Mutating the Future: the Anticipatory Experimentation Method

We human beings for most of our history have solved the problems of the present. Problem arises, people respond. See problem, act on problem. But now we find ourselves in a new context, beset by not just the problems of the present but as well of the future. These include automation and robotic’s impact on jobs, climate change, potential pandemics, energy transformations, youth bulges, the list goes on…. That golden or peaceful time, if it ever existed, when we could just pretend that the future would take care of itself is long gone. Today this attitude is tantamount to negligence.

So, today we need to solve the problems of the future — we need anticipatory action. This is new, and we are just beginning to get our heads around what this actually means. The fields of foresight and futures studies would seem a logical place for addressing this. But my own journey in futures studies, in this regard, started with some disappointment. Back in 2000, as a masters student in my early 30s, I noticed a disconnect — that futures studies and futurists were teaming with long-term speculations, forecasts, scenarios and the like. There was a lot of future-philia, but the present seemed to be disowned. Some futurists talked about how the future should be a principal of present action, but there were very few tangible methodologies that truly explicitly connected the future with present day problem solving.


In these early days I was inspired by people like Robert Jungk who developed an early participatory futures workshop for citizen empowerment. I also got inspired by action research in general and began exploring how one might use or comingle an action research approach with a futures studies approach.

Anticipatory Action Learning was a wonderful development in this regard, and its mature expression through the Six Pillars method of Sohail Inayatullah. Fast forward almost 20 years and today there are a variety of ways developed which links foresight and action in powerful ways.

My own modest contribution to this about a decade ago was to develop the Futures Action Model as a nonlinear research and development framework for how global foresight may inform localized action.


Feeling powerful?

When I’m with students, clients or just colleagues and friends, the question consistently arises, how can we have some agency, power, in this context of seemingly overwhelming change? We are beset by what seems like overwhelming complexity, overwhelming speeds of change, and overwhelming scale in the challenges.

A major concern for me has been how we recover a sense of agency and power in order to navigate these challenges we face. A sense of confusion or ambivalence or distraction or apathy or despair that many of us experience with regard to big problems are mind-body phenomena that stop people, stop us, from fully participating in the transformations or transitions our world needs.

If we each knew that we have the power to engender transformations and breakthroughs that our communities and societies need, then we would not hesitate to jump right in and begin doing so. It is this very mind-body phenomena, expressed as a sense of powerlessness, that acts like a suppressant on our capacities to jump into projects for change that indeed can change the world.

Creating social change is a social technology. Humans are unique in our adeptness and attachment to technology. From the most basic tools that we created over millions of years, a rock blade for cutting animal skins, or a basket woven from the long grasses around us that can hold and store food, we excel at technologies for transforming our environment.

Today we have a variety of social technologies developed to engender positive social change, from the many varieties of Action Research to Collective Impact, and many other methodologies, all of these in one way or another addresses questions of our power and capacity to navigate and engender the changes that we want and need to create. But can these empowering social technologies be bent toward addressing anticipated challenges?


Acting Out Used Futures

There is a big problem with action that does not reflect on our assumption about the future. We live in a social context in which we are being told repeatedly to innovate, innovate, innovate, to be social innovators, to be technical innovators, to be anything innovators. I remember at a conference in 2016 at Tamkang University, Taiwan, in a debate with Jim Dator where he stopped the room when he said (paraphrasing) ‘we’ve got too much innovation already — we need less innovation!’. When we got through the initial confusion and shock of the statement, we learned that he meant that all too often our practices of creativity are locked into yesterday’s thinking. We fetishize innovation without considering the underlying patterns of creativity being expressed.

Alvesgaspar [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

If we create ideas, designs, enterprises and other innovations from the uncritical or unconscious ‘used future’, as Sohail Inayatullah puts it, we will simply perpetuate and even exacerbate the problems that we are dealing with today. It reminds me of a recent article I read. Engineers had a ‘great idea’ to create little drone bees to replace the ones that are dying off en mass due to colony collapse disorder. Cue forehead slap. It is this instrumental mindset that created the problem in the first place. That nature is replaceable. A lack of fundamental understanding of the complexity of biological systems. An inability to see humans as part of the web of life rather than engineers on it or masters of it. It’s the old story of the lady who swallowed a fly. She swallows a spider to get the fly, she perpetuates a used future, I guess she’ll die! We do actually know why she swallowed the fly, the spider, bird, etc etc… because she never stepped back from action to see the world in its systemic complexity, she just acted out her unexamined assumptions and misguided confidence that the easy and simple way to solve the problem was to do what she had always done — and each time she does this the problem gets worse.

That is why it is so critical to unpack and challenge the used futures and to create alternative futures that expand options, and to create a new vision before even entering into the space of ideating action, be they ‘designs’, ‘models’, whatever. We need qualitatively new responses to the problems of the future. That old expression that one cannot solve today’s problems with yesterday’s thinking applies but needs updating too: ‘We cannot solve tomorrow’s problems with today’s thinking!’ Which does sounds a little absurd, given that all we have is the present, really. But we might say more accurately that we cannot solve tomorrow’s problems until we challenge today’s thinking, our assumptions and images about the future and our vision of our options.

