MOST SIGNIFICANT FUTURES WORKS (MSFW)
CURRENT MSFW NOMINATIONS
Nominations for 2020 Most Significant Futures Works for works completed from 2019 to 2020 are now open. “How to nominate” and the rules for nominations can be found here.
Futures of Responsible and Inclusive AI: How might we foster an inclusive, responsible and foresight-informed AI governance approach? Tania De Gasperis, Thesis,
Diving in the Deep End: Visually Exploring Community Views on Corporate Accountability, Marcelle Holdaway, Report, March 2020, Journal of Futures Studies, 24(3): 79–96. Category 1: Advance the methodology and practice of foresight. Nominating member: Nina Frankowski
This report explores corporate accountability to the community, in particular the issue of firms privileging shareholders over community stakeholders. The author uses a field study approach that aims to deepen and expand multiple understandings of accountability from a community perspective. While the outcomes and learning around the topic may have a positive impact on a societal and environmental level, from a futures research perspective, it is the creative application of research methods with the potential of being replicated in other topics that can have a long term impact and advance the practice of foresight.
Two aspects of the research methodology stand out: 1. The combination of (the alternative yet well known and accepted methods) Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) and Grounded Visual Pattern Analysis (GVPA) to create a new and deeper level analysis 2. The advocated importance and demonstrated success in using more qualitative data in future studies.
The application and analysis of visual imagery in the research process (with the help of stakeholders) led the author to create a deeper and wider understanding of worldviews and an overall richer narrative of the problem and its possible outcomes. It is this new level of “intangible” learning that could be an important addition to futures research.
Full-Spectrum Thinking: How to Escape Boxes in a Post-Categorical Future; Bob Johansen [Institute for the Future]; Book; Category 1: Advance the Methodology and Practice of Foresight. Nominated by Sam Miller
In Full-Spectrum Thinking, the third book in his leadership trilogy, Bob Johansen brings into focus a new “post-categorical” leadership perspective that works to unleash new understanding, empathy, and creativity to help navigate leadership challenges in the “scramble” (VUCA) environment we find ourselves in. After setting a clear assessment of the risks and shortcomings of the time-honored strategy of categorical thinking, the author provides a clear and useful inventory of full-spectrum tools and frameworks that emphasize the distinction between clarity and certainty. The work closes with practical examples of how this full-spectrum mindset and be applied to a range of emerging paradigm shifts including shape-shifting organization structures and a new take on human resources amid human-machine symbiosis. He seamlessly blends these frameworks with established futures thinking tools to make this approach to thinking practical and actionable for readers regardless of their foresight background and training. “Full-spectrum thinking will make people more future-ready and better able to make sense out of new opportunities and threats.” This clear and impactful work from one of the leading veterans of applied foresight has the potential to reach a diverse audience and raise the influence of futures thinking just when it is needed most.
Transforming the Future (Open Access): Anticipation in the 21st Century. Riel Miller, Ed. 2018. Book. Category 1: Advance the methodology and practice of foresight and futures studies. Nominated by John Sweeney.
For decades, UNESCO has been instrumental in increasing the capacity of individuals, communities, organizations, and governments to "use the future." More recently, Dr. Riel Miller has spearheaded an international network of researchers and practitioners to enhance "futures literacy," which is the human capability to anticipate and "use" the future in the present.
Transforming the Future: Anticipation in the 21st Century is an open-source monograph that chronicles both the theory and practice for a truly global research program aimed at contributing toward not only the UN's Sustainable Development Goal but also the field of futures studies and practice of strategic foresight. Specifically, the book defines and develops the core aspects of the Discipline of Anticipation.
Published in 2018, Transforming the Future showcases 14 case studies and reflections on "Futures Literacy Laboratories" run in 20 countries. Ultimately, the book serves as a valuable resource for anyone seeking insights on the Discipline of Anticipation, futures literacy, case studies, as well as how to facilitate exploratory approaches and processes.
Future of the sea: Final Report, UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Report, 2018; UK Government Office for Science. Category 2: Analyzes a significant future issue. Nominating member: D. Lloyd Chesley
The UK Government has a Horizon Scanning Team—a collaboration between the Cabinet Office and the Government Office of Science—to coordinate futures work across government and integrate futures into decision making. This team, which uses not only scanning tools, but also a futures toolkit, has published a plethora of reports dating back to 2003 and covering such futures topics as flooding, cyber, intelligent infrastructures, energy management, and world trade.
