Future Studies Methodologies

By: The FHE Team
Welcome to Page Two of a two-part Futuring series. If you have not yet read the Future Studies Introduction you may wish to visit that before diving into the particular methodologies below. Some visitors may also find a look at our Methodology page that describes the approach we take throughout this site interesting.Future Studies

Contents On This Page:

• Trend Extrapolation
• Panel of Experts
• Delphi Surveys
• Projection
• Consultation
• Goals Analysis
• Scenario Writing
• Backcasting
• Modelling: Econometric,Feedback
• Simulations And Games
• Brainstorming
• Relevance Tree
• Technologies
• Cross-Impact Analysis
• Environmental Impact Assessment
• Social Impact Assessment
• Morphology Analysis
• Content Analysis
• Patent Analysis
• Visualization
• Science Fiction
• Futures Wheels
• Intuition & Intuitive Forecasting
• Experiments in Alternative Lifestyles
• CERT/CPM Analysis

Trend Extrapolation

Projects past trends into the future, for some given period of time. Assumes that the future will in some way be an extension of past trends. The most common mistake made in trend analysis is to extrapolate linearly, taking too few variables into account.

A forecast can be generated by “observing a change through time in the character of something and projecting or extrapolating that change into the future” (Cornish, 1977, p. 108). In making such a forecast, the focus is on the long-term trend, so short-term fluctuations are disregarded. Trend extrapolations require that the forecaster have an understanding of the factors which contributed to change in the past, and possess confidence in the notion that these factors will continue to influence developments in a similar fashion in the future (Schwarz, Svedin, Wittrock, 1982, p. 20).

One commonly employed approach to trend extrapolation involves the use of growth curves (Cornish, 1977, pp. 110-111). Growth curves are loosely based upon the notion that the growth of a technology can be charted in the same way organic growth can be charted. For example, the growth in height and weight of an individual can be charted, and will commonly display a pattern which indicates a leveling off around early adulthood. It is believed that the growth pattern of a technology can also be plotted and charted in a similar fashion.

Regarding the accuracy of trend extrapolation as a forecasting technique, Ascher (1978) questions its “objectivity and reliability” (p. 183). Schnaars (1989) goes even further and admonishes forecasters to discount trend extrapolations. He notes that trends and patterns have no life of their own and are susceptible to sudden changes, and that focusing on trends alone “is often a search for the will-o’-the wisp” (p. 152). Unexpected influences, convergence of factors, and unpredictable changing conditions often leave trend analysis wanting. Nevertheless, it can be a useful tool for developing some baseline expectations for the future.

Panel of Experts

Future views are based on judgements from a representative group of experts, considering information that they believe will influence subject of interest and combine their conclusions into futures knowledge. No formal model is used and no two experts are likely to consider the same information in the same way, but it has provided good futures insights in many situations. Empirical evidence and theoretical arguments suggest that between 5-20 experts should be used (Makridakis and Wheelwright, 1989). However, in situations involving exponential growth, judgemental forecasts may be inappropriate (Assakul, 2003).

Delphi Surveys

The Delphi method can be thought of simply as a structured brainstorming technique, and is frequently used in national Foresight exercises and consists of interrogations of experts by means of successive iterations of a given questionnaire. Each iteration constitutes a round and is the medium for the experts to state their views. The outcome of each round of opinion gathering is then analysed in a qualitative and quantitative manner, and significant dissenters from the developing consensus are required to explain their continuing reasons for dissent. The number of rounds required in any given studies depends on the level of consensus that the survey aims to achieve. The prime assumption of the conventional Delphi technique is that consensus among a group of respondents is likely to be a better guide than anyone individual opinion. However, on the basis of the above it is crucial that the experts are in a position to express reasoned and well-founded views on issues as far reaching as the intended time horizon. In practice, the main advantage of the method is the networking aspect of experts. Disadvantages include resource-intensiveness and sensitivity to the choice of experts and questions used (Assakul, 2003).

Projection

The objective is to discover a pattern in the historical data and then extrapolate the pattern into the future: the forecast is based solely on the past values of the variable and/or on past forecast errors. Common examples of projection include:

A) Time series extrapolation e.g. demographics
B) Technology trend analysis, which is based on the observation that advances in technologies tend to follow an exponential improvement process. The technique uses early improvement data to establish the rate of progress and extrapolates that rate to project the level of progress at various times in the future. Results produced by this technique are typically highly quantitative. In practice, this technique is typically used to forecast developments such as the speed of operation, level of performance, cost reduction, improved quality, and operating efficiency. In general, projection should be used when:

1) Past information about the variable of concern is available
2) The information can be quantified
3) Reasonable assumption can be made that the pattern if the past will continue into the future (Assakul, 2003).

Consultation

The consultation approach typically involves a series of one-on-one interviews. The Internet is opening up new possibilities for on-line, enabling increased levels of participation via remote access. This enables groups to achieve consensus faster. The advantages are: o Very flexible and good for getting a feel of an issue o Can involve many people, making it attractive for dissemination of Foresight outputs o Quick to set up, this leading to fast results However, the lack of embedded structure in the approach may make the results harder to interpret. Furthermore, the interviews may be time consuming (Assakul, 2003).