             Don Quixote, by Gustave Doré [Public domain]


Some metaphors and a framework

I’ve been at this for almost two decades. Sometimes I have felt like Captain Ahab chasing the white whale, obsessed with the prize. At other times I have felt like Prometheus, searching for the secret of fire. And at others Don Quixote, chasing windmills. None of these stories ended well!

These myths, however, symbolize some big lessons. First, we learn from Melville, practice non-attachment — or we’ll get sucked into the vortex of our obsession. Secondly, from the Greek myth, that any invention has a cost — something that is hidden or disowned, with unintended consequences. Creativity is a two way street. Thirdly, from Cervantes, we are all limited in our imagination by the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, the used future — our actions are often just expressions of old patterns of thinking from days gone by — but the context has changed. What all of these myths are collectively saying are to take a step back from action itself and reflect upon the nature of being and thinking in the world — if we are to be action oriented — then we must marry agency and action with philosophy and reflection.

And so, two years ago, from the depths of reflection sprang the next iteration in this journey for me. It emerged from owning a new metaphor of the self. This new metaphor had the logic of life, of living systems.

In one manifestation it was the seed from the tree, or inversely the tree that is born from the seed. It is the logic of birth, growth, propagation, and mutation. It showed nature’s way of doing experiments, through variation. And how the future is enfolded into the present as possibility through the logic of the ‘seed form’ (see the Action Foresight logo as an example).


In another manifestation it was a solar system in its infancy, where one small intervention could have profound long term implications. This represented that our work today is on behalf of future generations. And intuitively, from the metaphors came the framework.
The method brings together three key dimensions and influences. The first two parts of the Bridge brings in futures studies as a major dimension, especially the work of Sohail Inayatullah with his emphasis on critical, deconstructive and integrative foresight. The keystone of the Bridge brings in my emphasis over many years on ideation of initiatives and enterprises, expressed through the Futures Action Model. And finally the last two steps in the Bridge express action research as a fundamental influence.
AEM / Bridge Method


Practically the method entails five stages:

  1. Challenging the used future

2. Developing a preferred future and open ended narrative

3. Ideating a number of prototype ideas from the vision or narrative

4. Choosing which prototype ideas to experiment with and running real-world experiments

5. Scaling and investing in the experiments with the best promise


First, the ‘used future’ must be challenged, as invariably we hold presumptions about the future that are uncritically held or untested. If we act from the used future we perpetuate the problems associated with such perspectives. This follows the age old adage that one cannot add anything to a cup that is already full. We can think of the metaphor of the teacup which is completely full. Nothing can be added to it. It is only when we empty the cup when we can add something new. Likewise we must empty our assumptions to renew our understanding and vision for the future, so as to not be hostage to old patterns of thinking, unconscious assumptions, and so that new ideas can emerge. As well, as we learn about the emerging issues, trends and weak signals that are transforming our social horizons, new and alternative images of the future emerge. This ensures that visions and pathways for the future are informed by an empirical understanding of change, not just unexamined assumptions, and that multiple possible futures inform action.

Secondly, we develop an integrated vision and a transformational futures narrative. Integrated visioning, first developed by Inayatullah, is a way to do visioning with a particular sensitivity to our psychological blind spots. It is often the case that our visions, whether idealistic or pragmatic, disown key aspects of what we need. Integrated visioning is a way to develop visions and pathways that are more holistic and, because they take a fuller account of an organization’s dimensions, are more likely to align across it and therefore succeed. Then we create an open ended narrative, the movement from our past to present to preferred future. This needs to articulate the way in which the world participates in its fulfilment, a call to action for others to work with us to create this future. This open ended narrative addresses the false presumption that an individual or single organisation can create the future on their own, and acknowledges that it is actually an ecosystem of coordinated actors (organisations, communities, networks, etc.) that are able to create the future together.

Thirdly, I use the Futures Action Model to bridge the preferred futures and narrative with ideation. The Futures Action Model (FAM) is a “keystone” method that integrates all phases of the Bridge, by providing a way for problem-oriented thinking to relate with solution-oriented thinking in a futures-oriented way. It relates foresight research and knowledge with identification of pioneer projects and responses from around the world, to the “design ecosystem” (stakeholders critical in the development of the initiative), and finally provides a space for articulating the bare bones DNA of an initiative. FAM can include the use of an interactive role-playing game, an R&D process, and workshopping. The output of FAM are initiative ideas that are deeply grounded across multiple critical spaces: empirical evidence on social change, real world pioneer examples from around the world, and present day stakeholder considerations.

Fourthly, ideas that emerge need to be vetted and selected for experiments. The experiment is that small piece of the preferred future we are bringing into the present. Experiments make sure that as individuals or organizations, we limits the scale and the risk to us, a tolerance zone for experiments that allow them to fail safely. They provide ways of testing the assumptions embedded within them, to make sure learning happens that builds in systemic capacity for renewed experiments.

Finally, experiments can be evaluated to see which ones showed the most promise and are best aligned to enact the vision or pathway. If an experiment holds little promise, it can be discarded. Or it can be adapted if it showed some promise. If it is demonstrated to work it can then be upscaled and invested in, in a way appropriate to the resources and risk tolerance of the organisation. This ensures that experiments can scale for impact when they and the organization driving them are ready. (Many thanks to my colleague Gareth Priday for helping me to see this importance of this last step).

