Sources of Futures Studies from Foresight to Anticipation

  • Victor Vahidi MottiEmail author
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The essentials of futures studies are introduced for graduate level researchers who want to begin and to pursue a career in futures studies and anticipation. It is shown that in consecutive waves, human time consciousness has evolved from prediction to forecast to foresight and eventually to anticipation and shaping the future. Also classic works in the literature, which are essential reading for a graduate level beginner, are briefly reviewed. Pluralism with respect to theories of knowledge sheds light on the assumptions, values, and boundaries among diverse epistemological traditions. Key applied futures studies and foresight practices also give useful learning examples from national to global spaces about the benchmark of quality futures work. Recognized learning options and active peer-reviewed journals are also discussed. Finally an emphasis is put on the importance of joining professional membership organizations as an essential next step because scholars, researchers, consultants, and practitioners of futures studies gather and network for the exchange of ideas and further maturity.


Anticipation Foresight Theory of knowledge Futures studies Post-formal education Applied Epistemological pluralism Integral futures Post normal Planetary studies 


Futures studies has a remarkable story behind it, yet one largely unnoticed in established academia. It lives vibrantly, however, on the periphery of the higher education system. The aim of this chapter is to provide a short overview of the essentials for the graduate-level audience from a wide range of disciplines who seek a basic introduction and want to pursue a research career in futures studies. The puzzle of futures studies has numerous pieces. Only key pieces are covered that help us see the flow of ideas and the emerging picture. The first section deals with the background and a history of the waves in the field. It is shown that human time consciousness has evolved from prediction to forecast to foresight and eventually to anticipation and shaping the future. It also sheds light on classic works in the literature, which are essential reading for a graduate-level beginner. The next section addresses the issue of methodology from a theory of knowledge point of view and stresses the importance of recognizing the boundaries among diverse theories of knowledge and the need for a pluralistic mind-set. It does not provide a detailed account of the processes involved or a comparison of the pros and cons of a range of methods that are currently used by professional futurists. Instead, some already available handbooks are introduced as helpful. Applied futures studies and foresight practices, the topic of the next section, are meant to be those exercises at different scales from national to global that set the benchmark of quality and highly involved futures work. Certainly there are many examples of applied futures studies in the corporate world too, but they are not the focus of this chapter. The final section attempts to show the key entry points of more exploration for the academically inclined. This includes a short mention of key listings of learning options, including certificate and degree programs, and active peer-reviewed journals. Joining professional membership organizations is also essential because scholars, consultants, and practitioners of futures studies gather virtually and physically for the exchange of ideas, professional competency development, and wider recognition.

The Evolution from Predicting to Shaping the Future

Futures studies as an art and a science aims to broaden the horizon and sphere of thought so that different and alternative future possibilities are highlighted in due time. Often this understanding is highlighted in a basic visualization that is known as the Futures Cone (Voros 2017). Using the plural noun “futures” in futures studies is critical because futurists should build and develop a range of possible futures instead of focusing only on one probable or preferred future.

An extension of the range of possibilities, at least in theory, will help us prepare for and confront inevitable surprises that will happen because of social and technological innovations ahead in time. Such possibilities emerge from the interaction between our preferred futures and a systematic understanding of possible futures that emerge from the interaction of megatrends and driving forces in the immediate and distant environments. Masini and Samset (1975) define futures studies as “a field of intellectual and political activity concerning all sectors of the psychological, social, economic, political and cultural life, aiming at discovering and mastering the extensions of the complex chains of causalities, by means conceptualizations, systematic reflections, experimentations, anticipation, and creative thinking.” Poli (2017) makes clear the connection between the future and the present by emphasizing that “an anticipatory behavior uses the future in its actual decisional process. Anticipation includes two mandatory components: a forward-looking attitude and the use of the former’s result for action.” Strategic foresight, according to Slaughter (2002), is “the ability to create and maintain a high-quality, coherent, and functional forward view and use the insights arising in organizationally useful ways; for example: to detect adverse conditions, guide policy, shape strategy; to explore new markets, products and services. It represents a fusion of futures methods with those of strategic management.” Roney (2010) also summarizes the rise and the fall of strategic management and explains that futures studies was able to complement the weaknesses of strategic management for practicing managers in a highly uncertain world and therefore offered a rich toolbox to top managers who want to absorb opportunities and avoid threats in their own businesses.

