Description of Future SearchFuture Search is a large-group facilitation technique I use. Future Search facilitation is a task-focused, 3-day future planning conference for groups of 60-80 people each. Up to 60 to 80 people meet in one room or hundreds in parallel rooms.
Future Search fosters to help people collaborate despite differences of culture, class, gender, age, race, ethnicity, language, and education. The method has been employed in communities, schools, hospitals, churches, corporations, government agencies, foundations and NGO’s.
Each group consists of diverse stakeholders — a cross-section of people concerned with the activities of the organisation or community undertaking the search — and have various backgrounds: those with resources, expertise, formal authority and need.
Once the groups gathered together, the participants tell stories about their past, present and desired future. Through dialogue, they discover their Common Ground to work on their common past, present, and future.
The techniques used — time lines, a mind map, creative future scenarios, common ground dialogue — are all managed to support the principles. People need no special training, orientation, vocabulary, or background to participate. They work in small groups, make reports to the whole, and join in whole group dialogues on what they are learning.
- Focus on the Past: participants begin exploring their shared past: "What are the patterns of the last several decades?", "What are the stories?", "What does it all mean?"
When participants have clashing perspectives these are simply noticed and the participants should return their attention to their common ground as fast as possible.
- Focus on Present & External Trends: by exploring trends and global forces affecting their daily lives, the participants move to the present.
They create together a detailed "mind map" of these trends on a giant sheet of paper. They discuss concerns, prioritize the trends they've identified and explore common ways of viewing the "mess" they've charted together. They tell each other what they're proud of and what they're sorry about. Often their perspective on themselves and each other shift dramatically during these exercises.
- Focus on the Future: several stakeholders then gather in subgroups to imagine themselves 5, 10 and 20 years in the future. They generate concrete images and examples of what's going on in their chosen future, and the barriers they imagine they've had to overcome to get there. After coming together to share this information, participants develop lists of common futures (what they agree they want), potential projects (how to get there) and unresolved differences.
After some reflection and second thoughts, each participant figures out what they personally want to work on. They get together with others of similar passion to plan the next steps and actions.
Flow of Future Search Conference
Day 1, Afternoon
Focus on the Past — People make time lines of key events in the world, their own lives, and in the history of the future search topic. Small groups tell stories about each time line and the implications of their stories for the work they have come to do.
Focus on Present, External Trends — The whole group makes a "mind map" of trends affecting them now and identifies those trends most important for their topic.
Day 2, Morning
Focus on Present, External Trends — Stakeholder groups describe what they are doing now about key trends and what they want to do in the future.
Focus on Present — Stakeholder groups report what they are proud of and sorry about in the way they are dealing with the future search topic.
Day 2, Afternoon
Ideal Future Scenarios
Diverse groups put themselves into the future and describe their preferred future as if it has already been accomplished.
Identify Common Ground — Diverse Groups post themes they believe are common ground for everyone.
Day 3, Morning & Early Afternoon
Confirm Common Ground — Whole group dialogues to agree on common ground.
Action Planning — Volunteers sign up to implement action plans.
Rules of Future Search
Four principles underlie a successful Future Search
- Getting the “whole system in the room”
- Exploring all aspects of a system before trying to fix any part
- Putting common ground and future action front and center, treating problems and conflicts as information, not action items.
- Having people accept responsibility for their own work, conclusions, and action plans.
When to use Future Search
- There is a large group of people with diverse backgrounds
- There is a potential common goal to reach.
- The situation is complex/interdependent.
- Need of collaboration despite differences of culture, class, gender, age, race, ethnicity, language, and education.
- People share a loose common ground or common interests.
For a group of 60-80 participants
- Guides through the process
- Explains the techniques introduced.
- Facilitates the past, present, and future discussions.
- Helps the discussions stay focused.
- Concentrates on the group’s discussion process.
- Helps the group set its common grounds and keep to them.
- Moderates in case of conflict and disagreement.
- Helps group members identify areas of agreement and disagreement.
- Brings in points of view that haven’t been talked about.
- Creates opportunities for everyone to participate.
- Focuses and helps to clarify the discussion.
- Summarise key points in the discussion, or ask others to do so.