The United Kingdom has a long history as a leading maritime nation, however, this marine environment is facing unprecedented changes from pollution, a changing climate, and excessive human activity, and no one really knows what all these changes will do in the long run. The Horizon Scanning team recently published a report on the Future of the Sea that looks at maritime issues farther into the 21st century and beyond. This Future of the Sea report is a comprehensive and in-depth report that looks at the important future trends, challenges and opportunities for the UK—and the world—to benefit from the seas and marine environment. The toolkit they use is designed to help instill long-term strategic thinking into the policy process, intended to have real impact on decisions made today that will impact the future.
The team’s methods included expert reviews of current and future trends and impacts, interviews with marine businesses about implications of emerging technologies, and foresight workshops with crucial marine business and government organizations.
The nominated report consolidates evidence of the significant changes for marine issues and offers opportunities for industry, science and government to work together to address the challenges for the long term. The project spanned several years and brought together government officials, experts, and stakeholders from academia and industry. It is significant because they have identified key long-term trends that will affect world-wide economy, environment, international engagement and marine science, and offered recommendations that will help take the UK and the world to a more positive future.
Covid-19 Reorganization Scenarios. Leah Zaidi. Online report Multiverse Design (website). Category: Responses to Covid-19 Pandemic. March 24, 2020. Nominated by Joe Tankersley.
The covid-19 crisis seems to have turned everyone into either medical experts or futurists, or both. In the past month we’ve seen a dizzying array of hastily written foresight works exploring possible post-pandemic futures. Most seem to be written in service of a particular point of view, or at best explore a very limited cast of alternatives.
Leah Zaidi’s work, Covid-19 Reorganization Scenarios stands out on a couple of fronts. The work, though brief, is well grounded in theory. The author does an exceptional job of explaining that framework in language that is both rigorous and accessible. This includes both a solid theory of change model as well as an interesting hybrid model for scenario development. The latter combines the well-established work of Jim Dator’s four images of the future with the author’s own Seven Foundation model. The blending of the two produces a rich and varied mosaic of scenarios to consider.
The second distinguishing feature of the work can be found in that richness. The work captures both the expected branches of possible futures as well as a number of more discrete possibilities that most other work on this topic overlook. The result is a tool that can be used to create literally hundreds of different windows into possible tomorrows. Given the highly complex and rapidly evolving nature of the topic, this ability to quickly spin out multiple possibilities makes the report a tool that can actually assist planners in the moment of greatest need.
This depth reflects the level of research and thought that is required to create a significant futures work. The fact that report was released on March 24, suggests that Ms. Zaidi had the foresight to investigate these futures while most of us were still reeling from the crisis.
In short, Covid-19 Recorganization Scenarios addresses a critical topic in a timely, thoughtful, and accessible manner, making it a prime contender for most significant futures work of 2020.
What ownership structures will emerge in an automated future? Tim Morgan. Blog Posts (set). Category: 2 Analyze a significant future issue. 2019. APF Emerging Fellows Blog. Nominating member: Leah Zaidi
This set of twelve blog posts on the structures of ownership provides an interesting perspective on what ownership is, the challenges it presents, and how it may evolve in the future. Each piece is compelling on its own. Together, they form a comprehensive essay. Morgan's exploration of ownership structures builds an intriguing narrative around a complex issue while raising a number of important questions we have yet to answer.
I found his line of questioning insightful, especially his thoughts on virtualization, automation as a commons of the future, and the value the concept of automation derives from us. He ends on a haunting note, questioning whether we will "create positive-sum partners or zero-sum weapons", laying the groundwork for further futures work. His examples also provide an easy entry into nuanced conversation while illustrating the tensions that ownership (or a lack of) can trigger. Though it well researched and written, Morgan's style could appeal to a wide variety of readers beyond the futures community. I can easily picture how his posts could lend themselves to other mediums, such as a documentary.