Futures are decided and shaped not only by facts and extrapolation of current trends but also through designing, building, and realizing alternative images. The power of images and their necessity to guide the course of a civilization is addressed in one of the classics of futures studies literature by Polak (1973). Even further, Dator (2009), a leading scholar of the field, argues that all alternative futures of anything might be partitioned into four different worlds that present and detail the rationale of four images: (a) continued growth, (b) discipline, (c) transformation, and (d) collapse. In a general theory of latents, which is called for by Poli (2018), we need to deal with any and all of such images. On a more fundamental ontological level, we should consider that even though future time is not factual, it is indeed actual because the images of the future, our often-raw expectations, do indeed influence the present in profound ways. This is the main reason that, in addition to being a science, futures studies is also associated with creativity and art.

A recurring discussion among futures studies professional networks is the identity challenge, defined mostly by which words are more appropriate to describe this field of expertise. Since the time H. G. Wells called for professors of foresight to balance professors of history in academia, we have not yet reached a concluding and definite consensus (Sardar 2010).

In 2015 the first international conference on anticipation was held in the University of Trento, and a UNESCO chair was awarded to Roberto Poli. This echoes the new alignment, or perhaps coherence, of different sciences, both together and toward a futures focus.

Schultz (2012) provides a concise history of futures studies through identification of five key waves:
  1. (a)

    The oral tradition: This was the time in which ancient empires consulted shamans, mystics, and oracles to predict the likelihood of political instability, the outcome of potential wars, the rise and the fall of states, etc.

  2. (b)

    The early written age: In this wave a number of scholars, mostly macrohistorians, began to suggest theories and write books in an attempt to engage their audience’s imagination of some alternative possible worlds often realizable in some other place and not necessarily ahead in time. Utopia by Thomas More in 1516 is a remarkable work in this tradition and also the Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun in 1377 and the wish list of 24 future scientific inventions by Robert Boyle in the seventeenth century.

  3. (c)

    Extraction and Enlightenment: A key character of this wave was a shift from a vision of a glorious future or even better present in some other unknown place toward a better possible future here on the Earth itself, yet in a later time, say next decades or centuries. This wave was inspired by the Enlightenment movement and, in particular, the promise of extracting the planet’s resources, conquering it, and fueling a fast Industrial Revolution, as well as the idea of trusting in science and technology for more rationalization, modernization, and progress. The Enlightenment actually invented the future as we know it today. The only futures before then were eschatological futures, envisioning the end of the world and the afterlife in religious terms. We can also consider the emergence of scientific central planning for the national economies of countries and governments, for example, as could be seen in the former Soviet Union 5-year development plans – a tradition that was copied and is still practiced, at least in principle, in several other Eastern Bloc and other countries who follow this model of development and economic growth imperative.

  4. (d)

    Systems and cybernetics : The huge jump in the world population in the twentieth century from nearly two billion to almost seven billion, compared to an increase from 0.5 billion to 2 billion from the 1500s to the 1900s, added to the worries of scholars who were monitoring and computing the carrying capacity of the Earth. Exponential population growth constrained by resource scarcity and irreversible damage to the environment and diverse ecosystems contributed to the suitability movement. The Limits to Growth, a report by the Club of Rome, was and still is a controversial book that applied systems dynamics and global modeling to show that a collapse of the world and the environment was well on the horizon, mostly due to the rapid pace of industrialization and urbanization. A significant feature of this wave of futures studies was the application of whole systems thinking and the power of computers to model the world in order to calculate the key indicators or variables. This reflected the emergence of a global and normatively enhanced consciousness about the problems facing the humankind and how to explore some possible solutions. “Glonacal ,” a combined term of global, national, and local perspectives, began to take more prominence.

