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Future Search

Future search includes a planning process and a 16 to 18-hour meeting usually including two overnights. Participants discover a set of shared values or themes (common ground) and build new dynamics such as inclusion and collaboration into their organization or community. Future search (“future search” is not capitalized) is not owned by anyone and all are encouraged to use the process and experiment with it. It is supported by a network of people called the Future Search Network. It is an open system process, which means it considers anyone a necessary participant who can affect, is affected by or has important information or experience related to the task at hand.

This often means that individuals from outside the immediate boundaries of the group will be invited to participate in both the planning and implementation. In this way, those with the power to make decisions sit down to work together – with equal voices – with those affected and those who have important relevant information or experience. During the conference, and once common ground is discovered, an open space process is used to bring people with shared interests together to decide how to implement the common ground themes.

Future search can help an organization or community – even one with strong conflicts or a wide diversity of ideas or interests – establish a basis from which it can move forward effectively. Future search does not ask people to compromise or change their positions. In fact it creates a context in which all perspectives are fully expressed and fully understood. It supports the group in understanding where it has come from, what it has to work with, where its shared hopes and dreams lie and how it might move forward to effectively implement these hopes and dreams, without suppressing or denying any part of its shared experience. It is rooted deeply in the dynamics of full inclusion and full participation.

Objectives:

  • A future search conference helps a group of people discover a set of shared values or themes called common ground and agree on a plan of action for implementing them. Because participants from all sectors of the community or organization are included in the process, it builds strong ownership and a powerful shared experience. A common vision of the organization that can withstand time is built. As a result, dynamics are established which encourage effective and self initiated implementation. The resistance to implementation and change that occurs when plans are rolled out from the ‘top’ or from a group of ‘experts’ is avoided In this case, it is the discoverers and creators of the vision that are implementing it. They own it and become advocates for it. It provides a fiine foundation for any community or organization looking for a common framework for moving forward, desiring to implement a plan or mandate, building a shared culture from a merger of cultures, organizing and managing change, confronting a difficult or challenging issue and many other challenges.

Outcomes:

  • Deeper ownership tends to support good implementation. Where decisionmakers – such as elected officials or board members – are involved in an issue, they are included in the process and thus become advocates as opposed to needing to advocated to. Where the group manages its own destiny, self-organization and full ownership are outcomes of the process. Because voices from all sectors of the organization or community are involved, there is an opportunity to affect its shared values and beliefs. For example, a group may discover, following a future search process, that new qualities, such as inclusion or collaboration, have become part of its ordinary language where they were missing before. New relationships are built which change the way a group or organization operates. People aquire an understanding of the way different parts of their organization or community, think, operate or believe, demystifying each other and reducing projection and misunderstandings. Incentives for working together effectively are established. People learn that community also involves allowing for the existence of strongly held disagreements and that this does not need to prevent it from being and acting as a community. They learn that it is not necessary to resolve all such disagreements in order to move forward. It helps people dispell these common held fantasies.

Uses/strengths:

  • The future search conference is about discovering common ground.
  • It is useful in identifying issues at any stage of a project or process.
  • It supports people in discovering where their common foundation lies.
  • It is powerful for integrating civerse cultures, such as in a merger of several groups.
  • It is very affective in situations where people have been stymied by conflict.
  • It helps people see and understand the reality they face, including conflicts, but focuses finding a common foundation.
  • It is an open system process that includes everyone affected by, who can affect or who has information about the issue at hand.
  • It often includes people outside of the traditional boundaries of an organization or community.
  • It empower individuals and the group through full full participation resulting in a sense of ownership and buy-in.
  • Works with gorups of 60-90 people, though parallel future searches can accommodate many more.
  • Logistics are straighforward and much simpler than other conferences of its size.

Resources required:

  • Active planning team
  • Venue rental
  • Catering
  • Staffing
  • Engagement of moderators/facilitators
  • Recorders (not necessary unless desired)
  • Photographer (optional but valuable)
  • Audio and visual recording and amplification
  • Video (if desired)
  • Props for working in groups (pens, paper, pins, etc.)
  • movable chairs
  • Room with windows and walls where paper can be hung and written on.

Can be used for:

  • Creating a solid foundation for a new organization or community building effort
  • Getting everyone involved in a shared issue working well together
  • Moving an organization or community in relation to a ‘stuck’ issue
  • Discovering common ground
  • Developing organizational or community capacity for inclusion and collaboration
  • Developing action plans that really get done
  • Building alliances, affecting mergers

Number of people required to help organize:

  • Planning team of 12-15 people
  • One or two logistics staff

Audience size:

  • Large (> 30)

Time required:

  • 6 weeks-6 months from planning to implmentation
  • Can be much less or much more

Skill level/support required:

  • Medium. It is good to have at least one trained facilitator, but people have done this by reading the book.

Cost:

  • Ranges (room, several meals and snacks for 2.5 days) depending on what is paid for and what is volunteered
  • The Future Search Network can provide trained facilitators who will charge for their services according to an organization’s capacity
  • Full facilitators fee is 5-6 consulting days.

Participation level:

  • Full paricipation

Innovation level:

  • High (Innovative)

Method:

  • Identify sponsor.
  • Engage planning team.
  • Hire a facilitator.
  • Identify task and stakeholders.
  • Invite and brief participants on the aim, objectives and level of commitment required for participation.

References:

I don’t know these references and suspect they are not really focused on future search. I think the original material here confused future search and search conferences.

Many of the resources in the “Participatory Practices” category originated in Coastal CRC’s Citizen Science Toolbox (www.coastal.crc.org.au/toolbox/). With permission, NCDD included the resource on our wiki so practitioners could expand upon the listing.

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