In summary, first we must challenge the used future and deconstruct the unconscious patterns that dictates our awareness and images of the future. Otherwise we act out used futures. This then creates the space for new visions and preferred futures, and the new narratives that express this. And on the back of these new narratives and visions we ideate — we create ideas for change. Let’s have fun and let’s be bold. As we have deconstructed the used futures and created new visions, our ideas for change are bound to be interesting, different, potent. Then, filled as we are with these ideas for change we can choose one or some to bring into the world, through real-world experiments that will drive learning. These experiments will be the appropriate size, they will be safe to fail, they will be the seeds of the new. And finally, based on this learning and the evaluation of these experiments we can adapt, we can discard and we can scale them for impact.


Giving the baby a name

We can call this the Anticipatory Experimentation Method (AEM) or ‘Bridge Method’. It is a method for bringing the preferred future into the present through experiments that can scale for impact. It is a bridge between a preferred future and real-world experiments that bring that future into being. It combines a visioning approach with an ideation method that can bridge future vision with specific and implementable ideas, which culminate in experiments.

The method focuses on bringing a preferred future into the present, by running experiments that have maximum alignment with the enactment of the preferred future. Why do an experiment that is not aligned to our preferred futures? Let’s experiment with that which is going to get us there. Experiments are a vehicle for enacting new futures because they are “small pieces” of the preferred future brought into the present. Experiments are also time and resource savers because, rather than commit a whole organization or community to a new path (which is both risky and potentially costly), experiments are small scale and cost effective ways of testing a new direction. If some experiments show promise they can be scaled and invested in, accelerating organizational momentum toward enacting the vision. If experiments don’t work, the investment was limited and the risk was measured, people can still learn a great deal and nonetheless develop confidence in the experimentation process.

How do we respond, indeed create breakthroughs or transformations within a variety of domains of social life, where change is needed? There are many methods for social change, and as a student, practitioner and teacher of futures studies and foresight I have a deep appreciation for the variety of complex ways our societies change. There is no one size fits all. It is my hope that the Anticipatory Experimentation Method (AEM) or ‘Bridge Method’ adds meaningfully to the capacity for us to respond to our shared and emerging challenges, as anticipatory experimentalists, playfully yet purposefully to be in the service of long-term global foresight and the well-being of future generations and life on earth.

José Ramos is director of the botique consulting / research / facilitation business Action Foresight.

Carnival of Futures: one step at a time like this

one step at a time like this are a collective of performance artists who specialize in transforming the “audience” into the performer, through a unique approach to contemporary arts practice. Bridgette Engler and I were approach by one step about a year ago, to ostensibly “help them” with a futures project. Bridgette and I designed a creative and interactive process of two half-day workshops that would run them through a foresight process to envision the futures of contemporary arts practice – 50-100 years from now. However in what might be described as “inversion” or “entrapment”, we the futurists soon found ourselves being repurposed as props and performers in their own mad, inspired and brilliant reconfiguration of what we understand to be futures studies….

How did we end here in the first place?

Often it’s a question we ask ourselves when something has gone horribly wrong! In this case, we were delighted to become “futurists as props”, but the road here was both interesting and strange.

We had a number of “client” meeting with them over the course of a few months. Basically everything we threw at them, weak signals, causal layered analysis, design futures, mangled rusted nails, etc they chewed up and devoured. Many clients want the facilitator to do the brain work and make it all sweet and easy, and fair enough!!! Execs are pressured to perform, managers must manage. But this crew were different, they became true students, immersing themselves in our world.

After this we designed a futuring process that we thought they would enjoy and which would help them envision the futures of contemporary arts practice:

Half Day 1 

  • Forecasting game
  • Harman Fan scenario building

Half Day 2

  • CLA using Lego Serious Play
  • Integrated Visioning

Process Day 1

Forecasting Game

The forecasting game combined elements of emerging issue analysis (Graham Molitor) and  weak signals / future sign (Elina Hiltunen).

We started out by generating a list of “emerging issue” based on a brain storming process and with some dot voting.


Here is the list of issues with dot voting on key / interesting ones


We then ran a forecasting game based on the work of Elina Hiltunen (weak signals). Each made bets and wagers with funny money based on their assessment of whether an issue was weak to strong

Harman Fan 

Using these same issues as a basis, here Bridgette explains the Harman Fan scenario process


Here they are beginning to organise issues chronologically and narratively


and more organising


and more


Harman Fan is starting to take shape in a 100 year time frame …


final form of Harman Fan


Fan debrief with Bridgette

Process Day 2

Doing CLA with Lego serious play

We guided them through the layers of Causal Layered Analysis. One the downswing…  Litany, Systems, Worldview, Myth / Metaphor. On the upswing, what is the new myth / metaphor, what is the new culture, what are empowering systems / structures aligned to this, and what are the new KPIs, how do we measure this new narrative direction?

starting off with Causal Layered Analysis using Lego Serious Play


beginning to explore litany


litany constructions


exploring and crafting systems level problems


reviewing systems level


connecting up the systems into structural understanding


and deeper


and deeper


to worldview level / cultural depictions


and the statements around the “stakeholder’s” worldview


and more


working at myth metaphor level


and reframing


more reframing


and more


the mythic legoscape

Integrated Scenarios 

We used the integrated scenarios method developed by Sohail Inayatullah, with the group doing skits for each scenario.

depicting the used future


depicting the preferred future


depicting the disowned future


depicting the integrated scenario


depicting the outlier future

The aftermath

After the workshop we had some very good conversations about futures / foresight more generally. They were to take the experiences from the workshop as material to develop their performance. They hinted at the question of whether we might be interested in playing a part, which we were, but there was no idea as to what this might be.