  5. (e)

    Complexity and emergence: The increasing role of humans in changing the planet has convinced a growing number of scholars to pick a new description, “Anthropocene,” to replace the better known and geologically understood Holocene epoch. Complexity science is an essential perspective to better understand both Big History – for example, see – and figure out the next threshold of complexity on the planet Earth and beyond it. Furthermore, unlike previous waves that have had a palpable inclination toward the objective analysis of the world out there, following the mantra of positivism and structuralism, we can identify a growing interest in framing problems through making explicit the underlying subjective factors that are hard to measure but nevertheless complement our perception of the assumed reality. Such efforts often use postmodern tools and ideas that are closely related to post-structuralism and deconstruction to challenge the definition of the future and even, sometimes, keeping the future undefined (Inayatullah 1990). Integral theorists in futures studies claim to integrate the inner and outer worlds and individual psychology and the collective consciousness of a society; this is the main focus of scholars like Slaughter, who adopts Wilber’s four-quadrant framework (Motlagh 2015). The crucial point highlighted is the fact that the overemphasis on external technological acceleration at the expense of poor attention to the possibility of accelerated interior psychological and social developments might threaten the very basic fabric of our human civilization (Slaughter 2015).


Scholars in this wave put an emphasis on experiential and design futures (Kelliher and Byrne 2015; Candy 2010) as well as connect the deeper levels of worldviews, myth, and metaphors to the superficial upper layer of data and information, as done by Inayatullah and Milojević (2015), and others. When the narrative is unchanged, the transformation to a better or different possible world is hardly facilitated. Therefore, integral approaches aim for the broadest and deepest level of human knowledge that spans all disciplines and is also aware of the role of diverse values, languages, and cultures. Another critical aspect of this wave is the importance of complex anticipatory systems, which have, by definition, many elements and many interactions or relationships between those elements. Complexity science discards the traditional management notion of command and control in simple systems and instead puts an emphasis on adaptation and evolution. Given that life is the best example of such anticipatory systems, nature itself is the best teacher and full of lessons. This also calls into attention the need for “a deep and thorough investigation of the difference between predicative and impredicative science. From biological to social systems, elements are generated by the whole system itself, and self-referential cycles play a key organic role in their constitution and therefore function; subsystems, context and semantics replace the pre-complexity notions of structure, elements, universality, and syntax, respectively.”(Poli 2018).

Following the key characteristics of this wave, Sardar (2010) and colleagues at the Centre for Postnormal Policy and Futures Studies ( have proposed postnormal times, which, in its essentials, has a timeline that summarizes and compares the (a) classic, (b) modern, (c) postmodern, and (d) postnormal times in terms of meaning, truth, identity, systems, and key concepts. For example, key concepts are introduced and compared, respectively, as (a) conquest, supremacy, and progress; (b) progress, efficiency, and modernization; (c) relativism, plurality, and individuality; and (d) complexity, chaos, and contradictions.

Given the fact that the future is a broad topic, it is reasonable to expect that futures studies enjoys a growing literature, in particular if we follow the guidelines of the fourth and fifth waves introduced above. There are of course some classic works that provide a very good introduction to the field. Foundations of Futures Studies (Bell 1997) is one that not only provides a comprehensive history of the field and the key concepts but also makes the argument clear for the necessity of futures studies in order to preserve human welfare on the planet. It also addresses the uncertainties in the philosophy of science that underlie the shift from positivism toward post-positivism and the importance of a critical realism. Another classic book, available free online, is The Art of Conjecture (de Jouvenel 1967), which is a deep and broad attempt to build rationale and awareness about futures studies.

The European Research Council has funded the project Futurepol: A Political History of the Future – Knowledge Production and Future Governance, 1945–2010. It aims to study the history of futures studies and the idea of governing the future. Andersson (2012), the principal researcher of Futurepol, points out the necessary evolution of futures studies toward action through anticipation and observes that “it would seem that there are moments in which the future is future no more, but present – in other words, when the future acquires a presence and requires urgent action. We are living through such a moment today.”

The website of the World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF) ,, which has been a global umbrella academic organization for futures studies since 1968 (Masini 2005), has also a list of key books, organized by decade, of publications which reflect the intellectual reservoir throughout the field. A recent title by Gidley (2017), The Future: A Very Short Introduction, addresses the evolution of time consciousness from predicting a future toward shaping and creating possible futures “by our thoughts, feelings, and actions.”