Goals Analysis

It provides a framework to take into account the motivations of the various stakeholders within their environment. It involves the following steps 1) Identify those people and organizations that have a stake in particular decisions, projects and programs 2) Analyse the importance that each individual or group assign to key issues 3) Analyse the relative influence that they may have in developments 4) Develop tactics/action plans in the light of above analysis The technique is particularly appropriate in situations where there are key players within an industry or field of investigation who can shape to some extent the environment in which they operate The fact that the technique is most often used to test the validity of forecasts that might be impacted by unexpected opposition or support, strongly back-up the argument made above (Assakul, 2003).

Scenario Writing

This method consists of organizing information and future possibilities into alternative visions of the future. It is especially useful to aid the comprehension of events that seem to contain a mixture of unrelated information. Scenario methods can be extrapolative or normative depending on the starting point. A normative study will start by determining future goals and objectives, then or backwards to see if and how they can be achieved. An extrapolative study will be based on the assumption that existing trends in the relevant variables will continue. The scenarios themselves must be internally consistent pictures of future possibilities and will be composed of a mixture of quantifiable and non-quantifiable components arranged as alternative logical strings of events. A cross-impact analysis should be performed first to pick out the inter-relations between the assumptions in order to ensure consistency within each scenario. The number of scenarios is normally limited to 2 or 3. The main advantage of this method is to incorporate uncertainties into perspectives and makes explicit that there are many possible futures. The key limitation is that the scenarios are heavily dependent on the writers (Assakul, 2003).

Backcasting

A futures method in which a particular future scenario is identified in some detail. Its origins and lines of development are then carefully traced back into the present. Often contrasted with forecasting (Slaughter, 1996).

Modelling

There are many types of models that can be built and used such as:

  • Econometric models: this involves systems of linear multiple regression equations, each including several interdependent variables.
  • Feedback models: Provide a means for accounting for the interactions that will connect technical, economic, market, societal, and economic factors as the future unfolds. In using this technique computer models are developed that mathematically specify the relationship between each of the relevant factors. For example advances in technology may result in improved products that may result in increased sales that may provide more funds for further advance in technology. The results of this technique are highly quantitative, but are often used to examine qualitative consequences of trends, events, or decisions. The technique is most commonly used in the formulation of high-level strategies or policy (Assakul, 2003).

Simulations And Games

An attempt to take certain variables from reality in some area and create a computer model or game situation in which one can see how those variables might interact with each other over time. Computers or humans (as role players) or both can be involved. With computers, human can play what if games, where by making certain choices, they can then see the consequences (in terms of policy) that follow from those choices (Assakul, 2003).

Brainstorming

A method of eliciting ideas without judgment or filtering. Often used in the early stages of futures workshops and in many other contexts. Involves encouraging wild and unconstrained suggestions and listing ideas as they emerge. (Slaughter, 1996).

Relevance Tree

A way to map out the sequence of events, and in what order, that are necessary to get from where you are now to where you want to be as your end goal by some future date (Assakul, 2003).

Critical Technologies

Focused discussion (or other technique) by experts on new technologies, and prioritizing their importance to facilitate further discussion on their effects and what should be done at present to help with their developments. There are generally two types of technology analysis:

  • Technological Forecasting: An attempt to forecast what technological breakthroughs and developments are most likely to occur in future and when they are likely to occur. In an age in which technology is a major driving force for change, such as today, keeping on top of the latest developments in technology is essential–especially if one works in the high technology area today.
  • Technological Impact Assessment: Looks at how new technologies are likely to impact on society or the environment (Groff 1997).

Cross-Impact Analysis

Cross-Impact matrices were developed in: recognition of the fact that forecasts of future events, when made in isolation from each other, fail to take their mutual effects into systematic consideration and thus lack a degree of refinement whose addition, it was felt, might well increase their reliability. (Helmer, 1983). The technique is therefore used by Counter Punchers as a means of analyzing the future in the light of other possible futures. Cross impact analysis is a highly quantitative technique. It is used for the investigation of possible future events and their mutual impact on each other. The time horizon for the technique is extremely flexible but is dependent, in much the same way as Delphi technique, on the ability of experts to provide meaningful estimates of event occurrence probability (Assakul, 2003).

Environmental Impact Assessment

Looks at how new developments in some area will impact on the environment. Often required today, before new building plans can be approved (Groff 1997).

Social Impact Assessment

Looks at how new developments in some area will impact on society or on some community (Groff 1997).

Morphology Analysis

This is a formal method for uncovering new product and process possibilities. In applying this technique, users first determine the essential functions of the product or process. Next, they list the different means by which each of these functions could be satisfied. Finally, they use the matrix to identify new, reasonable combinations of these means that could result in practical new product or processes. Results of the application of this technique are qualitative in nature. The technique can be used to identify non-obvious new opportunities for a company. IT can also be used to identify products and processes that competitors might be developing or considering.

