In the Netherlands students who pursue a career as a futurist can study at Fontys Hogeschool Tilburg in the program of trend research and future studies, part of the Academy of Creative Industries. Patrick van der Duin, board member of the Dutch Future Society and assistant professor in Delft University of Technology has been installed as a lector. In his speech he presented his vision on future studies as a profession.
Future studies as part of the social sciences
The Fontys Hogeschool is an academy for applied sciences. Likewise, future studies need to have a solid scientific anchoring, while focused on the user or client. Future studies can be considered to be part of the social sciences. The future does not yet exist. Data about the future also don’t exist. However, we can conceive the future as a social construct. This is similar as the shared meaning constructed in social groups, as the epistemology of social constructivism explains.
Reflecting the present mind set
Future studies are generally a reflection of the present state and the relevant issues. Looking back on foresight projects of the main institutes in the Netherlands,Patrick found that the studies from the seventies emphasised things such as the oil crisis and studies from the last decade emphasised issues related to terrorism and immigration. These are issues reflected in the public debate in the Netherlands at that time. A meta-analysis would be needed to analyse which subjects may be really relevant in the future.
Scientific methods for future studies
Patrick van der Duin also talked about scientific methods for future studies. While it is an applied science, it is of course always important to follow scientific standards in data collection, analysis and representation. Futurists can use various methods that can all have their merit. One of the most important things in choosing a method, it to make sure that the approach fits with the worldview of a particular client organisation. If an organisation believes that the external world has a strong influence on its future, then it could be useful to develop scenarios that show how varieties in the future of society. However, if an organisation is more interested in how itself can change the world, then this organisation may be more interested in scenarios about the different directions it can take and how this influences the business context and society. Another point is how this organisation will use the future study in their decision making and organisational development. Patrick’s advise is to arrange a thorough intake session in order to clarify these kinds of expectations.
Professional impact of futurism
Finishing his presentation, Patrick talked about futurism as a profession. There are few big success stories about the impact of future studies. Up until today everyone, including us on Futurista blog, still refers to Shell and how they anticipated the 1973 oil crisis by means of their scenarios. While this is certainly not the only success story, often the effects of foresight studies are implicit in their influence on organisational decision making. A good futurist is able to tap into the blind spots of the organisation in terms of how they perceive the future. With sound methodology, a refreshing way of presenting future scenarios, professional futurists have a unique way of contributing to organisational strategy. In the Netherlands, from next year onwards graduated futurists from the Lectorate of Patrick van der Duin will be on job market. And they are eager to give an impulse to foresight thinking in organisations.