How Can We Predict Plausible Futures?
The Three Power Vectors of the Futures Triangle Explained
August 24, 2017, Tuomo Kuosa
The Futures Triangle is a foresight method that is used to identify plausible futures that emerge in riptide between three pushing and pulling corners, each with their own set of drivers and inhibitors. The math between the power vectors of each corner define the plausible future. In other words, if the power of one corner changes, that will impact the dynamics of the entire triangle, affect its angles, and therefore result in a probable change of direction for the plausible future. The original method was developed by Professor Sohail Inayatullah with the end-goal of mapping the overall game situation before a transformative foresight process may begin.
The competing dynamics of the Futures Triangle are the past, present and future contexts. Each of these three corners of the triangle has their own set of trends, drivers and inhibitors, which the users of this method need to list and rank. The Futures Triangle method can be used in table-desk foresight work where one foresight expert or a group of users map all the current settings where a plausible future gets formed.
This method has other applications, too. It’s particularly well-suited as a structured brainstorming tool in participatory foresight workshops. It is a simple tool and quick to use, and can be utilized anywhere, with access to few resources. All you need is whiteboard or a large sheet of paper to draw the triangle and write up different ideas, drivers, inhibitors, etc. You can use sticky notes for these, and map them into the corners of the triangle, and then move onto a more interactive process.
So what do the three corners of the trial consist of?
1. Pull of the future
The process begins with naming the pull of the future, which contain one dominant visual image or vision. That becomes the issue or context that is being examined in the next steps. There are naturally many competing optional images for the future, but only one shall be put here, together with all beliefs and ideas that a group thinks are linked to the image.
There is a group of nine archetypal logics how people tend to believe the future gets formed or what people wish for. That can be used as a starting point for preparing the image, but the image can be much more specific and visual too. The group shall name also pulling things that help in formation of the image. Useful questions to detect the future image and its pulls are:
- What would be the ideal future for this issue or topic?
- Do we have a shared vision of the preferred future and of the futures we want to avoid?
- Do we have a shared image of the logic behind how the future gets formed in this specific case, or are there competing logical beliefs?
- If we were adrift in a river, where do we end up in the issue?
- What tools and resources do we have that can affect the direction and lead us towards that future?
- What do we lack to influence change? What are our limits?
- Is it possible to impact the futures? Or is it needed at all?
2. Push of the present
The present contains many forces that are currently pushing change forward. These pushes are trends, drivers, technologies and decisions or acts of agents that make new things happen. The things that are counted as pushes of the present should be quantitative in nature, meaning that we should at least in theory be able to showcase the exerting influence on the direction of change. As an example, one of the most well-known pushing driver was the John F. Kenned´s decision in the early 60s to send a man to the moon.
Useful questions to detect pushes of the present are:
- What trends and technologies are changing the future right now?
- What things are pushing change forward?
- What already known new policies, procedures, laws, budgets, decisions and technologies will start to push changes forward in the near future (like in the Kennedy case)?
3. Weight of the past
The past contains weights, for example, those structural barriers that inhibit change and prevent us from achieving a particular pull or push of the future. These historical weights can be understood as being organisational structures, policies, laws, regulations, procedures, knowledge structures or historical narratives that limit or prevent us from moving forward. They can include existing investments in infrastructure, technology, education, and all the societal contracts, achieved benefits, debts, and demographic structures.
Many strong societal organisations are dedicated to maintain status quo such as labour unions, religions, the army, and so on. Useful questions to detect such weights of past are:
- Who benefits from the status quo or loses if it is changed?
- What are the barriers to change?
- What is holding us back, or getting in our way?
- What are the deep structures that resist change?
By using these three corners of the triangle—the weight of the past, the push of the present, and the pull of the future—it is possible to create plausible futures, an essential component of foresight work.
Before the Futures Triangle, however, you may want to use the Future Signals Sense-Making Framework. It shares many of the same elements as the Triangle, such as pushing and pulling drivers and the weights of history, but instead of assessing the power vectors of change to see the plausible future, it is developed for mapping and further differentiating different types of futures into six categories. That way, one is better able to identify true anomalies from all the futures’ data.
These two methods together, and further combined with the Futures Landscapes and Shared History method are a powerful mapping toolkit for identifying the current setting or “game situation” from which the plausible future can start to emerge. After that, the right step would be Horizons scanning for emerging issues and for prioritising the most powerful and crucial phenomena regarding the issue or topic.
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