Futures Platform strives to gather to its phenomena databank the most significant and impactful change phenomena which will mould both the society and the operational environment of the future.
1 PHENOMENA PRODUCTION
Futures platform seeks to gather to its phenomena databank the most critical and influential change phenomena, which will transform the society and the business environments of various industries. At the same time, several smaller-scale change phenomena are being added to the databank, which can reveal exciting new future perspectives and possibilities of renewal to the clients. Additionally, in the phenomena databank, there is an abundant quantity of authentic futures studies oriented, consultative “what if”- based material, such as speculative risks and scenarios.
The content is supported by a newsbot: a software which performs daily searches for phenomena-related news items from over 150 million internet sources globally. Keywords determined by the team guide the bot. The news is fed directly to the phenomena descriptions, and the most important ones will be utilised to support phenomena production. Moreover, AI-based search functionality is used in phenomena production, which helps to link and optimise the content to better match various subject areas.
Continuously updated phenomena databank forms a stable foundation for higher level understanding, whose aim is to offer tools to classify the changes taking place in our time, to understand their possible effects, and to seize the opportunities provided by them. In practice, this means that the user of Futures Platform’s phenomena databank can freely utilise any section of the diverse content, such as news, statistical trends, the descriptions of changes' cores, interpretations, risk and opportunity speculations, or wider thematic summaries while constructing a holistic view regarding the development of a preferred topic.
In the foresight tool’s phenomena databank, in addition to the descriptions of hundreds of change phenomena, there also are descriptions for 30 general theme areas, each with a description regarding their short, medium, and long-term development. The number of theme descriptions, such as “Forms of Energy and Energy Production” or “Service industry”, will not be increased from the current 30, but new phenomena which are relevant to the theme’s development are continuously being linked to them.
The consultative summaries and views on developments and opportunities produced by Futures Platform’s team of experts, do not end results or conclusions but starting points for multifaceted syntheses of topics, prioritising enhanced understanding, and practical application.
1.1 How Phenomena Are Identified
In charting the operational environment and identifying new phenomena, the following means are used:
A wide-ranging and systematic monitoring of publications by different media is done both by humans and the newsbot.
We are in continuous contact with experts in various fields. Also, discussions with our customers regarding future developments are part of our job, and through them, our understanding concerning the critical change drivers in various fields is being perfected.
Our experts are in constant touch with the international discussion regarding our field of expertise, for example, in several futures studies’ networks, events, and in the social media. They regularly exchange views on megatrends and change phenomena with other futures studies researchers. The Content Advisory Board of Futures Platform is an integral part of this network.
1.2 How the Decision to Produce a Phenomenon Is Made
Futures Platform’s content team has the following five criteria for a new phenomenon to be approved for production:
- The phenomenon must have a significant impact on several industries in the future. The estimation of the potential impact is based on the team's interpretation, which is formed by comparing the phenomenon with various available foresight-related material regarding the subject.
- The topic must appear several times in well-respected media. In our opinion, extensive coverage of a subject indicates its potential for greater, niche-market-exceeding impact and significance. However, in the cases of wild cards and weak signal, flexibility is permitted in this regard.
- In a team-based evaluation both the significance and timing of the new phenomenon are confirmed by several experts. At the same time, it is ensured that the phenomenon’s description and interpretations are sufficiently objective and relevant.
- A phenomenon needs to have a direction. In a phenomenon, the issue described is either getting stronger, broader, or deeper, or it gets weaker, ends, or changes directions, or is merged with some other phenomenon. In other words, issues like “Use of fossil fuels” or “Sharing economy”, are suitable to be regarded as phenomena, whereas, for example, the more general themes of agriculture and energy, are not.
- A phenomenon needs to have a sufficiently independent and robust core. In the phenomenon text, the changes related to this core are being described or speculated. This means that even if we would find a news item with novelty value and an interesting perspective, we would not necessarily decide to transform it into an independent phenomenon. If the news item is perceived to be directly linked to some previously existing phenomenon description, it will primarily be added to the “Additional information”-list of that phenomenon instead of us writing a largely identical phenomenon. On the other hand, if the viewpoint is different enough, it may be justifiable to produce several descriptions of the core of a single development.
1.3 Colour Code-Based Structure
All phenomena created by our team of future foresight experts has been categorised into five phenomena types on our platform:
- Weak signal
- Wild card
Our team of future foresight experts has determined the type according to team-reviewed process.
