in the future. You do not make decisions that have to work in the past although attempts at rewriting history could be viewed like that. You can make decisions by rolling the dice or other incidental ways – and sometimes it seem that that is what is happening. If you do not want to make decisions that way you have to base your decisions on some assumptions as to what kind of future you think your decision will have to work on. These assumptions are not necessarily right. In fact they are often wrong, but if you are aware of what kind of assumptions you are basing your decision making on you are at least able to see when you are wrong. So a qualified guess is better than nothing.
Basically futures studies concerns the present. Gaston Berger said that “the purpose of looking at the future is to disturb the present”. We travel figuratively into the future in order to find inspiration for the decisions that have to be made in the present. Hence arguments are more important than conclusions. Of what use is the brilliant futurist who is able to predict accurately what is going to happen in ten years if these brilliant predictions aren’t accompanied by arguments on why this is going to happen. You can’t wait for ten years to see whether it really is going to happen. The arguments can be used to monitor the present to see whether reality is on the predicted track.
Futures studies – at least the way I do it – is intended to inspire others in their decision making. Therefore the way futures studies is presented is important. There was a time where you would expect that the more boring, the cleverer the report. Now reports, articles or presentations have to be presented in a way that make people read or listen and give them an AHA experience. Uninspiring futures studies is not used and hence – however right they may be- uninteresting. Futures studies are here to be used.
Finally I think a futurist ought to be ’value free’. The futurist’s job is not to tell people what they ought to do but rather what they could do. I know perfectly well that value free research is impossible but I think the futurist ought to have it as an ambition.