Lombardo (2011, 2017) argues that the enhanced level of future consciousness is indeed equivalent to wisdom. Two main themes connecting the essays in his work are wisdom and heightened future consciousness. Using a comparative method, he demonstrates that wisdom and heightened future consciousness are almost identical. Wisdom traditionally is defined as a deep understanding of past and present patterns of change, but according to Lombardo, it should be applying broad cognitive, emotional, and evaluative capacities to future possibilities and the progression of complexity as well (Motlagh 2012a).

A Pluralism of Theories of Knowledge

Several authors have attempted to categorize different traditions in futures studies. From a methodological point of view, it is absolutely crucial to know the basic paradigmatic assumptions that underlie different approaches to futures studies. In this sense before setting a particular framework and recommending a step-by-step method, we need to know the boundaries between different theories of knowledge.

Inayatullah (1990), for the sake of methodology, divides different approaches into (a) predictive-empirical, ( b) cultural-interpretive, and (c) critical-post-structural. He observes that the first one, even though very popular among strategic analysts and planners, only amplifies the present even though it claims to predict or forecast the future. In other words, it is hardly a good example of futures thinking. The second one broadens the range of cultural diversity through relativizing the future. But the final approach, and his favorite, indeed not only challenges political power, and the prevailing culture, but also deconstructs the future, keeping it undefined and creating new epistemological spaces that enable alternative futures. Slaughter (1999) summarizes four future traditions as (a) empirical/analytic – data-driven and positivistic; closely related to the corporate world and North American sources; (b) critical/comparative – a socially critical perspective that recognizes different and not only positivist universal theory of knowledge; (c) activist/participatory/integral – the point is not only interpreting the world but also changing the world, both through technological and more importantly social innovations, therefore requiring a clear focus on activism, facilitation, and building social movements; and (d) multicultural/global – for the most part futures studies has been pushed forward by Western scholars and practitioners; the key textbooks have been written from American, European, and Australian points of view. But non-Western contexts and non-Western futurists help define this tradition. An indication of the non-Western and non-English source of futures studies known as Ta’wil Al-Ahaadith in ancient Arabic is reflected in a brief essay by Motlagh (2012). However, what can be expected is more communication and synthesis of Western and non-Western perspectives and not a replacement. The late Moroccan renowned futurist, Elmandjra (1998), was an active scholar who stressed the importance of “cultural communication” between the two.

Gidley (2010, 2016), building on the previous works, has also developed her five traditions for clarification of the futures taxonomy. It consists of:
  1. (a)

    Predictive/empirical – largely originated in the USA and from the defense and intelligence community.

  2. (b)

    Critical-postmodern – largely originated in Europe through critical social theory to balance the overly empiricist school in the USA.

  3. (c)

    Cultural-interpretive – largely because of a deeper consideration of civilizational and cultural differences, in particular in non-Western ones.

  4. (d)

    Empowerment-participatory and hope enhancement – largely driven by the need to bend the negative megatrends as opposed to simply identify, follow, and adapt to them. Empowerment, engagement, and participation are hence necessary for a hopeful positive transformation of a very small community or very big society.

  5. (e)

    Integral/transdisciplinary – a recent research agenda that claims to be the broadest and the deepest possible approach to futures, aims to integrate and meta-cohere all human knowledge, and demands post-formal psychology, integral studies, planetary consciousness, and evolving cultural identities (Motti 2015).


Moreover, it should be noted that the empirical school is obviously under the great influence of analytical philosophy, whereas the critical, postmodern, and cultural schools are inspired by the teachings and alternative assumptions of continental philosophy. This last school questions value neutrality, language neutrality, and context independence, all of which are common to the objective analysis of an external reality independent from our active minds, to say the very least.

The integral school claims that we should integrate these two sharply contrasted and rival main camps of philosophy. An “eclectic” approach is relatively well known among both the art and the philosophy communities. Eclecticism is of course a contested intellectual territory, and only a few actually practice it. The success of such approaches depends on how we use a metaphor to perceive its value and beauty. Are we producing a mixture of water and oil or, instead, integrating rainbow colors in a prism? One should note, however, that in the era of information revolution, data-driven, trend-analysis, and statistical tasks are increasingly taken over by smart machines, robots, and sophisticated automated algorithms. This is a significant trend seen in several consulting firms that aim to decrease delivery time and the associated costs of producing quality insight or scenario reports for clients. Therefore, if futures studies itself survives into the future as a profession, mainly connected to art and science, the critical approaches it uses will require the engagement of humans.