The Only Three Trends That Matter: A Minimum Specification for Future-Proofing. Leah Zaidi. Article. 2020. Category 1 Advance the methodology and practice of foresight and futures studies; Journal of Futures Studies, In press. Nominated by Tim Morgan
The piece was originally released as a JFS blog post in 2019. The article takes a strong stance that three megatrends should be at the center of future-proofing forecasts:
Ms. Zaidi does not exclude focus on other trends or drivers, but clearly states that these three things should always be used to test the validity of any given forecast. Essentially any futures work that does not address these in addition to the core questions of the study is in strong danger of producing implausible futures. Her emphasis is on the importance of accounting for systems interactions, both external and internal. In her words:
"A minimum specification for future-proofing that accounts for the most critical of our systemic issues is one such framework. It allows individuals and organizations to vet their work against a simple baseline standard, with the hope that they reject ideas and initiatives that are problematic from a systems perspective. If we equate future-proofing with systems-oriented outcomes rather than organizationally beneficial ones, we may have an opportunity to bridge the gap between social futures and organizational strategy."
She illustrates her point by showing how such a future-proofing approach could affect a Future of Work study. Her design futures "Future Job Ads" examples show how these three drivers would work to create new ways of thinking about both work and business needs.
The work clearly satisfies the six criteria listed on the MSFW, and is a strong argument for our profession to always put our work within a larger systemic context, no matter the customer. Its strength is its simplicity. Not all powerful tools need to be complex. This one a simple approach which can be used to judge the value and plausibility of any futures work going forward.
Who is an expert for foresight? A review of identification methods. Stefanie Mauksch, Heiko A. von der Gracht & Theodore J. Gordon. Article. 2020. Category 1 Advance the methodology and practice of foresight and futures studies; Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 154, p. 1-14. Nominated by Jay Gary
If it is true that the future only exists in our minds--then foresight professionals should embrace systematic ways to identify experts, who can share their minds. This applied foresight article offers methods that futurists can use to identify experts from specific domains, as well as foresight processes, relevant to scenario generation, Delphi panels or anticipation/imagination projects. Following a review of prevailing sociological, behavioral and cognitive perspectives on what constituted valid expertise, the authors offer eight expert identification methods and explore their core assumptions, strengths and weaknesses, and domain examples. They conclude with recommendations on how to align a projects' purpose to the selection of a experts, requiring either maximum factual knowledge of a topic, a high level of imagination or inventiveness, or representing a particular interest group or cause.
2020 Tech Trends, Amy Webb, Report, 2020, Category 3: Illuminate the future through literary or artistic work. Nominating member: Jim Lee
The Tech Trends report is a beautiful (and sizeable) volume, offering over 350 tech trends, and weak signals for 2021. Webb offers key takeaways, Scenarios, toolkits and frameworks
are also included. These include the Decision Matrix, the Forecasting Funnel, the Time Cone, and other methodologies that may be familiar to many practicing futurists.
After 20 years of additions and revisions, this collection of trends is so complete, it is almost intimidating. Trends are cross-referenced for relevance to specific industries,
Each trend includes tracking data, including years on the list, key insights, why it matters, what's next, and key people and organizations to watch. Trends are also assigned a quadrant in the "Action Matrix", of 1) Act Now, 2) Informs Strategy 3) Keep Vigilant Watch and 4) Revisit Later. Trends are also clustered into scenarios for reflection and provocation.
The entire book is downloadable for free at https://futuretodayinstitute.com/2020-tech-trends/, although it is so gorgeous that you'll want it for your bookshelf.
Academia Next: The Futures of Higher Education, Bryan Alexander, Book
, 2020, Category 2 Analyze a significant future issue. Nominating member: Marius Oosthuizen
Bryan’s book is an example of foresight practice at the intersection of academia and action. As such, it models the way by leveraging the tools and methods of foresight, to contribute to the exploration of deep transformation of societal systems - in this case, higher education.
In a time of unprecedented social shock, while educators and learners the world over are grappling with the new realities of social distancing and digital transformation, alongside the broader social ramifications of economic disruption and political uncertainty, Bryan’s work illustrates how foresight professionals work the future.
His book is a sensible primer to a fundamental shift required in the discourse about the institutions, cultures and modes of education and learning. Bryan's far-sightedness and relevance is borne out by his depiction of the social dynamics he sees shaping education, in for instance his chapter entitled, "Health Care Nation”.
