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To describe the creative process of exploring futures, we use the term 'futuring'. We could have chosen other phrases such as 'future studies', 'speculative design' or 'strategic foresight', but 'to future' as a verb encapsulates the engaged, active attitude that we believe is essential when sending probes into these realms. Futuring can be a complex activity involving many facets, or it can be as simple as telling a story that begins with 'What if…'. The process can be individual but is often a collective, participatory exercise. It tends to work best when different modes of knowing and learning are involved – from analytical to generative and synthesising, rational to somatic, intuitive and interpersonal.

During the Art of Futuring Workshop we experimented with a series of techniques to probe possible futures.


In the introduction round, we used Instant Archetypes from Superflux…

… a toolkit for anyone looking to open up possibilities, surface questions and untangle stubborn challenges. A reimagining of the timeless tropes of the Major Arcana for the 21st Century where the Fool is now the Consumer, the Chariot is a Drone, and the Moon is a Meme.

Card games

Learning to work with constraints, wild cards, Four Archetypal Futures and speculative artefacts

The Thing From The Future is an imagination game that helps players generate countless ideas for artifacts from the future; to amuse, delight, explore, and provoke.

You can print your own card deck here

Asking questions

Paraphrasing from The art of powerful questions a powerful question is a three-dimensional one. The three dimensions are: construction, scope and assumptions. Construction is about phrasing of the question (see the paragraphs above) - which words you use can inspire or demotivate people. The scope is about tailoring the question to the capacity of people's action - where can people make immediate difference (e.g. family, organisation, community, global society). Finally, every question will have your or wider assumptions built into it, assumptions that might not be shared in the group. We should be especially aware of negative assumptions (“what did we do wrong?” could be better phrased as “what can we learn from what happened?”). Having a question focus on the problem, can make people defensive or disengaged. It's helpful to check if the question encourages learning, reflection, collaboration and/or exploration rather than blaming, competition or justifying.

Non-predictive strategy

KPUU Framework is a structured technique to think about and discuss the present, based on what is known, presumed, unknown and unknowable. KPUU helps distinguish facts from assumptions, uncover what the participants don't know, and define what is unknowable at this time.

Read more about KPUU here:

Horizon scanning

Horizon scanning is about tracking change. Analysing current developments undergoing change, such as trends and megatrends and observing change on the micro-scale, looking for possible but improbable changes in the future, also known as weak signals and wild cards.

Trend is a tendency or direction of change. It can be observed when analysing past and present events, and noticing patterns. Megatrends are long-term transformations, with wide-reaching consequences. They are observed over decades (or longer) and have impact across most if not all societal sectors. Weak signals are early warnings that something is changing. Something that isn't important in the present, but could trigger a major change in the future. They might appear in your peripheral vision or a random conversation. You tend to find weak signals when you aren't looking for them. Wild Cards, or “black swan” events are things that are unlikely to happen, but when they do, they affect massive change.

Read more about horizon scanning here.

An example of a horizon scanning aggregate website:

STEEP analysis

STEEP stands for 'social, technological, environmental, economic and political' factors (aka trends, forces, change drivers) that are external to the system, issue or question examined in the futuring exercise, but can influence it.

Read more about STEEP analysis here

Causal Layered Analysis

Causal layered analysis is a futures research method focusing on in-depth analysis of current issues and identifying alternative futures.

Read more about applying CLA here.

As a theory [CLA] seeks to integrate empiricist, interpretive, critical, and action learning modes of knowing. As a method, its utility is not in predicting the future but in creating transformative spaces for the creation of alternative futures. It is also likely to be useful in developing more effective—deeper, inclusive, longer term—policy. - Sohail Inayatullah

Scenario building

We used the 2×2 double uncertainty, adapted from Peter Schwartz in The Art of the Long View This method creates evocative, albeit not too surprising scenarios, which tend to be useful caricatures of the present than radically imaginative futures.

The challenge of the method lies in its focus on scenario axes derived from critical uncertainties:

  • reducing the number of change drivers to two critical uncertainties can create tension in participants (but can also work quite well in some situations, when it distills the core of the problem)
  • the 2×2 matrix highlights 'opposites' and extreme scenarios, potentially losing the subtleties and diversity of the worlds.