Content Analysis

Founded on the concept that the relative importance of societal, political, commercial, and economic issues are reflected by the amount of media attention the issue receives. Thus, by measuring, over time, changes in such factors as column-inches in newspapers, time allocated on television, and, more recently, number of items on the Internet, forecasters can project the direction, nature, and rate of change. In the technical arena, this technique can, to some degree, be used to project advances in new technologies as well as growing market attraction. The results of use of this technique are often displayed in a quantitative format. However, they are typically used only for qualitative analysis (Assakul, 2003).

Patent Analysis

Based on the presumption that increased interest in new technologies, together with conviction of their practicality and appeal, will be reflected in an increased R&D activity, and that this, in turn, will be reflected by increased patent activity. Thus it is presumed that one can both identify new product technologies by analyzing the pattern of patent application in appropriate fields. Results from the application are often presented in quantified terms; however, their use in decision- making is normally based on a qualitative evaluation (Assakul, 2003).

Visualization

The individual act of creating a compelling image of some future process, possibility or event. Usually used to create positive inner states, attitudes etc. Has particular uses in healing and in recovery from illnesses such as cancer (Slaughter, 1996).

Science Fiction

A possible story of what could happen in some future social or world situation. Based on a scenario of some kind (i.e.: a possible sequence of events that could happen in the future) to which characters (with their own personalities, even representing different alien species in some cases) interact with that sequence of events over rime. Science fiction has replaces cowboy movies as an important genre of films today. Both dystopian and utopian science fiction stories are possible. Science fiction dies not claim to predict the future, but sometimes good scientists (who know their topic well) intuitively write about something in science fiction that later becomes a reality. The most famous case is Arthur C. Clark and the communications satellite, which first appeared in a science fiction story (Groff, 1997).

Futures Wheels

A group brainstorming technique to quickly determine what some of the first, second, and third order consequences might be, ‘if’ some event were to occur in the future–either for the first time, or if something were to either decrease or increase in value in future. Everything follows from this event put in the center of the futures wheel (Groff, 1997).

Intuition & Intuitive Forecasting

A right brain ‘a ha’ experience, in which you suddenly ‘know’ something to be true, or you suddenly see patterns and relationships between things that you didn’t see before. Intuition is another way of knowing, a “sixth sense,” beyond our five senses. Intuition is important in future studies because in a world in which change is occurring so fast, and one does not always have time to get all the information that one would like before one must make a decision about what to do, one must often rely on one’s intuition to fill in the missing pieces and make a decision. Intuition is also the source of creativity and new ideas–in whatever type of work one is in. Good artists, scientists, corporate executives, and leaders in any area all tend to be intuitive. Our Western culture has not always valued intuition, but its importance to creativity (a key skill in the information age) is increasingly recognized, and training programs seek to develop this skill in many people today (Groff, 1997).

Experiments in Alternative Lifestyles

One of the best ways to find out if alternative values can work is to try them out in practice. Those new “fads” or alternative lifestyles that work, and respond to some social need, often see themselves becoming more mainstream with time (Groff, 1997).

CERT/CPM Analysis

A method for doing complex planning of great numbers of people and subcontractors working on some large project, such as the space program. Indeed, this methodology was first developed for use by NASA in planning how to get to the moon. One begins with a relevance tree, and then adds layers of additional information. A way to map all the different pathways that must be completed between where one begins and the end goal one plans to achieve. One also calculates, from all these pathways, what is the “critical path” (which will take the longest and which one must not get behind on, or the whole project will be delayed). Between any two events along any given pathway, one usually adds estimates of: time needed, number of people needed, budget needed, etc. One can then calculate dates for the completion of each event along a pathway; plug this all into a computer and print all the pathways out, and use this to monitor a project, once it begins, to be sure it stays on time, on budget, etc. If a particular pathway–especially the “critical path”–starts getting behind, one can then move additional resources to that pathway, to correct the problem, so the whole project stays on time. (Groff 1997)

References

  • Cornish, E. (1977). The study of the future. Washington, D.C.: World Future Society.
  • Groff, L. and Smoker, P. Introduction to Future Studies
  • Helmer, O. (1983). Looking Forward: A Guide to Futures Research
  • Makridakis, S. and Wheelwright, S. (1989). Forecasting Methods For Management, 5th Ed, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • McHale, J. and McHale, M.C. (1975). Futures Studies: An International Survey, New York: United Nations Institute for Training and Research
  • Nagel, R.N., and Wellington, J. (2000). Proceedings of the IMS Vision 2020 Forum, IMS International
  • Schnaars, S. (1989). Megamistakes: Forecasting and the myth of rapid technological change. New York: The Free Press.
  • Schwarz, B., Svedin, U. & Wittrock, B. (1982). Methods in future studies. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.
  • Slaughter, R.A. (1996). Knowledge Base Of Futures Studies, The Futures Study Centre, Australia.

Category: Future Studies