The topic for the Association of Professional Futurists' Twitter chat (#futrchat) this week (see below for details) is "what big questions do we need to ask about the future?" We all have questions about how the future might shape up for us. That's the most fundamental and urgent driver for building our foresight capacity - as individuals, organisations and societies.

Why? Because the future will be different to our past and our present. To answer questions about the future we need to go to a sort of future space, where we move beyond our knowledge of what's happened and what's happening now to explore what's possible.  In this space, there are no right or wrong answers. Instead, we find possibilities and options that we may not have seen if we'd relied only on what we know about the past and the present.

This future space is the realm of the 'what if' question and the 'big ' question. To answer those questions, we have to be open to changing the way we think, and challenging our deeply held assumptions about what is possible and what is not. Answers to our big questions will be very constrained if we base them only on what is possible today.

So, before we ask 'what are the big questions', I wanted to think about the shape of those questions.  I often hear that we need to be asking the right questions about the future, but how do you know if a question is the right one?

Fortunately, there is a great publication called The Art of Powerful Questions: Catalyzing Insight, Innovation, and Action (2003) by Eric E.Vogt, Juanita Brown, and David Isaacs which provides a roadmap to help you and me design powerful questions - the 'big' questions that need answering if we are to collectively ensure our futures.

The authors make the point that (p3):

While you may not immediately know the characteristics of a powerful question, it’s actually quite easy to recognize one. For instance, if you were an Olympic judge scoring the power of questions on a scale from one to ten (with ten being the highest), how would you rate the following queries? 1. What time is it? 2. Did you take a shower? 3. What possibilities exist that we haven’t thought of yet? 4. What does it mean to be ethical?

We are provided with a very clear explanation of the architecture of powerful questions, and how to develop and use them in organisations. There are lots of examples. Basically, powerful questions have the following characteristics (p4):

generates curiosity in the listener, • stimulates reflective conversation, • is thought-provoking, • surfaces underlying assumptions, • invites creativity and new possibilities, • generates energy and forward movement, • channels attention and focuses inquiry, • stays with participants, • touches a deep meaning, and • evokes more questions.

I think designing a big question or a powerful question is a skill learned with practice. My big questions revolve around changing the way we think about the future to move beyond the short-termism that seems to drive  decision making in organisations and governments, and in our personal lives today. So, for the APF #futrchat, my big question is:

what needs to change if we are to move beyond short-termism to collectively accept responsibility for future generations?

What's your big question about the future?

APF Twitter Chat at 4-5pm EST on Thursday, 24 February in the USA, 8-9am Australian EDST on Friday, 25 February.

See also the introductory blog post by #futrchat co-host, Cindy Frewen Weullner.

Join us on Twitter by searching for #futrchat. Please use #futrchat in your tweets, and the Question #, as Q1, Q2, Q3 etc.

As alternative to twitter.com, you can use tweetdeck and search for #futrchat.

Or Tweetchat   http://tweetchat.com/room/futrchat