It is by no means a surprise that the future is highly important for governments worldwide and in particular the military, defense, and intelligence communities. Apart from the usual jobs such as secret surveillance operations and classified briefings, what is required from the top analysts in these communities are long-term estimates of the key trends, driving forces, mega-shifts, game changers, and weak signals in this rapidly changing world. The birthplace of quite a number of methods, in particular, the empirical-positivist school, was the intelligence-defense community. Therefore it is reasonable to see a significant amount of overlap between the theory and practice of strategic intelligence and futures studies.

The Millennium Project is a continuous and successful observatory of key global challenges and regularly publishes the State of the Future Index (SOFI) . It belongs obviously to the empirical school and aims to collect, monitor, and prospectively project a combined set of key objectively measured variables in a single indicator to show how global challenges are emerging or solved and in which areas we are losing or winning. It also publishes “a handbook on methods and tools to explore future possibilities ever assembled in one resource” called “Futures Research Methodology.” This volume includes 37 chapters covering methods (e.g., Futures Wheel) or category of methods (e.g., Systems Perspectives). Each of the 37 chapters contains an executive overview of each method’s history; a description of the primary method and alternative usages, strengths, and weaknesses; uses in combination with other methods; and speculation about the future evolution of the method (Glenn and Gordon 2009).

Another useful handbook that eclectically integrates empirical-positivist and critical-deconstructionist approaches is “Causal Layered Analysis Reader 2.0 .” Developed in the early 1990s, this method is based on a pluralistic theory of knowledge that explicitly deals with the overlooked issue of alternative framing (of a problem), which is by itself a sort of solution, and helps deconstruct futures. It is much more about the transformation of the future rather than estimating futures or resolving parametric uncertainties by confidence intervals or blindly following the used future of others and looks at four vertical dimensions of a problem: (a) official cause often presented by the data and information in the media, (b) social science analysis and systems thinking, (c) worldview or discourse analysis, and (d) myth/metaphor. The challenge is to move up and down the layers of analysis, bringing in as many levels as possible. CLA 2.0 has 34 chapters and begins with theory and then presents 29 varied case studies covering topics like the environment, conflict, finance, education, health, film, and art (Inayatullah and Milojević 2015).

To say the very least about the theoretical and practical value of approaches to the future that delve into the deeper and often hidden layers of mythology, one can mention the Lucky Iron Fish Project developed in 2008 by Canadian health workers in Cambodia. It clearly demonstrates that when combatting dietary iron deficiency among villagers through interventions only at the upper layers of data and scientific analysis, the resulting failure might be easily overcome if one learns the local mythology at the deeper level and finds a symbol of good luck, here fish-shaped iron ingots, which helped eventually to eliminate anemia.

Applied Futures Studies and Exercises

Military strategists are quite familiar with frameworks that connect possible futures to current required actions. The observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA) loop is a particularly well-known method in military schools that is also widely used, after some customization and alteration in business and management schools. This basic model of anticipation involves steps that first gather information, then derive implications, and next recommend a set of actions. To implement this model in strategic decision-making, several steps are generally taken that include (a) scan and list initial questions, looking forward and identifying potential issues for focus; (b) gather information, making use of prior work and available information to create a base of current initial information; (c) understand the system, identifying key factors and forces and how they interact within the socioeconomic sphere; (d) perform dynamic analysis, exploring trends, uncertainties, and possible trajectories; (e) build scenarios, constructing alternative future views designed to frame dialogue and analysis; (f) identify key questions and strategic directions, synthesizing and integrating, which could motive more detailed analyses and preparation and action; (g) define strategic objectives, deriving and achieving consensus on a set of desirable outcomes; (h) assess alternative strategies, examining strategic choices systematically and building a robust course of action; and (i) plan the implementation, determining requirements for moving from a strategy choice to a strategy plan (Popper et al. 2015).