Visual translation of 'Steps to developing scenarios' by P. Schwartz

Read more the GBN approach here

You can find a slightly different description on the website of Infinite Futures (Wendy Schultz), alongside descriptions of other useful futuring tools and techniques:


Incasting is about delving deeper into scenarios to create more complete worlds and stories filled with rich detail. While it's often fairly easy to agree on the general outline of a scenario, elaborating the specifics and complexities can raise surprising and revealing discussions. By exploring the details of a given scenario, various inconsistencies, assumptions and (cognitive) biases can surface. Furthermore, when incasting is applied to familiar contexts and using known formats, the differences and similarities between the present and future can become more apparent and open to further examination.

At the Art of Futuring workshop we used several approaches to incasting:

Answering the core question

We asked the core question of the workshop from the vantage points of different scenarios. four very different answers.

Visualising scenario answers

The answers were visualised as posters

Closed eye visioning / mental time travel
Personal backstory

A backstory is a set of events invented for a plot, presented as preceding and leading up to that plot. It is a literary device of a narrative history all chronologically earlier than the narrative of primary interest. (…) It is the history of characters and other elements that underlie the situation existing at the main narrative's start. From:


17. Personal profile page (within scenario logic)

18. Postcards from the future (tableau vivants)

Preferred futures

19. Appreciative Inquiry: Discovery phase (1 of 4)

20. Theory of change: Outcomes Framework

Prehearsal / pre-enactment

21. Backstories for preferred scenario 22. Speculative Experience Design for concrete situation

Open Space 23. hosting workshop sessions

Adaptive Action Cycle 24. What? So what? Now What?

25. Invocation


Dot-voting is a facilitation method used to describe voting with dot stickers or markers. Dot-voting is widely used for making quick collaborative decisions. It is a quick and simple method for prioritize a long list of options.

Read more about dot-voting here:


Sociometry is a technique to visualise social relationships. It can show underlying patterns of a group which can be difficult to surface through conversation. A sociometric exercise begins with a question that the group is required to answer by moving in the space and finding appropriate positions for all its members relative to each other.

Read more about sociometry here.

See also the website of the Sociometry Training Network:

U process

The general purpose of futures studies could be regarded as the provision of tools for the invention and pursuit of preferred futures; that is, the reconciliation of hopes and expectations. But it begins and ends, finally, with what any individual does in relation to those things. (…) [It is] the most potent political tool, to enable people to systematically redistribute the sensible at will and on their own behalf. (…) development and spread of futures tools rather than the outcomes of their application [is our concern]. —Stuart Candy, The Futures of Everyday Life

The conundrum of the Unthinkable and the Unimaginable is everyone’s issue – certainly not just ‘futurists’, nor designers, nor those who happen to have dedicated themselves to political theory or activism; nor just the displaced former residents of New Orleans, nor yet the casualties of Detroit’s seemingly inexorable decline. It is everyone’s problem. Futures studies is a community of thinkers that has defined and directly addressed it as such. But the Great Conversation needs to belong to us all, as do all the discursive technologies, principles of experiential futures design, and other paraphernalia of wiser, ongoing conversation and political self-reinvention. —Stuart Candy, The Futures of Everyday Life

Imagine a future where the most revolutionary changes in our world have not come from nanotech, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence or even space development–but from cognitive science and a deepening understanding of how humans function (or not) in groups. What would such a future look like? —Karl Schroeder in Rewilding Etiquette

Scenario planning is not, or rather should not be, about forecasting the future. Instead, it is a tool for collective learning; what matters is what the scenario team learns in creating it. As an exercise, it is useful; as a strategic map for outsiders, it is relatively useless. Therefore, instead of using it as a map for your organization, ignore its conclusion, ignore the scenarios themselves, and think about the trends, forces and events that the NIC identifies, and then add your own, based on your intuition and expertise. —Silberzahn & Jones

How can you craft strategy in nonlinear environment? […] instead of putting effort into better prediction (no matter how modest), in many cases strategists must take the opposite approach and learn to focus their effort purely on a better understanding of the present. [By] mitigating the impact of surprises [and] anticipating the consequences of their own actions. —Silberzahn & Jones

We’re conditioned to see the present moment as “normal,” with all the banality that implies. This is not a banal moment. It’s the sort of intense, chaotic moment, full of strange things, that we previously only found in science fiction. “Right now” feels like all of science fiction happening at once, and needs to be considered in that context —Warren Ellis

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