A few months later, one step brought us in to see what they had in mind. Indeed, we were more than props, and had become active elements in their production. In the lead up to a showing, where the one step performance would be experienced by a cohort, we did a few runs and began to inhabit and play parts in their futures imaginarium.

The showing itself happened a few weeks later, where we got to experience the whole “performance”. In short, what they put together was amazing, rivalling anything I have seen or experienced. It was a remarkable fusion of futures and art, with unexpected combinations and hybrids – true “mutant futures”.

Where to from here?

Fast forward a year later, and one step have established this as a bona fide “performance” that the public can experience for themselves, called Carnival of Futures. The show will run from Wed 8 Aug to Sun 19 Aug (2018), at the Arts House in North Melbourne. Here as well is the Facebook page where tickets can be bought.

Here is their overview: 

How do we create the future?

one step at a time like this have created theirs using two futurists.

Carnival of Futures is a series of one-on-one micro-performances that dance around questions, insights and predictions of our personal and collective futures. A cavalcade – well, five or six – of experiential provocations, from the individual to the global, from science to seer, conjured to let you envision a pathway for the times ahead.

Share breakfast with a mutant futurist, kneel before an oracle, journey to your own end, measure your hope/lessness – or simply have a lie down.

A chance to pause and imagine, face difficulties and obstacles, Carnival of Futures invites you to reflect, act and ‘dream forward’.

“…few performances manage to so completely tear through the bubble of reserve in which we spend most of our lives.” RealTime, on en route

one step at a time like this (Suzanne Kersten, Clair Korobacz, Julian Rickert)
Collaborating Futurists:
Bridgette Engeler, Jose Ramos
Associate Creative:
Sharon Thompson
Lighting Designer:
John Ford
Associate Artist:
Katerina Kokkinos-Kennedy
Erin Milne (Bureau of Works)
UK Producer:
Richard Jordan Productions
Supported by – Carnival of Futures is supported by the Besen Family Foundation, Bureau of Works, Richard Jordan Productions, and the City of Melbourne through Arts House. It was developed through CultureLAB.

Laboratorio Para La Ciudad (CDMX)

In late June 2018 I spent a week in the City of Mexico, to support the municipal government with a variety of foresight related challenges, through its Laboratorio Para La Ciudad (City Lab).

The Lab was founded and is led by Gabriella Gómez-Mont, as the experimental arm / creative think tank of the Mexico City government, reporting to the Mayor. It is highly innovative in its techniques and strategies for urban development.

“The Lab is a place to reflect about all things city and to explore other social scripts and urban futures for the largest megalopolis in the western hemisphere, working across diverse areas, such as urban creativity, mobility, governance, civic tech, public space, etc. In addition, the Lab searches to create links between civil society and government, constantly shifting shape to accommodate multidisciplinary collaborations, insisting on the importance of political and public imagination in the execution of its experiments.”

During the week I worked with the Lab’s Open City team, Gabriela (Gaby) Rios Landa, Valentina Delgado, Bernardo Rivera Muñozcano and Nicole Mey. I came away super impressed by their work, commitment and creativity. The work I was asked to do was highly varied and engaged a number of my specializations:

  1. To run a visioning workshop with Lab people and key stakeholders to develop a vision for an Open City for CDMX, that could help guide city development in an inclusive and participatory way.
  2. To deliver a talk on “Democratizing Design” in which I discussed some current “revolutions” in design and cosmo-localization from the perspective of the P2P Foundation.
  3. To run a design session to develop an anticipatory governance strategy for the application of artificial intelligence in CDMX.
  4. In addition I gave presentations to the Open City team on co-governance and the city as commons, vision mapping and the anticipatory experimentation (bridge) method.

Needless to say it was a big week!


For the visioning workshop, we started by using a technique called “vision cycles”, which is a way of mapping the history of an issue, but in such a way as to discover the previous visions that have informed development (what might be considered “used futures”) as well the current vision and its effects, and what ideas for the future are emerging. After this we did a short visualisation process that helped everyone to picture the future city in their minds eye. We then used the integrated visioning method first developed by Sohail Inayatullah, where we looked at the preferred future, the future that was disowned, and then developed an integrated future. Because of confidentiality I cannot provide the content of the workshop until the Lab’s report comes out, but I will share it when it is published.

One of the insights from the session is that cities have many selves, and it is worth interrogating what are a city’s dominant selves and what selves have been disowned. When a self is disowned and has no avenue for expression its behaviour shows up as undermining, disruptive, agitative. If the contradictions between the dominant self of a city and its disowned self is not resolved, then conflict can ensue. The integrated visioning method provides a way of seeing that can appreciate how the integration of the dominant and disowned selves of a city can lead to more wholistic or wiser development.

