Latest Event Updates

Experimental Futuring through Serious Gaming

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Experimental futuring is a niche in futures studies that is increasingly gaining attention. Futures studies can experiment with applying methods that are not frequently used. Various combinations of different methods, both qualitative and quantitative, can be tested. Experiencing the future(s) can also be achieved through serious gaming. Serious gaming in futures studies means playing a game that has a societally important goal – challenge to be tackled from the futures orientated point of view. The Institute for the Future (IFTF) is a pioneer in serious gaming in our field. In 2013 they launched a game “Catalysts for Change” where the goal was no less than “finding the ways out of poverty”. I enjoyed participating in this game. Director of Game R&D at IFTF, Jane McGonical applaudes a gameful mindset. She claims that gaming channels positive attitude and collaboration in a real world context. At our conference on Thursday afternoon we are experimenting with a CLA (Causal Layered Analysis) game to elaborate on Four Transformative Energy Scenarios of an ongoing NEO-CARBON Energy Project.

If you have an open gameful mindset and interest in this topic, please register for this experimental game session. We will work in small groups on scenarios that depict a world of renewable distributed energy and peer-to-peer organisations in the year 2050. The developer of the method, Professor Sohail Inayatullah, will give an introductory talk, moderate the groups and comment on the results. We will have a group for each of the scenarios, going through the four CLA layers: litany, systemic cause, worldview and metaphor, and you can choose a role for yourself.

The number of participants in the game is limited. If you are interested in participating in the CLA session, please look at the page and indicate which scenario group you would like to work in. The scenarios are summarised below. The game is on!

1. Radical Startups


Society is business-oriented, but economy is driven by a multitude of small-scale startups known for their “radical” values and approaches. Their selling point is promising to do societal and environmental good. Environmental problems are solved first and foremost commercially. Businesses are drivers of new, deep-ecologically oriented lifestyles as well as new work practices emphasising bottom-up approaches and self-expression.

2. Value-Driven Techemoths

Photo: © Apple
Photo: © Apple

Peer-to-peer approaches are common, but they are practiced within large corporations. These “techemoths” represent the Silicon Valley vision of emancipation, creativity and open source. The vision is, however, somewhat self-contradictory. Techemoths cherish the “libertarian” hacker ethos, but at the same time form totalities that confine their employees tightly within corporate walls. Markets take care of environmental issues. Techemoths invest in ambitious energy & technology projects.

3. Green DIY Engineers


The world has faced an ecological collapse. Engineer-oriented citizens have organized themselves as local communities to survive. Environmental problems are solved locally, with a practical mindset. Nation states and national cultures have more or less withered away. As global trade has plummeted, communities have to cope with mostly low-tech solutions

4. New Consciousness


An ecological crisis, “World War III” and ubiquitous ICTs have led to a new kind of consciousness and worldview altogether. Values of deep ecology have become the norm. People do not conceive themselves as separate individuals, but deeply intertwined with other humans and as parts of nature. Phenomena are conceptualized and understood from a systems-oriented worldview, which sees “everything connected to everything else” – as parts of a single, global system. “Society” is organised as an open global collaboration and sharing of resources and information.

Sirkka Heinonen

The wicked problem about strategic foresight

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From left: Graeme Maxton (Secretary General, Club of Rome ) and Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker (Co-President, Club of Rome).

Last week I participated in the Club of Rome member meeting in Switzerland. As always, we talked about what was going to happen next. A brilliant presentation by Professor Harald Sverdrup of University of Iceland painted a picture of the world, where increasing amount critical raw-materials were becoming a key bottleneck for the economies. Taking systemic view and using SIMRESS model for simulation, the research team aimed to build a solid ground for resource policies. It came as no surprise to me that German Government commissioned the project. In an interesting and far-reaching way, German Government represents today the progressive thinking more than any major Government holds today. German Energiwende, a remarkable 20 billion annual investment for the future with huge amount of policy implications, will prove how strategic intent of the Government can be formulated into a set of policies that give a clear guidance to the market actors as well private citizens.

Another positive example comes from business. I take it from Silicon Valley, where I am exploring right now new insights. Last week, the legendary wizard of the Valley, Elon Musk, came up with a revolutionary new product to store energy. Powerwall , as it is called, scales from private household utility to large scale industrial set-up. As energy storage is real bottleneck problem for renewable energy schemes, the product might represent a great leap forward in overcoming a key concern for progressive policies and market spread. We see revolution in the making. Remember, almost 90% of the energy used in this planet by humans are coming from fossil fuels. There is no greater challenge to tackle.

All we are talking about here has to do with how we understand the world taking from here towards the future. Understanding the past is only relevant in terms of patterns, not in terms of content. The most crucial element in our analysis should be to define the forces of change. Drivers that will take us to a very different trajectory to those that brought us here. If we are, in our analysis, stuck to the past, nothing much useful comes out of that pipe.