A colour-based structure means that a phenomenon description can be created to illustrate the core of a development, for example, the growth of the sharing economy, getting stronger or more significant (green). Alternatively, a phenomenon text can be formulated in a way, in which a weakening topic is described (blue). Also, the description may abstain from making any interpretation regarding further development of the observed matter (grey), or a more bold, challenging, speculative, and value-based, what if – approach may be adopted (red). The red colour code differs from the other phenomena types in that, whereas other phenomena types present probable or foreseeable developments, the red offers a speculative, threat or opportunity scenario.
The most critical changes' cores, e.g., Sharing economy, will often be described from all four colours' viewpoints. The topic stays the same, but the approach and formulation differ, which makes it possible to deal with the phenomenon in a broader and more diverse way.
1.4 Role of Videos
Videos with high content and audio-visual quality, supplement the phenomena descriptions, providing background and a brief and comprehensive portrayal of the subject. In the best case, the video has been produced by a neutral and trusted expert. However, usually, the videos have been created by various pioneer companies, such as BMW or Microsoft, which seek to present their own products, expertise, or visions. In some cases, the producer can be a less trustworthy group, such as a small and unknown company, someone editing videos for profit, or a state-owned propaganda channel, such as RT. In these cases, the video has only been chosen because of its high technical quality, or because no other videos by a more trustworthy source with sufficiently high-class content or acceptable technical quality were available. A video produced by a less credible organisation is not meant to act as the source for the factual “core” of the phenomenon or as its justification, but to serve as an audio-visual background provider for a topic previously recognised from other sources. We seek to explain any non-conventional video choices in the caption.
1.5 Strive Toward Objectivity
The hard nucleus of an identifiable change can, for example, be “Facebook has introduced a banking service operating on the social media platform”. The source, from which the “core” can reliably be recognised, and which can be used to explain the existence of the topic, must be reliable. Even though the observation in itself is a fact, the interpretations made from it, the descriptions of the change processes, and the claims on the actual content cards, are, however, always made by humans, and thus are exposed to human shortcomings.
In the team’s phenomenon production, as in any other qualitative research, the development is described and outlined as objectively as possible. However, with complex issues, such as societal changes and, especially, future progressions, objectivity is often out of reach because the future is not predetermined.
The members of Futures Platform’s content team are also aware of the fact that in the background of every text, there invariably is some viewpoint and framework. The way an issue is presented, the choices made, and the language employed is always influenced by, e.g., author’s assumptions and personality, methods of identifying things, and the pre-existing worldview.
1.6 Phasing and Team Evaluation to Reduce Subjectivity
The challenge of subjectivity is minimised by phasing, team evaluation, which is a kind of peer review, and by paying attention to user feedback.
First of all, the person scanning the operational environment and recording the observations is not the one writing the initial phenomenon draft. Already at an early stage of phenomenon description, the description itself and the interpretations based on it are separated by placing them in different paragraphs.
In the second stage of production, the completed phenomenon description is reviewed by another team member. The final editing is done based on the reviewer’s remarks and improvement suggestions.
After being published, the phenomenon descriptions come to public use, which means that the users are also able to evaluate and comment on their content and send developmental feedback. Many phenomenon databank users are experts in their fields, which means that comments and suggestions can be very constructive. All opinions are recorded and taken into account at the latest when the next semi-annual comprehensive databank review and re-evaluation takes place.
1.7 Interpretations Regarding Value Rationality
Unlike several other branches of science, futures studies is rather value-rational, meaning that it advances some pre-selected values, which creates certain challenges concerning the aim of objectivity. This shows itself, for instance, in futures studies’ common habit of producing desirable and non-desirable future visions, and, based on these visions, the inclination to build normative explanations of how to realise various future conditions, or how to end up in them from the existing position. It is, in other words, inbuilt in futures studies’ methodology to make the future better according to some external value base.
Futures Platform’s anticipatory work represent systematic foresight, in which practical assessment of probabilities and options is emphasised, rather than the creation of visions of a desirable future. Nevertheless, the team recognises that foresight relies on the same tradition, and examines similar issues, as futures studies. For this reason, value-rationality is also to some extent present in the systematic foresight.