Anticipatory Governance

With an issue like artificial intelligence, there is not only great uncertainty regarding the potential impact on society, there is also definitional ambiguity as AI crosses many definitional boundaries (is it machine learning, neural networks, algorithms, robots, automation, etc), and the speed of the issue seems to be accelerating. Given this, the Lab was tasked with developing a set of policies for how this polymorphous issue is managed and governed. For this they asked me to apply the Causal Layered Analysis method of Sohail Inayatullah, and then to use the Anticipatory Governance Design Framework I have developed to provide the building blocks that can form an Anticipatory Governance framework for artificial intelligence. Needless to say the workshop was rich, exploring some of the core assumptions, word views and attitudes guiding peoples thinking, and new myth and metaphors that provides genuinely empowering pathways. Again, as before, because of confidentially I am not able to make this public until the Lab team publish their report. But I will share this as soon as possible.


In addition to this I gave presentation on some of my favourite subjects:

  • co-governance and the city as commons – they were already familiar with the work of Christian Iaione and Sheila Foster. This conversation was one of the biggest learnings for me. In particular while they appreciated the perspective on the urban commons, they questioned its translatability from the Bologna / Barcelona / Ghent context (small-medium sized cities, politically empowered pop) to CDMX (24 million people, highly stratified between wealthy / empowered and poor / marginalised). They also felt that the spirit of CDMX resists monolithic prescriptions and wondered where / what opportunities exist for heterotopic futures, plural futures within the city … rather than a single / monolithic city vision.
  • I also presented my work on vision mapping, the combination of visioning processes and online editable mapping based on open street maps and the map interface. One of the Lab teams were already using OSM for a project and there was considerable overlap in the use of participatory methods to map urban geographies and imaginaries.
  • As well I presented on the anticipatory experimentation (bridge) method, which was very consistent with the overall approach to the Lab, as they are explicitly an experimental arm of the city government tasked with charting new pathways for CDMX’s urban futures.


I presented on cosmo-localisation at a coworking space called wework, hosted by FabCity CDMX and Futurologi, where I got to meet Oscar Velasquez and Igna Tovar. With around 50-60 people I had chance to show off my bad spanish and my perfect spanglish. I spoke on a theme I’ve been developing with my colleagues through the P2P Foundation.

I describe Cosmo-localization as:

“… the process of bringing together our globally distributed knowledge and design commons with the high-to-low tech capacity for localized production. It is based on the ethical premise, drawing from cosmopolitanism, that people and communities should be universally empowered with the heritage of human ingenuity that allow them to more effectively create livelihoods and solve problems in their local environments, and that, reciprocally, local production and innovation should support the wellbeing of our planetary commons.” 

I worked on the themes of deep mutualization in the context of the anthropocene.

Slides are here. Audio here.

Impressions and reflections

Overall I came away very impressed with the city of Mexico as a whole. From crowdsourcing a new constitution, to becoming one of the first latin american regions to make itself LGBT friendly, to its attempts to create a universal basic income, and of course the work of the Lab, CDMX, despite its many social problems, is an oasis of intelligence and progressive politics. I got the feeling that the city is on the cusp of a renaissance and potential transformation. That is my hope for the city’s many people, most who struggle day by day for survival.

My own interest in working in CDMX stems from family history. My mom was born in the Colonia Roma, and she spent her first 12 years there before immigrating to the US with her mother and sisters. I grew up hearing stories with CDMX as the backdrop, not all pretty ones either. For my mom and her family, life was hard, they were very very poor, and they struggled day in and day out for survival. This has a distinct imprint on my sense of identity. Despite my relative privilege as a travelling consulting futurist, for the purposes of CDMX I know that I am the son of a mother who came from the harshest poverty, and that in another life I am one of “los de abajo”. For my mom and her family, “moving up” for them was working as maids for the wealthy in central Mexico city. It feels as if, because we suffered from inequality and the stigma of poverty, it is something that we know too well must be addressed to fulfil the promise of the city. The disowned must be integrated into the future of the city for all to flourish.

Network Foresight (NF)

The most recent development, Network Foresight (NF), involves approaches that use networked ICT systems on web based, open, “web 2.0” style interactive platforms. Some of these engage in crowdsourcing and collective intelligence (principle of the wisdom of crowds), others employ large scale scanning systems and interactive processes for idea generation and visioning:  TechCast, developed by William Halal, was one of the first forms of collaborative virtual expert based forecasting. Shaping Tomorrow has become the biggest user group for crowdsourced trends. iknow is the European Union’s collective scanning and analysis system. Finpro is one of the best examples of organizational crowdsourcing of foresight data, where employees form an important part of the scanning capacity that leads to business / industry intelligence.

