ISSN: 1554-7744

WFS Futures Learning Section Bulletin
Spring-Summer 2009

FUTUREtakes home page         vol. 8, no. 1 home page

In this issue
WFS Learning Section Bulletin

Learning Section Steering Team

Steve Steele, Peter Bishop, John Smart, Jay Gary, Dave Stein, Yvonne Andres, Wendy Schultz, Tom Abeles, Ron Newell, Kay Strong

 


Learning futures and having fun – Futuropoly by Elina Hiltunen What’s Next Consulting ( whatsnext@luukku.com) Finland

Learning is not always fun. Sitting in boring lectures that never seem to end, trying to read textbooks that do not inspire or engage you, or trying to learn things by rote and memory without even trying them by yourself are teaching methodologies that can quench your enthusiasm, as happened to me. Now, as a teacher myself, I try to make learning fun and avoid boredom. That’s why I invented Futuropoly, a tool that students can use for learning and testing futures methods themselves. I have been using this method for teaching Korean business people in the Helsinki School of Economics for several years and for educating business people about futures tools.

The other inspiration for Futuropoly was Monopoly , possibly the world’s most famous game. Time has changed this famous game a lot. For example, there have been changes in the tokens. In the good old times the tokens included a dog, an old iron, and an old shoe and today you can find laptop, hamburger, and roller-skate tokens. The monetary system has changed from paper currency to credit cards, and the names of properties have also changed. These changes through the years have inspired a question: What would the Monopoly of the future look like? Well you would only know that by designing it. That is the impetus for the Futuropoly gameboard design.

As a teaching tool, Futuropoly incorporates the basic concepts of futures studies (megatrends, trends, wild cards, weak signals) and various methods (scenario method, futures table, futures wheel, and Delphi method). However, all the lectures are tightly connected to hands on futures work, i. e. designing the gameboard. Designing the gameboard is a process of learning how to use different futures techniques and applying them into practice from macro level thinking to practical future business cases. The process is as follows:

 
  1. The first step is to choose the topic of the game. When I was teaching my Korean MBA students we used a topic for the game: Korea 2023. The topic can just as easily be very macro level (world 2050) or some industry (car industry 2040) or geographic region (Europe scenarios 2050).
  2. In the Monopoly game there are cards called Chance and Community Chest. In Futuropoly these cards are replaced by wild cards and weak signals cards. In my teaching I present the definition of these concepts and make the students find out sources for weak signals and identify examples of them. In the case of wild cards I encourage students to think about the unthinkable and about unforeseeable events. The students’ task is to identify ten wild cards and ten weak signals. For this exercise, it is important to look for good information sources (the starting point of every futures activity!!).
  3. When the cards are ready, it is time to start thinking about various scenarios, for example four different ones. In my courses I use the futures table method, where various drivers of the future are listed and given certain values. By combining various drivers with various values, one can get different kinds of scenario skeletons. In my courses, students spend considerable time for this scenario work, because I personally value scenarios as a good method for futures work in organizations too.
  4. When the students end up with different scenarios (for example “Green Finland 2020”, “Red Finland 2020”, “Blue Finland” and “Brown Finland 2020”), then I instruct the group to identify the scenarios they prefer and dislike.
  5. To make it ugly (and more challenging), the students are asked to design the Futuropoly gameboard for the scenario they dislike the most. For example, if they would have chosen the scenario Brown Finland 2020 as the most unpreferred, they would start to design my gameboard for that scenario. For the gameboard the groups have to think about the following:
    • How are successful businesses identified and represented on the gameboard? For example, in the brown Finland scenario (dystopia scenario), the security business would be a successful one.
    • What are the tokens that correspond to future customers and professions? (For example, one token can represent Rufus, a 34 year old unemployed male.) The tokens can also present something valid to the scenarios
    • What is the payment system? (For example, is there no money anymore, and why not? Do people pay with credit cards or mobile devices, or is there a return to paper currency?)
    • For what are taxes paid, and why?
    • What is the transportation system?
    • How is the game played (is it a computer game, hologram, mobile game, etc.)?

Futuropoly game board

At the end, all the groups present their outcomes from their Futuropoly gameboards. It has been amazing how different and innovative all the outcomes have been so far. The key of this exercise is to give as much freedom to the students as possible for designing the gameboard. This inspires them to innovate. The students appear to have been quite happy designing their gameboards while they were also learning.

