Futures thinking has finally become an academic discipline (in a few universities) while its pragmatic and light version – called foresight – has emerged as a critical strategic field for governments, cities, organisations and companies. Futures education is entering schools at all levels, even if only with the first baby steps. Futures communication could be described as an area and empowering approach through which you can highlight the essence and need for futures thinking and creation i.e. futures literacy. The awareness and visibility of futures literacy can be strengthened through various campaigns and celebrations.
World Future Day
For several consecutive years now, the Millennium Project has organized the World Future Day on March 1st, now hosted by The Millennium Project in collaboration with:
- Association of Professional Futurists
- UNESCO’s Global Futures Literacy Network
- World Academy of Art and Science
- World Futures Studies Federation
Again this year anyone can celebrate futures and attend the World Future Day via the Zoom. This celebratory event consists of volunteers, mostly from the Millennium Project network, facilitating futures discussions at 12 noon in their own time zone. You can come join the conversation whenever you want. Updates will be available online. This is a very globally inclusive, participatory, discussant, inter-cultural and inter-generational celebration of futures which can engage new actors in the field of futures studies, foresight and anticipation.
Finnish Futures Day Extended to Futures Week
Since the International Futures Day falls on a Sunday this year, celebrations are moved to the 6th of March in several locations, such as here in Finland. The goal of Futures Day is to alert the large masses of Finns for one day to discuss what kind of futures we want to create. The Futures Day concept works like the originally Finnish grassroot innovation Restaurant Day i.e. anyone in their community can organise their own Futures Day with the materials provided on the website (the Finnish site). You can even post your own event on the Future Day website.
The Finnish Futures Day is actually extended for the whole Futures Week through events that inspire people to conversations about dreams and fears of the future they face. This is in order to strengthen futures awareness and make futures thinking visible. The Finnish National Foresight network also organises a Foresight Friday event on “Shaping the Future: Between Continuities and Disruptions”.
40 years of Finnish Society for Futures Studies – celebrating futures the whole year of 2020
The Finnish Society of Futures Studies (FSFS) is actively involved in organising and attending Futures Day events, extending futures celebrations for the whole year. This is because the Society, established in 1980 with Professor Pentti Malaska as its first President, is now celebrating its 40 years anniversary. These events will make futures thinking, its forms, means and goals, visible to the public, not only to the society’s 700 members.
Examples of futures events in 2020 – besides regular annual seminars, are TOP TEN seminar on Future and Power, seminar on theoretical and philosophical foundations of futures studies, summer seminar on our joint futures and actors making them, as well as a special issue of FUTURA journal (4/2019) on the past 40 years with interviews of 25 acknowledged futures researchers active within the FSFS.
Celebrating the history of futures activities and communicating it to younger generations is quintessential – both in learning about the very diverse paths that can lead to systematic futures work and in encouraging younger actors to enrichen the field and boldly open up new avenues and angles. A call for videos of visualising futures, especially scenarios, will also be opened soon.
100 years of University of Turku
Futures celebrations are intensified with the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the University of Turku. With the Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC) as its department and with the new futures basics course TULEVA that is obligatory for all master’s programme students at its School of Economics the University of Turku can be metaphorically called “Futures University”.
In June the 21st international FFRC conference will be organised on ‘Learning Futures – Futures of Learning’ in Helsinki in co-operation with the Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI). The conference includes a special session “Millennium Forum”, organised by FEN (Foresight European Network) and the Helsinki Node of the Millennium Project, the latter one celebrating its twenty years of activity. There you can simultaneously celebrate learning and learn to celebrate – both are equally educational.
Futures Studies as Life Supporting System
The above mentioned examples of campaigns and celebrations aim at enhancing the awareness and visibility of futures thinking and futures studies. Such futures communication is needed not only for making wider circles in society conscious of the potential and benefits of futures work, but also for nudging more stakeholders to concretely use futures and foresight material and results in their strategic processes.
Serious futures work becomes a synonym for survival strategies. My claim is that every organisation, government, company, NGO etc needs a futures strategy to cope and succeed. In a nutshell, futures strategy means traditional strategy enhanced by longer time-frame, systemic view, holistic approach, out-of-the-box thinking, aided with peripheral vision (Day & Shoemaker 2006) and other futures methodology (Glenn & Gordon 2009; Heinonen, Kuusi & Salminen eds 2017). Accordingly, futures literacy and foresight skills become a necessary prerequisite for survival – they embody a life-supporting system if their results are harnessed to tackle the mega-challenges hovering above humankind’s head like Damocles’ sword. This allegory highlights that with great fortune and power comes also great danger. Humankind thinks of itself sitting in the king’s throne, in power over nature, in control of technology. This no longer applies – there are existential risks looming above us by a hair’s strength such as climate change, cyberterrorism, pandemics, artificial super intelligence. In the Millennium project Future of Work/Technology 2050 scenarios (Glenn 2019), a key distinguishing feature of different assumptions about how artificial intelligence evolves from the current specific or niche applications-competent artificial intelligence (Artificial Narrow Intelligence ANI) towards that of capable of solving a wide range of tasks similar to humans competence (Artificial General Intelligence AGI) and still further towards artificial intelligence that becomes superior to humans’ performance in most tasks (Artificial Super Intelligence ASI). What if ASI then realises and decides that humans are detrimental to life on earth and draws certain conclusions?