The Institute for the Future runs a variety of Massively Multi-player Online Games (MMOGs) which engages thousands of people in creatively engaging with scenarios and situations. The Open Foresight Project, created by Venessa Miemis, was an open source project, relying on off the shelf social media platforms, to conduct social foresight inquiry. FutureScaper, created by Noah Raford, is a scenario planning platform that uses crowdsourcing and collaborative interaction. Each of these, and other notable examples unmentioned here, have experienced different levels of success in engaging online audiences in foresight processes. Because this form of engagement is still young, it is expected to develop significantly in the years to come (Ramos, 2012). Network Foresight approaches are part of a broader shift into a network intensive era, typified by a number of key changes. Eight of these key changes are highlighted here:

  1. Funding – NT can draw on public / distributed crowd-funding opportunities
  2. Audience – NT can engage a global public citizen sphere of interest
  3. Legitimacy – peer publics become moderators of the validity of anticipatory truths
  4. Instantiation – activity can be highly localized, swarms or flash mobs, using mobile networking for instantaneous or improvisational self organization
  5. Replication – NT platforms can be copied or franchised from one locale to many
  6. Participation – NT can engage a broad public
  7. Ownership – as citizens become key contributors there is an emerging expectation for a global knowledge commons (e.g. “it belongs to all”)
  8. Transparency – contributors want foresight approaches to be ‘naked’, that is, the process should be open for people to understand, critique, replicate, etc. (Ramos, 2012)

There are some similarities to Integrated Governmental Foresight (IGF), as IGF strategies usually employ large scale and robust ICT system to coordinate knowledge sharing and management. IGF approaches usually differ, however, because they are ‘in-house’ systems that are closed off from wider internet participation. Network Foresight is generally open to anyone who has the capabilities to contribute. For example the Singapore government’s RAHS system uses a sophisticated crowdsourced data development strategy. However, it remains closed to all except a select few organizations outside of government, with little intention to engage a global audience in participatory sensing and analysis.

Integrated Governmental Foresight (IGF)

Over the past decade or so, a new approach to Anticipatory Governance has been developed which integrates intelligence and foresight activities across governmental departments, harnessing synergies that overlaps toward systemic policy insights. While still broadly focused on national priorities and challenges, “public health, national security, or the environment,” [etc] (Habegger, 2010, p.50) this mode of foresight activity cuts across traditional policy areas and departments, and puts a premium on cooperation and collaboration across departments. It typically requires large scale knowledge management systems for scanning databases and subsequent analysis, and can be considered a limited type of organizational “crowd sourcing”.

Its end purpose is to assists policy makers with strategic thinking and decision- making. Habegger (2010) analyzed three important examples of this mode of foresight activity (UK, Netherlands, Singapore), arguing:

“Only few contemporary challenges can be confined to one policy area anymore, and governments have realized that a single-issue focus is in many instances insufficient. Consequently, they have started to experiment with foresight that cuts across the traditional boundaries of policy areas and government departments.” (Habegger, 2010, p.50)

While such an approach to governmental foresight has distinct instrumental advantages, for example the Singapore government’s Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning (RAHS) program’s capacity to identify early warning signs of potential risk, Habegger argues that the cultural benefits of this approach are perhaps even deeper, where process-based foresight among inter-organizational learning networks create conditions for cultural change toward adaptive and agile policy development. Such approaches foster cross-departmental sharing and collaboration, building in a culture of learning networks and organizations, breaking down traditional silos among government areas. Or as Habegger articulated, the IGF is:

“characterized by a long-term, interdisciplinary, participative, and communicative perspective that attempts to build networks across professional communities, enables broad-based social learning, generates scenario-based knowledge, and eventually results in visions of (alternative) policies.” (Habegger, 2010, p.50)

A precursor to integrated governmental foresight may also be noted in early experiments with what Bezold (2006) describes as “legislative foresight”. Experiments in the US at the federal level in integrating futures studies approaches into legislative processes attempted to build in environmental scanning and forecasts that could have implications for existing legislation, as well as foster coordination across legislative committees to look at intended and unintended future consequences of legislation: to establish more coordinated and coherent. As such legislative foresight played a kind of oversight function on all legislative activity (Bezold, 1978, p.124 in Bezold, 2006). While this kind of legislative foresight is distinctly different to the IGF described by Habegger, it still holds significant potential for those considering a broad strategy mix and designing Anticipatory Governance approaches.

Transition Management (TM)

Transition Management (TM) is a long term multi-generational and systemic strategy for reaching sustainable development goals and visions. It engages and empowers diverse stakeholders in a wicked problem area, or what is termed in TM discourse as an ‘Arena’, focused on targeting and engaging key domains or wicked issues. As an approach employed by governments to enact sustainable development goals, a key strategy entails creating a pioneer social innovator group that has political sanction to formulate change initiatives. In this way it draws on a synergy between governmental champions and pioneer social innovator groups or networks (it uses outsiders and insiders as an emerging alliance of change agents). The TM change strategy entails initiating “seeds of change” at a local level that can be scaled up (which serves the dual purpose of mitigating the risks of over generatized policy doctrine and developing experiments that provide long term resilience).

It is quintessentially a strategic foresight approach where global scanning is conducted but applied to local sustainability challenges, and thus it takes advantage of the emerging global knowledge commons for localized applications. It links a long term understanding of alternative futures with shorter term policy and development priorities.