He writes, "Cultural and political conflicts that ripple across health care in its social context will appear on campuses, facilitated by social media and mobile devices: debates over end-of-life care, questions of privacy and technology, the acceptability of certain treatments, and, of course, birth control. Faculty may have the opportunity to engage as public intellectuals...In this future scenario, health care becomes the largest sector of the American economy. It employs more people and generates a bigger slice of the gross domestic product than any other service or industry and is still growing. We can now imagine such a health care behemoth dominating American society and its economy within a decade Different educational sectors will respond to this health care−driven world depending on their historical roles and present strategy.”
Given the current pandemic, Bryan’s work may very well prove to have been visionary in its time.
Developing a Theory of Plausibility in Scenario Building: Designing Plausible Scenarios, Sara Walton, Paul O’Kane, Diane Ruwhiu, Article, 2019, Futures, 111, 42-56. Category 1: Advance the methodology and practice of foresight and futures studies Nominating member: Seth Harrell
The authors address the issue of “plausibility of scenarios” as part of a future of work project for the town of Dunedin, Aotearoa, New Zealand. The issue is evaluated in terms of 1) how do we create scenarios that are seen as plausible, and 2) how do participants make sense of plausibility within scenarios? The way that plausibility of scenarios is determined by individual stakeholders is an underexplored and critical part of making scenarios effective. If it were known how scenarios are likely to be perceived before being developed or presented, they could be fine-tuned to the target audience in order to reach a higher level of acceptance, while also expanding boundaries of future thinking. The threshold of plausibility should be a prime concern. If a scenario is not seen as plausible it can be ignored, which defeats the purpose. On the other hand, if a scenario is too plausible, it can lose the ability to challenge assumptions and broaden thinking.
Based on feedback from participants, the authors found that individuals used multiple sense-making frames to determine plausibility. They also found that participants used three main types of “cues” (markers to familiar structures) 1) current trends, 2) environmental conditions, and 3) disruptive changes. The presence of these cues in a scenario allowed participants to link that scenario to their personal sense-making frames, thus enabling the perception of plausibility.
I believe the authors deserve recognition from the APF for initializing the development of a theory of how people make sense of the plausibility of scenarios.
Turning Foresight Inside Out: An Introduction to Ethnographic Experiential Futures, Stuart Candy, Kelly Kornet, Article, March 2019, Journal of Future Studies, 23(3): 3–22. Category 1: Advance the methodology and practice of foresight and futures studies. Nominating member: Natalie Pacheco
The authors merge two respected practices (ethnographic and experiential futures) together to create a practice that is both transferable and creative, producing more vivid futures. “The Ethnographic Experiential Futures (EXF) Cycle provides, practically, a way of inviting engagement with diverse participants, and methodologically, a generic process drawing on two traditions of foresight (ethnographic and experiential futures), with a view to promoting a more diverse and deeper array of scenarios for public consideration.”
The authors, initially using their case Causing an Effect as a model, developed the Ethnographic Experiential Futures (EXF) model: Map1, Multiply, Mediate, Mount, Map2. Map1 involves inquiring into and recording people’s actual or existing images of the future- probable, preferred, non-preferred. Multiply generates alternative images to challenge or extend existing thinking. Mediate translates the ideas about the cited futures into a form of tangible work. Mount stages experiential scenarios. Map2 investigates and records responses. This process can be performed once, or if possible, multiple times to see the change over time in groups and communities.
The framework created is intended to be flexible and implemented across a variety of futures works. The EXF process advances the practice of foresight as it fixes a crucial issue in design practice- most information collected stays in the state in which it was received. The EXF practice transforms ideas into working visible images of the future that can be challenged and more fully developed. By building on two existing practices, the authors are stretching foresight’s thinking, allowing futurists to continue to evolve and not be complacent with methodologies and practices. “The development of new and compelling ways of turning foresight inside out appears critical if humanity is to have any chance of developing a distributed social capacity to think ahead; if we hope to escape our tempocentrism, come to better understand each other, and navigate change together.”
The Future Persona: A Futures Method to Let your Scenarios Come to Life, Alessandro Fergnani, Article, 2019, Foresight, 21(4), 445-466. Category 1: Advance the methodology and practice of foresight and futures studies. Nominating member: Tim Murphy
The article presents a formal, scholarly approach for foresight researchers in that, the future can be visualized through the scenario of a future persona. Fergnani takes several accepted concepts and draws out one particular theme that is called the ‘future persona’. As an abstraction to represent the customer, Fergnani uses a future persona to represent an abstract fictional character; an avatar that exists within a future discussion. Each future persona represents a scenario that can be built around the persona’s attributes, connecting the relationship of the persona to scenario planning.