In Futures Platform’s phenomenon production the challenge of value rationality is minimised by avoiding dichotomic, good-bad appraisals, and by writing the descriptions to a general form in such a way that they are suitable to be used in any industry as modules of operational environment assessment. The structure relying on colour codes, which are used in the phenomenon descriptions, also steers the content producers to write the texts in a style which fits the purpose. This helps the user to recognise the point of view the text represents, the formulation used, and the potential way to use it. The aim is also to emphasise that the phenomenon descriptions are not truths carved in stone, originating from one single set of values, but are as versatile and multifaceted analyses of a subject as possible, from which the user can pick the most suitable insights and draw his or her own conclusions.
1.8 Reliability of Sources
Common to all Futures Platform’s phenomenon descriptions is that the core of a change must be a fact, meaning that it needs to be backed up by reliable sources. The description built around the core must pass the internal review of the content team and withstand the customer feedback. The principle is that untenable interpretations are revised without delay. Entirely fictitious descriptions or opinions, ideologically guided claims cloaked in scientific language, sheer prose, or science fiction will not be accepted as phenomenon descriptions. Also, no fake media or propaganda channels are recognised as sources.
Futures Platform has lists sources considered either reliable or trustworthy enough. The most credible sources are, self-evidently, the proper scientific journals, such as Nature and Science. Other reliable sources are various news sites, e.g., Reuters, CNN, BBC, Financial Times, and The Guardian, and numerous popular scientific publications, such as Wired and Scientific American. Additionally, publications by universities and international research organisations, for example, World Economic Forum and OECD, are also included in this list. The team’s position is that from these sources the core of a change can not only be identified but also verified. Many internet-based, mainly ad-supported and freelance driven news distribution sites, such as Popular Mechanics or Interesting Engineering, are considered to be sufficiently reliable to be used as sources.
However, there are countless ad-supported news sites on the internet, and many of them are closer to a blog than a legitimate news channel. We are cautious when it comes to such sources since it is usually not possible to verify their real ownership structure or possible funding-related commitments from public sources. However, with some reservations, we consider multiple ad-funded news sites sufficiently credible. Also, from time to time, some channels which we find to be less reliable may prove to be suitable for providing some background or alternative opinions. For this reason, less reliable sources, such as popular publications, blogs, ads, or alternative media, may appear under the Additional information- heading, even though that space is mainly reserved for reliable and sufficiently credible sources dealing with the core of the phenomenon.
Fake news sources or state-sponsored propaganda channels are never accepted in the Additional information section of a phenomenon card. For example, in Wikipedia, there is a regularly updated list of fake news sites. However, if for some reason a fake news site appears as a source, we ask you to notify our team immediately: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 TIMELINE DECISIONS AND CHOICE OF PHENOMENA
The contents of phenomena on the radar have been created, placed on a timeline, and chosen from a greater database by the Futures Platform expert team. The chosen issues follow the team's view on the elements that might shape our societies in a significant fashion within a given timeline. For example, if a green dot is placed on the second ring (years 2022-2027) on the radar, the Futures Platform foresight team has assessed the significance of the phenomenon rises greatly in that time period. This does not mean that the issue or trend in question could not be clearly visible already prior to that time or that it could not continue to grow later. In other words, the placing of phenomena on the rings of the radar shows the point of time when the expert team expects it cause the most essential change.
3 EXPERTS IN THE CONTENT TEAM & CONTENT ADVISORY BOARD
The members Futures Platform’s foresight and content team either hold a doctoral degree or have graduated from master’s programs focusing on futures studies and foresight. The company also utilises a growing number of external foresight and core competence experts, who have been carefully selected to ensure comprehensive and high-quality information content.
The team is led by Dr Tuomo Kuosa, whose doctoral thesis (2009) addressed the question of how the methods of futures studies should be developed to better deal with the businesses’ challenges rising from the dynamic operational environment. Dr Kuosa is the author of several books and research articles concerning the development and utilisation of foresight methods. With 15 years’ experience working in the field of foresight, he has consulted various organisations in numerous countries.
The content team is also supported by the Content Advisory Board, which consists of internationally renowned top foresight experts. The team is in regular contact with the board regarding content-related strategic questions concerning the quantity and quality of the phenomena. The three permanent members of the board are professor Sohail Inayatullah, Gerard D. Drenth, and Dr John P. Geis. More information about persons central to the content creation can be found on our website.