Chapter 9. Visions and Challenges – Priorities for Professionals

Professionalizing and Continuing Our Training

Efforts to better define and professionalize our field have occurred periodically since the 1950s, and a few are happening now. In addition to the work Foresight U and FERN are engaging in with this guide, the APF is working to better define the scope of our field in its Professionalization Task Force, on which I am a minor member. Nils Müller at TrendONE in Berlin has started a Global Trends Association with a similar objective. Scholars at the EC’s Future-Oriented Technology Analysis group have recently published papers seeking better definitions of what foresight professionals do.

But we have a long way to go. Our (twenty-three or so) academic training programs do not talk very much to each other, or share more than a handful of general texts and curricula, and what they teach remains narrowly defined, and varies widely. Few of them have professional relationships with practitioners of, for example, the Twenty Foresight Specialty Associations in Chapter 1.

Our ten or so certificate programs, for their part, are very new and few, and most define foresight more narrowly than we do in this guide. A mature foresight field would have many more certificate than degree programs (we have the inverse situation at present), across a wide range of specialties. Even our best academic programs presently fall short of teaching the broad definition of foresight we have given here. We also have no program of continuing education. Foresight University will do our small part to offer both initial and continuing education options for professionals.

We foresighters often don’t see ourselves as management consultants first, which we all truly are, or get sufficient behavioral sciences, practitioner, and consultancy training prior to engaging in our work. We sometimes forget to empathize first with our client’s way of looking at the world, or learn to use their language, as opposed to our own. We may exclusively take a top-down approach to recommending change, rather than balancing it with a bottom-up one, seeking to incentivize and motivate our client organizations to change and empower themselves, using personal foresight tools, from the line worker, customer, and stakeholder on up.

Given the inadequacies of definitions, theories, validation, and training, it should come as no surprise that our field is only weakly professionalized. The organizations that lead it today, the WFS, the APF, and others, are underdeveloped relative to other professions. They’ve made some progress, but they are still unsure what our common core is, and what they should say about accelerating change, evolution, development, prediction, and quantification. Most don’t yet advocate skills and specialties certifications. Some still debate the primacy of the Three Ps. We also have few professional standards for ongoing, lifelong education.

Yet it is obvious that foresighters and futurists, to best fulfill our social role, need to be examples and champions of continuing education best practices, in a world of accelerating change. Fortunately, every inadequacy is an opportunity. As our world grows predictably ever richer, faster, and more complex, a few of our better programs are now waking up to the reality of accelerating change and rising to the challenge of better training and professional standards, including more scientific and statistical approaches. Please support those efforts wherever you find them.

Where the field is weak, you can be strong. Help our field grow up. Regularly attend one or more specialty foresight conferences and association that are strongly professionalized (see the list in Chapter 1), and bring their habits, methods, and materials into your primary foresight work.