designing Conversations about the future

Clients want to engage with futures at every step, participating in the research, getting involved in the synthesis, helping to craft scenarios and exploring through prototyping and other forms of communication.
— Emily Eaves, Adaptive Lab

Using integral futures to create a frame for to design conversations about the future is unique to Thinking Futures. Its value emerges from its imperative to connect people and process to create an integrated approach to the future that focuses on both the thinking and doing of strategy. 

Realistically, not everyone will be ready for this approach because it's challenging - it's not the formulaic, compliance based conventional approach to strategic planning and it requires us to be open to having our often deeply held assumptions about the future tested for relevance.

An Integral Frame

Conversations bring people together in an organisation. We have them everyday, some about life, family, travel and some about work, the organisation and its future. How the first type of conversation happens is random and that's a good thing. How the second sort of conversation happens - how we think collectively about the future of our organisations - needs a bit of structure and some underpinning concepts and theory. I use an integral frame to provide that structure.

An Integral Frame lets us identify four types of conversations about the future that we need to have to become futures ready. Each of these four types is considered to be equally important because organisations can't become futures ready unless people have engaged in each of these conversation spaces at some time. 

Conversations about the future are centred on two primary activities - Anticipating the Future in the left hand quadrants, and Co-creating the Future in the right hand quadrants. The left hand quadrants are about building personal and cultural futures agency in organisations. The right hand quadrants - where conversations about the future take place - are about mapping pathways to possible futures to inform strategic action today. The figure here shows this integral frame for conversations about the future.

 
 

STRATEGIC Activities

Anticipating the future on the left hand side is all about agency - our ability to recognise our capacity to take action to shape the future today, both individually and collectively. This includes understanding our individual and collective mindsets, our ways of making sense of and constructing our reality. For organisations, culture is necessarily part of this agency. Anticipating the future is the intangible side of becoming futures ready - it happens in our minds as individuals and it emerges over time as cultural norms, rituals and practices as we come together in organisations.

Co-creating the future on the right hand side is about creating strategic processes to more deeply understand the social environment in which our organisations exist, to think in multiples about the future, and to identify multiple pathways to the future to expand our perceptions of the emerging future . Co-creating the future is the visible manifestation of becoming futures ready. In this space, we seek to understand how our organisations fit into the world to ensure social relevance, and how we design our organisations to bring people together to create that fit - our organisational leadership, relationships, structures and process. It's about how we design our pathways to the future.

We use a foresight lens in all quadrants to build capacity to think about the future (left hand quadrants, focused on people), and to develop processes that generate multiple futures and pathways (right hand quadrants, focused on processes). 


Conversation Spaces

These are the four conversation spaces that need to be integrated when we are exploring possible futures for our organisations in our strategy processes. 

Upper Left Quadrant: Conversations with Ourselves
Here we anticipate the future through the development of personal futures agency. We do this by working on our mindsets and underpinning assumptions and mapping the degree to which we are open to the future. We learn how to use foresight approaches to think more expansively and inclusively about the future. We are building our individual capacity to be futures literate, the precursor to be able to build our futures agency.

Lower Left Quadrant: Conversations about Culture
Here we anticipate the future by working to collectively generating an organisational culture that is open to the future. We do this by focusing on the cultural attributes and behaviours needed for an organisation to be open to the future. We are building the capacity to be futures facing organisations.

Upper Right Quadrant: Conversations about Using the Future
Here we are co-creating the future by a focus on organisational pathways to the future that provide the basis for being future ready. We do this by using foresight approaches that help people to , engage with and use the future today to inform action and decision making. We are building the capacity for futures action.

Lower Right Quadrant: Conversations about Change
Here we are co-creating the future by understanding the social system in which our organisations navigate and respond to change as the future emerges. In many ways, this is the starting point because strategy is ultimately designed to respond to change and ensure organisational fit in the external environment. We are looking for the pathways we can take to ensure a sustainable future, to ensure strategic fit and social relevance. We are building the capacity to be futures aware.


Put another way, the left hand quadrants are about thinking about the future while the right hand quadrants are about taking action to shape the future today. In this context, it's easy to see why conventional planning has such a hold on us - it's easier to spend more time in a space that has data, that is tangible and measurable, than it is challenging our brains to thinking about futures which have not yet happened.