Students designing the gameboard while being inspired at the same time with the beautiful scenery (Summer 2008)

An outcome of the group work

Another outcome of the group work

 

A Letter to My Nephew - by Stephen Aguilar-Millan  Director of Research European Futures Observatory (www.eufo.org) United Kingdom

Dear Peter,

Thank you for your note. I am pleased that your studies have gone well and I am both surprised and flattered that you see your calling as a Futurist and that you have asked me for advice in entering the profession. I guess that the best single piece of advice that I can give you is to beware Hume’s Law.

David Hume was a Scottish philosopher of the Enlightenment in the Eighteenth Century. He is remembered for many things, but, to me, he is best remembered for Hume’s Law. In this, Hume established that it is logically impossible to reach an objective conclusion from a subjective premise. If you use a subjective premise, then this will only result in a subjective conclusion. In the study of the future, this is a fundamental point.

The future, by definition, has not yet happened. It sounds obvious, but there can be no objective facts about the future because the future has not passed from the realm of possibility into the world of actuality. We cannot be empirical about the future because there is nothing to measure. As you start to study the future and the construction of futures works, you will start to see that many futurists talk about the future in objective terms.

This is a pitfall that you must avoid if your work is to be of high quality. If you talk of the future as an objective reality, then you are making a mistake on two levels. First, you are actually laying down a forecast that could well be wrong. A good example of this might be the plight of weather forecasters. Michael Fish, famously, stated in 1987 that the UK would not experience a hurricane. Within 24 hours the country was devastated by the worst hurricane since 1703. If you make too many wrong forecasts, then your reputation will suffer greatly. This is not a way to build a career.

The second possible pitfall is that if you rely exclusively upon one objective future, then you will naturally exclude other possible futures which you ought to have considered. For example, British military policy in Singapore in the 1930s was based upon the single premise that all military threats would come from the sea. This led to all of the defences being orientated towards that threat. In the event, the Japanese invasion came from the landward side, making the capture of Singapore that much easier for the Japanese army. As the future has not yet unfolded, you need to keep open as many possible futures as you can, if you are to excel at the craft.

Please don’t think that these historical examples have no relevance today. I tend to use historical examples of things going wrong because time has tempered the edge of the events. A more recent example of future blindness might be recent US military policy. For most of the 1990s, the US prepared for a peer-to-peer engagement – tanks rolling across the North German Plain, amphibious landings across the Straits of Taiwan, and so forth. When the primary military threat of the twenty-first century showed itself – what we now call the ‘War On Terror’ – the US military was almost completely unprepared to deal with that threat. It is as if nothing had been learned from the British mistakes in Singapore in the 1930s and billions of US tax-dollars have been quite simply wasted.

When discussing the future, you need to remember that you are presenting an opinion. Of course, one futurist technique to get around this is to present a piece of backcasting – a technique where you place yourself in the future looking backwards, and then describe events as facts. However, unless you perfect the art of time travel, you will be unable to actually reach into the future, which means that your work, even when backcast, will still be an opinion. This opinion will be coloured by your beliefs and prejudices which will enter your work through the assumptions that hide within it.

Don’t get me wrong. Beliefs and prejudices are not bad things. They are vital if you are to make sense of the world and if you are to life a full and moral life. However, they could be wrongly held, and you need to be aware of them and evaluate them from time to time. You may even have to change your beliefs, and identify hidden assumptions that you are making, because they no longer adequately describe the world in which you live. Let me give you an example.

You will often hear that free market capitalism is the only effective way to organise an economy and that a future without free market capitalism is one of poverty and misery. This is an opinion, not an objective statement. Once you start to study these things, you will find that there are many variants of free market capitalism, so exactly which one is the most effective? What do we mean by effective? If we mean the system that gives us the greater material wealth, then the US model is better than the French model. If we mean the system that gives us a better lifestyle, then the French model has distinct advantages over that of the US.

Would the absence of free market capitalism lead to poverty? One factor forgotten by many commentators is that China is, actually, a communist state. One could argue that China is the nation in recent times that has most improved the material wealth of its citizens. And yet China operates a state communist system and not a free market capitalist system. Would the absence of free market capitalism lead to misery? Many studies indicate that there is a link between wealth and happiness; this is a complicated link because increased wealth does not necessarily lead to increased happiness, and that deceased wealth does not necessarily lead to increased misery. Life isn’t that simple.

Free market capitalism has been a useful means of organising our affairs in certain situations in the past. However, this does not necessarily mean that it is optimal for all economies and to all future situations. To suggest otherwise is to state a subjective belief rather than to outline an objective fact. And yet, many commercial futures presume ‘business as usual’ in the way in which our affairs are organised. Our present economic difficulties have exposed a struggle between the forces that wish to re-impose ‘business as usual’ and those that accept the transition towards a new paradigm. In policy terms, for example, one could ask why we are bailing out car manufacturers when this is a technology of the past, given the likely onset of ‘Peak Oil.’

