We cannot set aside our values, feelings, ideas, and interests, even for an instant, but a question that may receive some attention in efforts to put a value on foresight profession is how to calculate the real worth of a futurist. What is worthy of acknowledgement and praise for a professional futurist?
The futurists’ ideas are worthless unless they can be implemented, and that implementation requires decision makers’ dedication, support, and commitment in serving people’s needs. In my view, the worth of a professional futurist can be calculated by defining the degree to which he or she: a) demonstrates love for all living things’ well-being; b) is involved in decision-making process on national and international levels; c) utilizes professional networks to obtain insights for better service; d) provides a clear direction of future for individuals, organizations and communities; e) is rewarded by the futurist global community for his or her accomplishments; f) works cooperatively with other futurists; g) contributes to the formation of new foresight methods and techniques; h) takes responsibility for useful futuring activities and engages in the advancement of foresight as an academic field of study.
Annually, a huge volume of budget is invested in guys who are going to be future futurists. The real value of educational expenditures, especially energy and time that are spent in this line by both the students and their educators cannot be really calculated. However, all this investment is vain if the futurists cannot function professionally in their communities or if decision makers are not willing to hear their advisory comments. So, what is the benefit of making all these investments and foresight efforts: seeing—ahead and behind, above and below, beside and beyond—if nothing is going to get done at the end of the road?
Regardless of common discussions on ‘human capital’, we usually think that we are paid for what we know. The more we know (or learn at college), the more we should earn. But the fact is that higher education, including futures studies is not just a vehicle for expanding our business capability, but a credential for bringing more values to our personal and social consciousness. Besides, there are many out there who earn with less knowledge. So becoming a well-educated futurist is not merely a means of earning, but a way of becoming a better human. There are higher values that we are expected to work for and it depends on worldviews we prefer to take as professional futurists.
Digging deeper we find that policy research is occupied with the development, explication and exposition of methodology, rationality or paradigms or logic behind the conclusions (Aligica, 2004). In the same manner, futurists subscribe to ideologies or worldviews, and the values they hold do structure their images of the future. Wagar’s (1991) triad of paradigms “technoliberalism,” “radicalism,” and “counterculturalism,” denotes a range of ideological positions to which the futurists may adhere, or occupy the ideological middle ground between them, but a key point to all these paradigms is how they may affect futurists in their accomplishments.
Technoliberalism is an ideology that includes abiding faith in the power of technology and managerial technique to solve problems and help preserve liberty. Radicalism has aligned itself with the technoliberalism on the desirability of rapid economic growth and capital-intensive technology. Counterculturalism is a major oppositional futurist culture that draws some of its energy from the fugitive concerns and enthusiasms of cultural transformation.
While the radical paradigm argues for rejection of an economic and political world-system, the counterculturalist paradigm attacks the core values of modern civilization. Wagar’s comment sounds interesting enough: “counterculturalists rarely make a wholesale assault on capitalism, as such, but it is difficult to imagine how capitalism could survive, much less thrive, in a world tailored to their specifications.” So if a futurist is going to attack the core values of a nation, should we expect his or her critique be heard and addressed by that nation’s decision makers?! This is no longer a problem of investment in the academic growth of potential futurists, but a conflict of ideas and benefits.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in anticipatory governance among policy makers around the world. Anticipatory governance aims at reducing risk and increasing capacity to respond to events before they become manifest or at their earlier stages of development. Naturally, decision makers are interested in getting more from the diagnoses of uncertainties to their activities, but they want to know how they can make a balance between futurists’ policy recommendations and socioeconomic realities they find in their societies.
They want to find out what can be known and what cannot be known in the light of national or regional foresight. They are very keen to available options in foresight, but they prefer to put their concerns in writing foresight RFPs as comprehensive as possible to get sure about the usability of foresight recommendations they receive. However, they cannot afford to slice social reality on disciplinary lines, neither to focus on more or less arbitrarily segments or facets of a phenomenon; a skill that professional futurists are capable of very well.
Such intellectual needs and desires go beyond a unique field of study and require the involvement of all related experts from several fields of study. So, on top of eight aforementioned criteria for determining the real worth of a professional futurist let me add this one: the degree to which a futurist is able to lead multi and interdisciplinary efforts.
The fact is that foresight solutions are not the same for all nations and they need to be tweaked based on socioeconomic contingencies observed in every society. There is a long-awaited desire in facing realistically with the challenges that foresight services are going to meet in policy and decision making undertakings. That desire can be satisfied more energetically if the futurists recognize the evolving nature of economic and political complexities that are shaped beyond conventional foresight formulations.
It’s time to make a logical balance between decision makers’ expectations and futurists’ claims in solving socioeconomic problems through foresight. Multi and interdisciplinary solutions sound effective if the futurists admit that they should construct a strong bridge between foresight and other fields of study. We need an evolved form of Strategic Foresight involved with more knowledge-based professions and disciplines. “Foresight for action” should be reemphasised in policy making venues as a key motto.
The dominant approach to policy making is a rational process based on a series of steps from problem formulation and evaluation of alternatives through to policy implementation. In this sense, how futurists will address questions like these: How foresight solutions can make a difference in the mix of numerous competitive strategic solutions offered to study future in different ways? How can we know or make any sense out of theoretical perceptions as true practical policies that could sound useful under real world conditions? How can we manage opposite futurist paradigms in formulating national, regional and global policies if we are directed toward common or interrelated futures? And finally, how can a professional futurist demonstrate his or her worth in the rational process of policy or decision making?
Aligica, Paul Dragos. (2004). The challenge of the future and the institutionalization of interdisciplinarity: notes on Herman Kahn’s legacy, Futures, 36(1), 67–83.
Wagar, W. W. (1991). The next three futures: Paradigms of things to come. New York: Praeger.
Alireza Hejazi is the founding editor of Futures Discovery website: http://www.futuresdiscovery.com/. He is a graduate of Strategic Foresight from Regent University School of Business & Leadership.
Essays and comments posted in World Future Society and THE FUTURIST magazine blog portion of this site are the intellectual property of the authors, who retain full responsibility for and rights to their content. For permission to publish, distribute copies, use excerpts, etc., please contact the author. The opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Future Society takes no stand on what the future will or should be like.
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This is my last posting for the next few days. I will be taking my office apart so that we can move to our new apartment downtown next Tuesday. I will be unplugged and disconnected except by tablet. Expect me to be back in the saddle before the end of next week probably in time to provide you with some more headlines. In the interim these are the stories I share with you this week:
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