“By building up a broadening network of diverse actors that share the debate, thinking and experimenting, conditions are created for up-scaling breakthroughs in innovations. We will argue that this is at the heart of transition management: by actually implementing transition management in a structured co-production process, new insights emerge, are implemented and reflected upon in a continuing way”. (Loorbach, 2010, p.238)

Transition management makes a distinction between different temporal levels of social change and opportunities for action. At the strategic level, long-term sustainability challenges and alternative futures are explored, connected to complex and wicked social problems – futures studies as an approach for generating new strategic visions, preferred futures and pathways is the methodology par excellence. At the tactical level, TM applies itself toward rethinking key system structures such as “institutions, regulation, physical infrastructures, financial infrastructures” within the context of broader sustainability challenges. At the operational level, TM attempts to generate new activities, decisions and innovations that individuals and groups can generate on a day-to-day basis in order to influence tactical change, but in the context of broader strategic foresight (Loorbach, 2010, p.238). As can be seen from this explanation, TM is unique in its strategy and methodology in terms of linking the very long-term sustainability challenges we face with specific and focused “operational” scale interventions and actions.

The transition management cycle is reminiscent of action learning and action research cycles, but where localized action recurs in the context of the movement toward long-term sustainability goals and visions. Is highly synthetic and its incorporation of elements of the action research cycle works across diverse stakeholder and participant configurations looking for leverage points of change and insight. The formulation of a problem context or “transition arena” may be followed by generating images of sustainability and transition paths, which then flows into transition experiments in the mobilization of transition networks, which is then evaluated and reflected upon,  which in turn provides the basis for a new cycle (Loorbach, 2010, p.238).

“The very idea behind transition management is to create a societal movement through new coalitions, partnerships and networks around arenas that allow for building up continuous pressure on the political and market arena to safeguard the long-term orientation and goals of the transition process.” (Loorbach, 2010, p.239)


Foresight Informed Strategic Planning (FISP)

At different levels of government, from local to states and federal, a large body of practice and literature relates to planning processes that are informed by strategic foresight approaches. If a government is considering a planning process that will have implications for 5, 10, or 20 years, often they will apply some type of foresight approach to informing the planning process. Such foresight informed planning processes are most often participatory – which engage key stakeholders in a locale that might represent the broader system) in order to discuss the long-term issues being mutually experienced. It employs workshop based approaches to foresight and requires expert facilitators and facilitation.

There are a wide variety of approaches to foresight informed planning, including search conference methods (Ludema, 2002; Weisbord, 1992), scenario planning (Mahmud, 2011) and others.

Gould and Daffara (Gould, 2007, p.2) articulate the value of foresight for planning and engaging a community in decision-making, providing participants with a deepened understanding of social change trajectories, providing an opportunity for participants to articulate and imagine their preferred futures, and to foster action plans and processes that can get integrated into achieving the futures that participants prefer. Further they argue that such approaches allow for greater transparency through open communication and involvement, where existing assumptions about the future can be made more explicit, challenged and evaluated, as well as creating opportunities for collaboration across government and citizen boundaries. Such processes bring forth new talents among people, surface existing issues and conflicts for resolution, develop the community’s capacity to question assumptions and builds hope among people. For government such processes allow policies to be informed by a deeper understanding of long-term change, deepen the rigor of existing planning schemes, help develop collaborations across sectors and provide opportunities to integrate policy (Gould and Daffara, 2007, p.3).

Futures Commissions (FC)

Futures commissions (FC) are another important tradition in the Anticipatory Governance milieu. Futures commissions are semi-independent research and communication institutes or agencies established to provide a foresight function for both government and the public.

A key opportunity in FCs is to develop futures research which can influence policy development as well as communicate with the public to enhance the level of debate in the public sphere. Often government-funded, their semi-independent nature (as a commission) allows them more liberty in providing critical commentary within both policy development processes and public discourse. This semi-independence can also become a weakness if political winds change and those in power are at odds with the research and communication flowing from such a futures commission.

As Bezold argued, these FC can be both powerful and precarious, “critical in giving government greater foresight, more conscious direction setting, and greater capacity to create positive change” – or can waste public money (Bezold, 2006, p.46).

Notable examples of such commissions include Australian FC (now defunct), and Swedish FC. Bezold (2006) documented 36 US states that created FCs since the 1990s, often within particular state jurisdictions.

Bezold described the function of FCs to:

“stimulate imagination and creativity in considering options; track emerging trends and relate these trends to current policies; develop alternative scenarios; inform and involve the public and key stakeholders; and allow the public to link policy options and trends to priority setting for state policies and the budget.” (Bezold, 2006, p.47)

Overall FCs are high impact but require significant resources and political support. Their success factors include having strong leadership support (e.g. a governor, chief justice), involving other key stakeholders, including the legislature and media, and having public learning and public involvement components (Bezold, 2006).

Usually of a robust scale, built into states or federal funding, FCs can also be found in places of smaller scale, such as in inter-organizational networks; the FCs can be used to connect a number of different jurisdictions through intergovernmental commissions. Their frequency and flexibility warrant their inclusion as a critical strategy in developing Anticipatory Governance.

Anticipatory Democracy (AD)

The term “Anticipatory Democracy” came from the seminal futurist Alvin Toffler, famous for his solution to what he considered to be “future shock”. Because Toffler considered anticipated changes to be so disruptive, he argued for large-scale citizen engagement in diagnosing change and influencing society.