Of course, this is of little practical help to you. Here are a few rules to help you identify the hidden assumptions in futures work:

  1. You must learn to distinguish between opinion and fact. Look at the tense in which the statement is made. If it is in the future tense, then it can only be opinion because there are no facts in the future. If it is in the present or past tense, then the statement could be fact or it could be opinion. A factual statement will have an empirical base, so look for the numbers. An opinion will struggle to find an empirical base.
  2. You must learn to identify the counter-argument. With all statements about the future, try to find the conditions under which the statement will be untrue. For example, if you are presented with the view that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow, try to think of the cloudy day (the sun doesn’t rise) or the asteroid strike (in which case the earth may stop revolving or its rotational axis may change). The counter-argument will expose the assumptions behind the statement about the future.
  3. You must learn to source widely. It is unlikely that any single person, or any single source, will have the breadth of knowledge to provide you with enough material to work with. You need to travel as widely as possible, to meet as many people as possible, to respect as many world views as possible, and to discuss your ideas as widely as possible. You also need to travel back in time through the works of others to find clues that may help you.

If you follow these rules, until you develop your own, then you are likely to produce penetrative and well balanced insights into the future.

If I can be of any help to you in your personal future, please feel free to ask me.

Uncle Stephen
Educator Spotlight - Kay E. Strong

Dr. Kay Strong’s distinguished career began at Bowling Green State University (BGSU), Ohio, in the fall of 2000. As a new Ph.D. in econometrics, she taught across the disciplines of economics and applied statistics. She was promoted to the rank of tenured associate professor in 2004.

While attending a Creative Problem-Solving National Science Foundation (NSF) short course conducted by Sidney Parnes in Seattle, Washington during the summer of 2005, she was introduced to the field of future studies by Dr. Steven Steele, Director of the Institute for the Future at Anne Arundel Community College. Steve’s candid discussions about futures institutes during the session piqued her interest. In subsequent conversations, Steve provided her an overview of futuring and the possibilities for her college. Dr. Strong ventured into the seven-module courses devoted to future studies offered by AACC and became “hooked.” After extensive personal research, reading, and contemplative thought, she crafted a proposal for a “like institution” to be established at BGSU Firelands. The proposal made its rounds at the Firelands campus, the Dean’s Office, the Strategic Planning Committee, and among several interested individuals, after which Dean James Smith carried the proposal to the Provost office. With the acceptance of a few modifications requested by the Provost, the Initiatives for the Future (IF) at BGSU Firelands became operational in August 2006, with a stated mission to integrate the study of the future into the role and mission of BGSU Firelands.  

In the same month, the IF at BGSU Firelands established an institutional membership in the World Future Society. In the succeeding months, two learning communities were formed, the IF Learning Community (20 college members enrolled) under the auspices of the Center for Teaching and Learning Technology at Bowling Green and the “e-futuring” Learning Community (48 high school members enrolled) funded by Ohio Learning Network (OLN).

Accomplishments for the faculty IF Learning Community during the academic year 2006-07 included engaging in intellectual discourses on future trends and forecasts about education, the campus, and the community; integrating futures thinking exercises into twelve courses, the Office for Educational Outreach catalog, and the BEST Partnership Customized Training catalog; creating a Visioning strategy for the “Shaping the Future of the Firelands” community revitalization project; using a scenario-building exercise to produce four alternatives for the Future of BGSU Firelands in 2025, and developing a World Future Society conference presentation, which led to a manuscript accepted for publication in the Futures Research Quarterly. In addition, the IF Learning Community served as a “testing ground” for the development of the Introduction to Futuring course. FTR 200: Introduction to Futuring made its way over the hurdles of academic affairs and entered into the university course inventory for fall 2007.

Both high school teachers and students in the “e-futuring” Learning Community received instruction in futures concepts and methodologies before tackling an authentic learning project entitled “Education 2050: What will it look like?” Students were given wide latitude in the design of their respective projects. Projects from the “e-futuring” Learning Community were on display for the OLN EXPO June 2007 on the OSU-Newark campus. Other opportunities afforded by the IF project included community grant funding as well as numerous public presentations locally and regionally. With a colleague, Dr. Strong presented “Using Learning Communities to Foster Futuring: The BGSU Experience” at the 2007 World Future Society Conference.