Few research centers actually publish global foresight resources widely and freely. The US National Intelligence Council (NIC)’s regular publication, “Global Trends ,” is among them. Although such reports pursue implicitly and explicitly some projection of the US government’s status in the future world, they are nevertheless helpful examples of bringing the whole global picture within the long-term horizon into focus. Other similar exercises from other governments should also be acknowledged, for example, the UK Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC)’s Global Strategic Trends to 2040, or European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS)’s Global Trends to 2030. This big picture of megatrends, potential black swans, alternative scenarios, and game changers, of course, is not necessarily limited to only science, technology, and innovation. Marien (2013), a veteran futurist, who has critically reviewed futures-relevant books on global planning and public policy in his website for several decades, has taken the lead in putting together a collective criticism of the NIC’s global futures studies. He emphasizes that “we have literary critics, films critics, music critics, poetry critics, theater critics, art critics, and architecture critics. Why not futures critics?” Despite the wide and deep flaws identified in such reports, he and the contributors conclude that it is in general a valuable resource that should be improved, especially if we consider that when history is accelerating, collective learning should also accelerate, not only for US interests but literally those of the whole world.

Hines and Bishop (2007) also provide “a set of essential guidelines” for applied strategic foresight and list common critical foresight capabilities as (a) framing, (b) scanning, (c) forecasting alternative futures, (d) visioning, and (e) planning. Two conceptual tools are necessary in most futures studies methods; the first one is a coherent theoretical framework to build a common set of concepts that reasonably link explorative to normative futures, and the second one is an institutionalized operational process that shows the steps involved (Motti and Masoumi 2016). What defines the quality of such frameworks and operational steps, in the light of integral, holistic, and complexity mind-set, is to embrace an organic model as opposed to an input-process-output model.

Over the past half century, and in particular after the oil crisis of 1973, there has been a proliferation of methods and practices of futures studies, often called strategic foresight , serving different sorts of clients from the government and nongovernment to the for profit and nonprofit sectors (Kuosa 2012). Obviously most of them are not in the public domain given the competitive nature of the future and its governance. These projects and exercises are done primarily by specialized consulting and professional service firms in futures studies. In addition, a growing number of countries now have their own research or officially approved and implemented visions for the next 20 or 30 years. One should note, however, that the publication of glorious vision documents 2030 or 2040 or 2050 does not necessarily mean that those governments and those nation-states are committed to a great deal of applied foresight and anticipation. Sometimes such documents might simply serve promotional and politically charged purposes, e.g., soft power projection. A few exceptions stand out, however, such as in Finland and Singapore, in which applied futures studies, i.e., a synthesis of research and practice, have been infused both at the higher level of academia and government with an explicit mandate. There are also growing private institutes and research centers in the universities that actively pursue designing the future through research and actions.

Science, technology, and innovation foresight documents are of particular importance in applied futures studies, as they chart the territory ahead of countries in order to further accelerate developments in cutting-edge fields. These S&T foresight exercises in turn help set a list of strategic priorities for the longer term of these countries, more or less in a robust fashion and reasonably insensitive to their changing political landscape, if they are democracies. Often science and technology (S&T) experts, through the Delphi method, join each other in a participatory policy analysis setting and aim to fulfill five key functions which are (a) commitment, (b) coordination, (c) consensus, (d) communication, and (e) concentration on the longer term (Martin 1995). In the framework of S&T foresight, the goal is to identify and set strategic priorities and decide how best to achieve them.

For example, since 2014 the EU has implemented its new Research and Innovation Framework Program, Horizon 2020 , focused on highly efficient technologies that are applied to deal with major socioeconomic issues. National technology foresight exercises might be studied and compared in terms of (a) context and participants of the priority-setting process; (b) priorities and documents, including strategies, white papers, critical technologies, and priority area; (c) priority setting methodologies and procedures; and (d) implementation of thematic priorities, e.g., basic research programs and thematic and industry-specific programs (Grebenyuk et al. 2016).