As Bezold (2006) explains:

“The simplest definition of anticipatory democracy … is that it is a process for combining citizen participation with future consciousness” (Bezold, 1978 in Bezold, 2010).

Bezold “argued that representative government was the key political technology of the industrial era and that new forms must be invented in the face of the crushing decisional overload, or political future shock, that we faced.” (Bezold, 2006, p.39)

Anticipatory democracy (AD) developed in the 1970s in the United States. Bezold (1978) documented dozens of projects across the United States which engaged citizens, community leaders, business owners, religious, networks, community organizations, and policy makers in processes of formulating policy development and political direction in the context of emerging futures. Some of the processes would engage hundreds of citizens (in a few cases thousands) within a state or region, thus enacting a large scale participatory development of alternative futures and visions, which would leads to policy preferences and budget priorities in the style of participatory democracy.

But AD shouldn’t simply be seen as having purely US origins. Indeed, the development of the World Future Studies Federation in the late 1960s contained aspirations for democratizing knowledge and capacity in futures thinking. Eminent scholars and WFSF founders, such Robert Jungk with the development of future workshops (Jungk, 1987), Johan Galtung’s Transcend Method, and Fred Polak’s (1961) work, further developed by Elise Boulding (Boulding, 1978), provided impetus for citizen engagement in understanding and envisioning change and deliberating on new directions.

AD can be seen as part of a broader critique of representative democracy in the face of the rising social complexity that could not be absorbed or effectively addressed by representative systems of governance (Dator, 2007).

One of the key points of dynamism and challenge with a process such as this, is the deep diversity it engenders in the process. People with very different values come together in a public deliberation on futures. Tensions and conflicts are inevitable, or as Bezold argues:

“many individuals live within levels or memes that do not value those at other levels. Becoming conscious of these levels will be important for enhancing effective democracy.” (Bezold, 2006, p.49)

Bezold therefore argues that making AD work requires making values explicit through foresight tools and techniques that deal with social complexity, perception, values and worldviews (e.g. using Causal Layered Analysis, Integral Theory, etc.) And by using this processes, build common ground between participants for a shared vision.

On a more pragmatic basis, Baker’s analysis (Bezold, 2006, p.39) of success criteria for anticipatory democracy projects included the following important points:

  1. Obtain adequate funding ($100,000USD per year in the mid 1970s – or about $360,000 USD in 2005 dollars
  2. Face political realities
  3. Decide on the major research/goals topics early
  4. Build ties with the bureaucracy
  5. Design and implement a process that involves policy makers from the start;
  6. And present findings early and throughout the life of the process.


Science, Technology and Innovation Foresight (STIF)

Science, technology and innovation foresight (STIF) programs are perhaps the oldest form of formal foresight activity for governments. Starting in the 1960s, such programs were developed to guide large scale allocation of research resources and funding toward those research and development areas, often in the interstices between scientific research and industry-based commercialization, that were considered to have the greatest potential or were a matter of national strategic interest. Examples of STIF programs include the US Critical Technologies Program, French Key Technologies Programme, Czech Foresight Exercise, UK Technology Foresight Programme, Technology Foresight Towards 2020 in China and Japan’s long-standing MITI Technology Forecasting. They have been fundamentally connected to supporting national innovation systems. They entail a process of high level policy and priority setting which are “designed to inform Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) decision-making around the world” (Miles, 2012). Or in Georghiou and Harper’s (2010) characterization:

“The predominant focus of foresight is frequently national research policy and strategy, usually with the broad aim of selecting priorities for research investments.” (Georghiou, 2011, p.243)

Because this type of futures research entails understanding the development of science and technology in specialist domains, STIF often uses expert based approaches to futures research such as Delphi forecasting. Yet, STIF focused foresight has in some cases broadened to encompass systemic social concerns (Urashima, 2012) connecting stakeholders in STIF processes for coordinated exploration and articulation of strategic foresight. Miles (2012) explains how STIF approaches have evolved recently to incorporate more systemically complex, wicked (problem) and participatory approaches to exploring technology forecasting. He characterized more recent approaches as “fully-fledged foresight” which

“combined prospective analysis (futures studies’ insistence on the importance of relating present choices to awareness of long term future prospects, and to the need to pay due regard to agency, uncertainty, and the associated scope for alternative futures), with a participatory orientation (paying due regard to the dispersion of knowledge and agency across multiple stakeholders, whose insights and engagement need to be mobilised), and a practical relevance being closely related to actual decision making and strategy formation actions…” (Miles, 2012, p.71)

Miles ranking of priorities and objectives for STIF programs around the world reveals that such approaches have evolved considerably since their beginnings: 37

  1. Orienting policy formulation and decisions
  2. Supporting STI strategy- and priority-setting
  3. Fostering STI cooperation and networking
  4. Generating visions and images of the future
  5. Triggering actions and promoting public debate
  6. Recognising key barriers and drivers of STI
  7. Identifying research/investment opportunities
  8. Encouraging strategic and futures thinking
  9. Helping to cope with Grand Challenges (Miles, 2012, p.72)