Fergnani describes these future personas as “living scenarios.” Personas are created from the scenarios, not the other way around. He believes that this method provides a much richer, more engaged character that can help personalize responses in adapting to the future. Further, the more developed the character and the addition of more attributes and reactions to situations, allows the character to become more realistic. This emotional alignment with a fictional character helps to move the scenario forward with a much more realistic feel than two-dimensional, flat characters.
Fergnani lays out his ideas in step-by-step plans with intricate detail. Each persona is comprehensive including human body descriptors, attitudes, fears, biases, and physical attributes. He believes that short narratives are better at achieving deeper understanding than characteristics lists. His solution is to create your own character with an almost unlimited set of attributes that lead to more in-depth scenarios, which in turn evoke better data generation.
FuturePod Podcast Program, Peter Hayward, Rebecca Mijat, Meredith Urie, Podcast, 2018. Category 3: Illuminate the future through literary or artistic work. Nominating member: Donna Harris
FuturePod is a nonprofit entity based in Australia whose mission is to promote futurist and foresight by giving the profession and those who work in this space a platform to explain and promote their work. It is a forum for working in the field to familiarize themselves with others and their work and for those exploring the field to become familiar with the profession.
The host, Peter Hayward, conducts a series of interviews, one each episode, with someone working in the field. Through a consistent series of questions, Peter learns about their pathway into futures and uncovers their contributions. The listener learns how the various futurists accomplishes their work and promotes the foresight field. Each podcast has a different flavor that promotes various aspects of the field. The host uncovers each interviewee's unique contribution to the profession, how they approach foresight projects and how they view the future from their own perspective. As of this nomination there are 36 episodes, each exploring different futurist, from foundational thinkers to emerging leaders from around the world.
For those exploring the field via the Internet, the website is eye-catching and informative both about the profession and the podcast. The podcasts came be listened to through the website or the podcast platform.
Natural Language Processing and Futures Studies. Walter Kehl, Mike Jackson, and Alessandro Fergnani, Article, 2019, World Futures Review, First Published October 28, 2019, Category 1: Advance the methodology and practice of foresight and futures studies. Nominating member: Bryan Alexander
Why you think it’s important (no more than 300 words). Shaping Tomorrow has been a fascinating futures project for years. It represents a bold attempt to connect AI with the open internet for generating forecasting information. With this paper we learn about how the team deployed natural language processing both in terms of data analysis and report generation. It's important to see how ST works, from its extractor parsing qualitative information and adding attributed from a pre-determined set to generating visualizations nearly in real-time. A key point is that ST applied NPL to both consumption (taking in global data) and production (producing reports and visualizations).
This paper concludes appropriately by blazing trails for future research. The paper is very clearly written, describing its method in appropriate order. It is also very accessible, minimizing jargon and hence being of value to the broader futures community beyond those who explore AI.
I suspect "Natural Language Processing and Futures Studies" will be cited as a key step if not a milestone in applying automation to forecasting work. It should inspire other futures work, using or responding to AI. It may give the field a newly futuristic sheen. As AI work explodes worldwide, it’s only to be expected that the futures field can not only partake but benefit.
Worldbuilding in Science Fiction, Foresight, and Design, Leah Zaidi, Article , 2019, Journal of Futures Studies, 2(12). Category 2 Analyze a significant future issue. Nominating member: Christine McGlade
With her Worldbuilding conceptual framework, Zaidi brings nuance to our understanding of storytelling and its place in the broader social context. Zaidi effectively synthesizes key ideas across multiple disciplines: Design, Science Fiction, and Foresight, with broader implications for all three and beyond. As she draws parallels and synergies across the work of foresight practitioners, designers, and science fiction authors in this unified concept of Worldbuilding,
Zaidi's reminds us that we both create and live into our narratives, something that cognitive psychology and biocentrism alike are revealing to be fundamental truths for humans. As she concludes with Gibson and Delaney's concept of a “Superstructure of Culture”, Zaidi reveals the broader meta patterns that allow us to take a 10 000 foot view of our narratives as inherently social constructs with powerful potential to drive change. But it also offers a grassroots, "trickle up" perspective on our ability as individuals to envision, incorporate, and perhaps act on, alternative, better futures.