From the point of view of biology, the purpose of life is to produce as many offspring as possible i.e. to reproduce and maintain the population. From the point of view of many religions, the purpose of life is to live in contact with Higher Being and to use his or her own special skills for the benefit of others. The purpose of Futures Studies has already been crystallised by Ossip K. Flechtheim (1966) to combat great global problems such as poverty, war, inequality. Wendel Bell (1997, 111) saw as the overriding purpose of futures studies “to maintain or improve human well-being and the life-sustaining capacities of the Earth” with nine sub-purposes all tightly bundled together under this umbrella. Therefore, a relevant question for all participants of the Futures Day, Week or Year is to also address such mega-questions as purpose of life and how futures studies could concentrate on them more efficiently – how to use the special foresight skills to benefit fellow humans, other species, and the planet? The mega-challenge of climate change is deeply intertwined with this endeavour. Electricity production based on even 100% renewable energy is already technically possible (Breyer et al. 2016). However, because of institutional obstacles, fossil industry lobbying, and political indecision, the transition is slow. However, when there’s a will, there’s a way. The Club of Rome published its Climate Emergency Plan (2019), there are scenarios for pathways to emission-free futures (e.g. Heinonen & Karjalainen 2019), and there are pioneers such as Greta Thunberg.
Both the speed and scale for action in face of global challenges matter. In futures field, we can adopt 100% futures consciousness, if we only choose so. Every step, event, campaign and working/learning process celebrating futures thinking and futures literacy is noteworthy. In memory of Bell’s line of integrative prospective thinking: we have to reason, choose and act, correspondingly. Everybody is invited to these empowering futures celebrations.
Ph.D., Professor Emerita, Special Advisor, Adjunct Professor
Finland Futures Research Centre
University of Turku
Bell, Wendell (1997). Foundations of Futures Studies. Human Science for a New Era. Volume I: History, Purposes and Knowledge. Transaction Publishers, New Jersey.
Breyer, Christian; Heinonen, Sirkka & Ruotsalainen, Juho (2016). New consciousness: A societal and energetic vision for rebalancing humankind within the limits of planet Earth. Technological Forecasting and Social Change.
Club of Rome Climate Emergency Plan. A Collaborative Call for Action. By members of the Club of Rome: Sandrine Dickson-Déclève, Ian Dunlop, Andres Wijkman with support from Martin Hedberk & Till Kellerhof, 16 p.
Day, George & Schoemaker, Paul (2006). Peripheral Vision: Detecting the Weak Signals That Will Make or Break Your Company. Harvard Business School Press.
Flechtheim, Ossip K. (1996). History and Futurology. Meisenheim-am-Glan, Germany. Verlag Anton Hain.
Glenn, Jerome (2019) Work/Technology 2050 – scenarios and actions. Orders.
Glenn, Jerome & Gordon, Theodore (eds) (2009). Millennium Project Futures Research Methodology Version 3.0.
Heinonen, Sirkka & Karjalainen, Joni (2019). Electrification in Peer-to-Peer Society – New Narrative for Sustainable Futures. FFRC eBook 1/2019. Order print copies.
Heinonen, Sirkka & Karjalainen, Joni (2019b) Pioneer Analysis as a Futures Research Method for Analysing Transformations. In: Poli R., Valerio M. (eds) Anticipation, Agency and Complexity. Anticipation Science, vol 4. Springer, Cham.
Heinonen, Sirkka, Kuusi, Osmo & Salminen, Hazel (eds) (2017). How Do We Explore Our Futures? Methods of Futures Research. Acta Futura Fennica 10, Finnish Society for Futures Studies. Helsinki.
Nurmela, Juha & Viherä, Marja-Liisa (2019). Miten minusta tuli tulevaisuudentutkija? – 25 aktiivia tutkijaa kertoo (How I became a futures researcher – stories by 25 active futures researchers). FUTURA 4/2019, 5-34.
Article photo by Sirkka Heinonen.