Key Learning Options

If done appropriately and helpfully, educating young people in anticipatory knowledge and skills should begin from a very early age. People today actually need futures literacy (Miller 2007) and have to learn more about their future world – how to shape it positively – and prepare themselves for the later stages of their personal and professional lives and “flourishing in the flow of evolution” (Lombardo 2017). This is exactly what Poli in Italy and Bishop in the USA have initiated. Teach the Future,, and are pioneering organizations that provide elementary, secondary, and college starter kits for initial lessons. Experiments conducted in classrooms in Italy and in other countries show that introducing some elements of future orientation in a structured fashion provides students with the ability to see a broader spectrum of possible personal futures and helps them regain the ability to aspire to a better life (

Moreover, since 1975 the World Futures Studies Federation,, has offered courses to young people worldwide introducing them to the concepts and methods of the futures studies field: Universities across the globe are now offering undergraduate, masters, and/or PhD programs or degrees in futures studies, foresight, and anticipation. There are also several web lists that aggregate and describe the details of foresight master and full-time PhD programs: Some universities have well-known foresight faculty members who continuously publish in the key journals of the field. In addition, the Association of Professional Futurists,, holds the Student Recognition Program in which awards are given to student works and theses in categories of (a) undergraduate, (b) master degree, (c) PhD student, and (d) new media. All of them are judged based on the criteria of (a) quality of content, (b) originality, (c) contribution to the field of foresight and futures studies, and (d) appearance and presentation. Several universities worldwide also have research centers of excellence that have a clear focus on anticipation and alternative futures. Corporate training and executive, customized educational retreats are also provided by consulting firms, renowned individual futurists in their personal capacity, and university-based scholars. Scenario planning trainings and hybrid learning environments for very busy professionals and top managers are an example:

As mentioned above, the birthplace of futures studies was in the study rooms of dedicated groups of big picture authors and, later, in think tanks, not in academia and the deliberately separated specialized departments of universities. Most of the currently successful university-based programs for foresight and anticipation totally depend on the champions of anticipation and their peculiar character virtues. This is reflected in the fact that academic programs are sometimes discontinued when their leading professors or directors retire or no longer care to teach and publish new research. Obviously there is a challenge of succession planning and a tension with respect to the generalist and multidisciplinary approach of anticipation scholars reflected in the big space and big time tenets of futures studies, which cannot be limited to a specialized university department or a single academic discipline. Professionalization of the field has been, however, a major concern even for the professional futurists themselves because of their job prospects. This is important if we consider that it is mostly practicing futurists that have contributed to the progress of the field compared to scholarly theorists. The academic field of futures studies emerged in the 1960s, and since then several academic peer-reviewed journals have been founded, the first being “Futures: The Journal of Policy, Planning and Futures Studies,” first published in 1968.

These professional journals, either free and open or behind the paywall, are dedicated to the transfer of the know-how of the art and science of building alternative futures. Obviously different journals follow different policies in accepting or rejecting manuscripts based on their acceptance of the diverse theories of knowledge mentioned above. Some of them, like World Future Review, as a rule will not have articles about “the future” or “the futures of x” but rather about futures studies as an academic and applied discipline – the roots of futures studies; the basic concepts, theories, and methods; how it has changed over time; its present state; and alternative and preferred futures for futures studies itself (Dator 2016). One can observe that some of them are focused on the empirical-positivist approaches; quite a few on the critical, postmodern, and cultural; and even fewer on integral futures. The website of the World Futures Studies Federation,, maintains and lists these journals alphabetically.

Gary and von der Gracht (2015) have specifically addressed the issue of education, training, and the license for practicing futures studies. They ask, “How will foresight practice evolve into the next decade and beyond?” and offer a framework to weigh the pros and cons of formalizing a foresight profession and develop three scenarios to professionalize foresight practice, which includes “academicization.”


Futures studies, after evolving from predicting to shaping the future throughout centuries, contributed to paving the way for the emergence of anticipation. It is now becoming both a legitimate and a credible forward-looking framework of research and practice based on its main ideas and underlying elements, such as futures literacy and complexity in the military, business and governance, and academic environments. The 2nd International Conference on Anticipation, to be held in London, Nov 8–10, 2017, aims to create new understandings of how individuals, groups, institutions, systems, and cultures use ideas of the future to act in the present. This conference,, will build on the 1st Conference of Anticipation, held in Trento, Italy in 2015, which saw over 350 delegates gather to explore topics ranging from design futures to anticipatory economics and the philosophy of the present. More critical dialogue is necessary to foster a scientific community of anticipation in highly diverse fields ranging from biology to psychology, cultural geography to critical theory, physics to design, history to mathematics, and urban theory to engineering.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.World Futures Studies FederationTehranIran

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