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Futures Methods

Methods you can use in your life

Futurists use a number of different methods to explore or describe possibilities for the future. A few of the more popular are described very briefly here.

Environmental scanning-
A method that looks outside of the organization's or individual's normal realm to see what changes are coming. Technology is one area that changes quickly and impacts many areas of life and business. Some futurists use the acronym "STEEP" to remind them of broad categories of change, including: Social, Technology, Economic, Ecologic and Political change.

Trend identification and analysis-
Trend lines indicate the direction and speed of change and are based on measurements of an indicator over multiple time periods. A line that connects the data points on a graph, for example of population over 50 years, would indicate whether the population is growing or declining and how rapidly the population is changing.

Trend extrapolation -
An extension of a trend line into the future, usually based on the present direction of the trend line supplemented by the futurist’s knowledge of related factors. In the example above of population forecasts, instead of simply extending the existing line along the same direction, futurists and forecasters might consider factors such as declining birth rates and increasing life expectancy.

Scenario development-
One of the best-known methods for exploring the future. The scenario method develops several stories about possible futures. These stories are based on forces, trends and other factors that exist in the present that can be projected into the future, usually including an optimistic scenario and a pessimistic scenario. There are at least a dozen variations on this method, but for personal futures we will start with a four-scenario matrix method.

Strategic planning-
This method is very common in business, and is often used in conjunction with scenarios by futurists. In this approach, scenarios suggest possible futures, and strategic planning provides strategies and plans to deal with those futures. Here we will use a version of personal strategic planning that includes creating a vision of your future, developing strategies and an action plan to achieve that vision, and contingency plans to deal with the unexpected.


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