In the meeting, we were also given a taste of conventional economist-way of assuming the future. Giuseppe Nicoletti from OECD, head of structural policy analysis division, gave us a portrait of OECD global scenario work they had undertaken recently. Reaching out to year 2060 they have done a neat exercise with clear logic. However, we were collectively quite unimpressed how little they took into account everything that had a true value in the Club of Rome thinking: understanding relations rather than individual phenomena, projecting bifurcation points (points where one body of development splits into something else) and understanding the whole. In fact, the presentation was indicative in that OECD representative didn’t even mention the resources that we all (at least in Club of Rome) knew would define the real politics and outcome in the world for next decades to come. The basis of the OECD scenario was simply an extrapolation of the past trends into the future. Ironically, Mr. Nicoletti clearly accepted the bulk of our critics by referring to the limits of their personal and financial resources in OECD. Hmmm…

We are left with the feeling that we do live in quite different realities, which is, at the end of the day, of course not true.

Here I come to my final point. A truly wicked problem with strategic foresight we do or commission is the following. If we do it in a very narrow way (= read: like standard neo-classic approach), we probably do not say much interesting or relevant things about the future. It may serve as a reference point, but not much more. On the contrary, we disguise what we are supposed to reveal. Foresight is too important topic to be messed up with too much of conventional thinking.

Markku Wilenius
Finland Futures Research Centre
University of Turku

Futures as Living Legacy

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The preparations for the upcoming conference “Futures Studies Tackling Wicked Problems” are well underway. It is with great sadness we learned that our colleague and friend Anita Rubin just passed away after her brave and tough struggle with cancer. During the last days of her life, she was actively involved in planning the forthcoming event.

I met Anita as early as 1980s when futures studies were being established in Finland. We were both active in the Finnish Society for Futures Studies and later even more closely worked in the FUTU project (Citizenship and Ecomodernisation in the Information Society. Futures Approach, 1996-1999 under the patronage of the Finnish pioneer of futures research, Professor Pentti Malaska. We both made our doctoral thesis within that project.

The ideas and works of dedicated futures researchers will live longer than the persons themselves. It is the legacy of prominent and passionate late Finnish futures researchers such as Pentti Malaska, Mika Mannermaa and Anita Rubin, as well as my former colleagues and friends from VTT, Torsti Kivistö and Yrjö Seppälä, that we have the pleasure of elaborating on and disseminating to future generations of futures researchers, decision-makers and great public as well.

UNESCO has declared the year of 2015 as the International Year of Light. Let the light of these futures thinkers shine on – their spirit and “signature topics” will no doubt be present as inspiring legacy in the Turku Conference: Anita Rubin – futures education, values and ethics; Pentti Malaska – planetary consciousness and neo-growth; Mika Mannermaa – evolutionary futures studies; Torsti Kivistö – evolution of consciousness; Yrjö Seppälä – alternative futures, neo-humanistic systems analysis and cybernetics.

The CLA Sessions to be chaired by Sohail Inayatullah and me in the conference will be paid tribute to Anita’s interest in CLA.

Sirkka Heinonen 

Images of the Future in Education

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schoolThe results in our recent study indicate that in the middle of cultural and socio-economic transition, the conventional education institutions and operations models do not answer any more to the real needs of change. Images of the future have the ability to affect social life and structures. They are held and developed by individuals, groups, and institutions on all levels within society.

The big challenge is that there is ambivalence in the future expectations of the different actors, while present educational practices do not provide young people with the tools they would need to cope in the changing world. Finnish teachers are especially worried about the possibility of increasing inequality in education. The images of the future are dominated by the stability and inability of the traditional institutions (like the school) and ways of action (like the teaching and learning practices) to change.

Anita Rubin & Hannu Linturi
Otava Folk High School Co-Operative Society

Read the full article by Anita Rubin and Hannu Linturi. The article explores the challenges in education in the future, based on the results of the Finnish Futures Barometer on Education 2030, on various other Delphi studies on the images of the future held by young Finns, their teachers and educators, as well as those in charge of national education strategy.

Formed From Knowledge and Flavored with Imagination – Images of the Future in Education. 
Download (pdf)

Published version is available in Spanish: Rubin & Linturi (2014) Creado desde el conocimiento y adornado ia imaginacion. Visiones de futuro en educacion. In: Imagebes de futuro en la juventud. Coordinator Enric Bas.Revista de estudios de juventud. 104. March 2014. No. 104. INJUVE, Journal of Instituto de la Juventud, Spain. All rights reserved.

What are wicked problems?

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Eluding formulation and early definitions

Two Berkeley professors, Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber defined the problems of planning and wicked problems already in 1969. Here are a few excerpts of their article published in Policy Sciences in 1973.

“A great many barriers keep us from perfecting such a planning/governing system: theory is inadequate for decent forecasting; our intelligence is insufficient to our tasks; plurality of objectives held by pluralities of politics makes it impossible to pursue unitary aims; and so on. The difficulties attached to rationality are tenacious, and we have so far been unable to get untangled from their web. This is partly because the classical paradigm of science and engineering–the paradigm that has underlain modern professionalism–is not applicable to the problems of open societal systems.

Planning Problems are Wicked Problems

1. There is nodefinitive formulation of a wicked problem.

2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule

3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad.

4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem

5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot  operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly

6. Wicked problems do not have an innumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan

7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique

8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem

9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution

10. The planner has no right to be wrong

Horst W. J. Rittel & Melvin M. Webber: Theory of Planning in Policy Sciences 4 (1973), pp. 160-167.

Johanna Ollila