After years standing in front of the classroom, Dr. Strong took a seat behind the teaching station. A sabbatical gave her the opportunity to complete an M.S. in the future studies program under the auspices of Dr. Peter Bishop at University of Houston. Says Strong, “My time at the University of Houston has been chocked full of new adventures. My thoughts whirled from new information; framework forecasting, post-modernism and critical theories, appreciative inquiry, strategic planning and leadership as transformational change. And my questions constantly challenged definition, interpretation and application.” Outside the classroom, her instruction continued as she worked alongside Dr. Bishop, the University of Houston program director, in community outreach activities.

During the 2008-09 academic year, Dr. Strong was instrumental in creating two public access teaching wikis, the Foresight Education Project and the Futures of the U.S. A prototype undergraduate course, Strategic Foresight, was developed as she and Dr. Bishop persevered to merge two divergent teaching styles, two personalities, and volumes of futures’ material into one sixteen week course. “The end product being a testimony to the best of our best!” There arose a number of ad-hoc opportunities to work alongside community groups. One particularly receptive one involved Margaret Fitzgerald, the coordinator of the gifted and talented program and coach in the Future Problem Solvers program in a local Houston school. In February, a particularly memorable event occurred with her middle school students. Ted Gordon was in-residence at the University of Houston and agreed to meet with these youngsters. A truly lively interchange transpired, and Dr. Strong envisions that Ted Gordon will be remembered by the youngest futurists as Werner von Braun was remembered by young space enthusiasts! 

This fall Kay joins Dr. Bishop, the futures program director, at the University of Houston to infuse futures thinking into the undergraduate curriculum building toward a minor in futures studies, while she continues working with teachers in Houston area schools to help “futurize” their teaching practice. As she puts it, “Having the appropriate academic credentials now allows me to reach for the first of my intended goals, development and delivery of a robust accredited undergraduate futures curriculum as a complement to the current graduate programs in the field.” The Strategic Foresight course is a first step, and the summer has yielded a second opportunity to bridge the undergraduate curriculum and futures studies. A partnership has been forged between the UScholars’ College Success Program (CSP), the formal home to some 5000 undergraduate students who are yet undecided about their college major. Some fifteen hundred undergraduates will participate in a mandatory 10-week one-credit hour course identified as Core 1101 this fall. The course has integrated content across three curricular areas – college life skills, career placement, and a strong futures perspective. The course outcomes are designed to assist participating students in declaring an undergraduate college major by strengthening personal life skills and self-management, by deepening understanding of career options, and by developing a greater self-efficacy in a world of uncertainty and growing complexity. While not a futures course specifically, Dr. Strong sees the first exposure opportunities to futures thinking as tremendous. A third opportunity to test the true versatility of futures studies will be facilitated this fall as she grounds an undergraduate fashion forecasting course in the rigors of long-term foresight.

Dr. Strong’s second goal parallels Dr. Bishop’s ambition for the futures studies, reaching into the pre-college educational environment and exposing K-12 students to futures thinking. She has completed development of a Pre-College Workshop curriculum which they anticipate delivering to teachers in Houston’s local school districts beginning this fall. And as a complement to the teachers’ workshop, she hopes to create a dedicated Futures’ Summer Camp for K-12 students.

In addition to her Ph.D. in economics from Southern Illinois University in 2000, Dr. Strong has a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Central Michigan University and a Master of Arts in international affairs from Ohio University. She is a member of Omicron Delta Epsilon, the International Honor Society in Economics, and has been selected for inclusion in Who’s Who of American Women 2008-09, Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers and Educators, and Who’s Who in Collegiate Faculty. In addition, she was named BGSU Firelands Distinguished Creative Scholar 2006 and the 2005 Kappan of the Year by Phi Delta Kappa BGSU Firelands Chapter. Her publications on international finance appear in the Journal of Economics and Finance and Journal of Business and Economic Perspectives. Articles on teaching economics appear in College Teaching Methods & Style, the AURCO Journal, and at the U.K.’s national centre of excellence in the development and use of technology-based methods in teaching, learning and research, the Institute for Learning and Research Technology at the University of Bristol. She has presented numerous papers at international, national, and regional conferences. Her non-academic positions include working as a supervisory economist for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics and as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand. Building on her previous experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, Dr. Strong volunteers for the Teach for Friendship Foundation (TFF) at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China during summers.

Says Dr. Strong, “I am at the beginning of my journey as an educational futurist, a master’s degree in hand and my objective is modest, integration of futures inquiry into the experience of learners across the curriculum and throughout the educational structure. And to think that all this resulted from a chance encounter at a NFS workshop devoted to creative problem-solving!”

WFS Futures Learning Section Bulletin, Spring-Summer 2009