Fall 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 3 // Tools of the Trade // 3TOT1

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Techniques for Futures Perspectives


Lorilee R. Sandmann
Associate Professor and Program Leader, Home Economics
University of Minnesota-St. Paul

Working with Our Publics-Module 7: Inservice Education for Cooperative Extension. J. David Deshler. Raleigh: North Carolina State University, 1988. 89 pp.

It's widely touted that Extension educators need to be futurists...to have an anticipatory orientation to program development, to lead futures-focused group decision making, and to be proactive in charting a viable Cooperative Extension Service. Now there's a staff development resource entitled "Techniques for Futures Perspectives" that provides process techniques and educational strategies for anticipating the future.

This module, one of seven in the Working with Our Publics series, presents a rationale for the use of futuring techniques as well as demystifies the concept of futuring. Deshler and a Cornell University project team cast a broad net in reviewing the work of futures research and educators over the past 20 years and extracted those techniques most applicable for Extension educational activities. From their synthesis, four complementary approaches have been classified to help individuals and organizations develop futures perspectives.

The first approach, called "anticipatory learning," exposes individuals to films, print material, science fiction, and simulations describing future life. This can be an ideal preparation for work groups undertaking program design, redesign, or evaluation.

The second approach, titled "projection and forecasting," uses existing data or "expert" opinion to project existing trends into the future. This trend information provides a basis for educational programming or organization management decisions based on challenging, or changing, or accepting the trends.

The third approach, "prevention and adaptation," uses such techniques as futures wheels, decision trees, and force field analysis to generate a futures perspective on a current decision or proposed course of action.

The final approach, "invention and creation," uses visions, scenario building, preference surveys, and other techniques to create a definition of probable or desired future conditions.

Deshler never promises to provide an explicit "how-to-do-it" guide, but rather points the way toward the use of futuring techniques in this 89-page sourcebook. A leader's guide provides step-by-step instructions on facilitating up to 12 contact hours of training. The complete educational package includes learners' packages, supplemental learning devices, and instructional aids including a videotape,"Tomorrow Starts Today." This instructional module is an excellent tour guide to thinking about and working with futures.

To keep futuring itself in perspective, Michael Marien, editor of Future Survey, World Future Society, adds to the module his tips for the futures tourists. He suggests remembering the following points when studying futures:

  • There are no qualifications to be a futurist.
  • There are no magic techniques.
  • Distinguish between forecasts and proposals.
  • Most forecasts are likely to be wrong.
  • Futures thinking can be subversive, conserving, and amusing.

This module shouldn't sit on the shelf in the state's staff development office! As a start, it can be used in self-study. District directors and program leaders can use its contents as a basis for modeling anticipatory management with staff. Other personnel can use sections of it with advisory "publics" in developing futures-focused program directions. It's a must for new staff orientation.

The module leaves one seeking a sequel-searching for implementation strategies of the techniques in individual and group settings to actually facilitate Extension publics generating their own futures perspectives. Deshler and his colleagues do provide an extensive bibliography and illustrate examples in the video. Hopefully, Extension personnel will be compelled to read further about specific techniques, try them in various settings with differing groups, and share the results as part of an ongoing effort to develop Extension's futures perspectives.