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Future Search Workshop Methodology

What is a Future Search Workshop?
Future Search Workshop: Bringing the “whole system in a room” for better decision making

1.1. History
The Future Search Workshop (FSW) has historically two independent sources. The one was the
German Zukunftswerkstatt (“Workshop of the Future”), originally created and engineered at the
beginning of the 80’s in order to allow ordinary citizens to participate in urban planning to achieve a
“democratization from below” from such processes. The other source is the North-American Future
Search Conference, developed at the beginning of the 90’s and aiming at accompanying
organization in the search of a common ground on which building a better future. By the beginning
of the new century, the two models merged to give birth to the Future Search Workshop.

1.2. Conditions for success
FSW rests on four main conditions for success:
• Get the “whole system” in the room. This means that all parties having a stake in the
outcome should be invited and motivated enough to come so that the working group
represents a significant cross-section of the stakeholders.
• Act following the Funnel principle: start by exploring the larger context before seeking to fix
any part. Get everyone talking about the same world. Think globally, act locally.
• Be sure to put the common ground and the future in the focus of the work while treating
problems and conflicts as information, not action items.
• Encourage self-management and responsibility for action by participants before, during, and
after the future search.

1.3. Process
The FSW is typically articulated around three stages (see image):

• Critical diagnostic: during this step, participants analyse the current situation of the topic of
the conference : they reflect on the past evolutions of their environment, trying to find out what they have in common and what makes them different.
They then work on the same way on the present situation. They finally explore the
structural trends that are going to influence their field of action in the future.
• Imagination and common ground: during this step participants become the opportunity to
develop visions of an utopian and perfect future, without any obligation to be realistic. They
share this vision with the other participants and develop scenario i.e. stories depicting how
this utopian situation was reached. All participants then define their common ground and
shared principles of actions to reach this desired future. They also write their differences
and dissensions down.
• Building an Action Plan: during this third step, participants focus on the formulation of
concrete projects and actions based on the visions previously developed. They work with
the help of a structured guideline (Name of the action, stakeholders, goals, finances, needs,
risks and chances, etc.)

1.4. After the Workshop
The result of the three days is a document with Actions (what we are going to do) and Task forces
(who from the workshop is going to do it). The different task forces are autonomous and they have
to organize themselves after the three days. That is the reason why it is highly recommendable to
fix at the end of the 3-days event a date for a follow-up meeting in which participants will be able to
report what they already done, what they plan and what help they need.


from PolySUMP 3.2.1 Practical Guide on running FSW


Additional information
http://www.futuresearch.net/index.cfm (Network of Future Search Conference Organizers).
http://www.futuresearch.net/method/applications/sectors-11047.cfm (Example of a process on
transportation in Utah).
Weisbord, Marvin et al. (1992): Discovering Common Ground, Berrett-Koehler. (the basis book on
FS conference).

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