Association of Professional Futurists

FAQs about the Association of Professional Futurists

What is the APF?

The Association of Professional Futurists is a growing community of professional futurists, dedicated to demonstrating the value of futures thinking and promoting professional excellence.

Futurists work in global corporations, small businesses, consultancies, education, non-profits, and governments. The APF was founded in 2002 and now includes members from over 40 countries.

 

What is the history of the APF?

The APF was founded in 2002 by an informal network of professional futurists. A community of like-minded people saw the need to create a network to help advance the field. While the original convening conversation began in Houston, the first meeting took place in Seattle. Since then APF has hosted various gatherings in London, Melbourne, Capetown, San Francisco, and Toronto. We are now a worldwide group of foresight professionals including practitioners, academics, students, and organizations.

For more on APF’s founding history, see here.

What are the goals of the APF?

The APF has three main goals:

  1. Promote professional excellence in the field
  2. Grow the community of professional futurists
  3. Demonstrate the value of futures thinking.

APF promotes professional excellence in the field by developing standards, identifying best practices, and innovating new techniques for understanding the future. Professional Excellence includes:

  • Professional development
  • Sharing knowledge within the field
  • Identifying and promoting best practices
  • Developing standards for the field
  • Promoting professional ethics
  • Innovating new techniques.

APF develops the community of professional futurists by hosting member events and supporting an online community where futurists can exchange ideas and best practices. Our activities include:

  • Hosting an annual conference each year in a unique setting that applies cutting edge thinking to futures practice,
  • Supporting an online community on the APF listserv where futurists exchange ideas and best practices,
  • Publishing a monthly electronic newsletter called The Compass, and
  • Hosting professional development opportunities both face-to-face and in online webinars.

 

APF demonstrates the value of futures thinking by acting as an advocate for professional futurists, conducting media outreach and pointing people towards the resources that can best meet their needs. APF is demonstrating value by:

  • Acting as an advocate for professional futurists by promoting the profession and showing the value of futures thinking to those not familiar with it yet,
  • Conducting media outreach to help the media better understand what futures thinking is,
  • Connecting the media with futurists who are experts in specific subject areas,
  • Recognizing excellence through the Most Significant Futures Works and Student Awards programs,
  • Hosting speaker and consultant directories, and
  • Profiling members on our website.
What do you have to do to be in the APF?

Candidates for APF membership must be recommended by a member and meet two of six qualification criteria. More information is provided in the Membership section.

The six criteria include being employed as a consulting or organizational futurist, obtaining a Post-Graduate Degree in Futures Studies, or demonstrating competence in speaking, teaching, or writing. The criteria are as follows.

  • Consulting – Prospective member has consulted with a minimum of two clients in each of the last three years, or three clients within the last twelve months on engagements that employ the perspective and/or methodology of futures research. May be a sole practitioner or partner/staff in consultancy.
  • Organizational Function – Prospective member is in a position that regularly employs the perspective and/or methodology of futures research.
  • Post-Graduate Degree – Prospective member has earned a post-graduate degree in futures research, futures studies or a comparable field.
  • Speaking – Prospective member has delivered a minimum of two speeches or presentations on the future (paid or not) in each of the last three years, or three within the last twelve months. Each was given before an external audience.
  • Teaching – Prospective member currently teaches, or has taught, a course on the future or on futures theory – or methodology
  • Writing – Prospective member has published a minimum of three magazine or journal articles and/or one book that is/are about the future or futures theory – or methodology.

FAQs on the Futures Field

What is a futurist?
A professional futurist is a person who studies the future in order to help people understand, anticipate, prepare for and gain advantage from coming changes.  It is not the goal of a futurist to predict what will happen in the future.  The futurist uses foresight to describe what could happen in the future and, in some cases, what should happen in the future.

Most people use some sort of foresight all the time – something as simple as listening to the weather forecast to prepare for the next day. A professional futurist uses formal methods to develop descriptions of possible futures.  The output of a futures study may include the driving forces, assumptions, evidence or indicators of the futures.  A futurist is more likely to say how or why a future could appear rather than to say what the future will be.

One of the founding principles of the field of futures studies is the idea of personal and organizational choice.  Although the future is unknown, a person can identify possibilities, select the most favorable outcomes and attempt to influence events to create a desired future. 
 
By considering systems and human agency, futurists help identify choices that affect the future, for ourselves and future generations.
What do futurists do?

Futurists work in large and small businesses, governments and non-profits, as teachers or researchers in education, and as consultants or as permanent staff. Many futurists focus on one topic such as a technology or an industry. Other futurists study broad social changes or global problems. All futurists take a very wide view of the world in both scope and time. Futurists tend to take a much broader perspective, consider longer time horizons, and include many more factors in a study than analysts such as economists, technology specialists, social critics or political commentators.

A futurist’s analytical process falls into six general areas:

  • Framing – defining the focal issue and current conditions
  • Scanning – exploring signals of change and impacts
  • Futuring – identifying baseline and alternative futures
  • Visioning – committing to a preferred future
  • Designing – developing prototypes to enhance foresight
  • Adapting – generating strategies for alternative futures

Framing

Where do you begin?

A futurist usually does not set out to describe “The Future.” Generally a futurist is called upon to support a decision, solve a particular problem, adapt to a coming change, or identify paths toward innovation.

The foundation of a good futures project is the solid understanding of the present conditions and historical influences. A futurist describes a situation using a deliberate and structured method. This process includes the surface conditions of, for example, an industry, but the futurist also studies the goals and purposes behind the industry.

The framework of a futures study usually can include many different kinds of information:

  • Data-driven evidence like trend analysis and historical analysis
  • Descriptions of driving forces like a systems model
  • Mapping of influence networks, leaders or followers
  • Perspectives and visions of leaders and decision makers in the field
  • Current accepted expectations of the future of the field
  • Understanding the current conditions and the accepted assumptions about the field are key to opening the future.

Scanning

What is happening now? 

There are two types of scanning. The first is to study the broad trends shaping our world. Futurists use the acronym STEEP – for Society, Technology, Economic, Environmental, Political – to categorize information. The combination of STEEP trends paint a picture of the direction and the expectations of the future. Futurists use a very broad view of the world to help understand the interactions between events.

The second type of scanning looks for anomalies or unusual events that may provide an indication of change or a solid piece of evidence for an emerging trend, called weak signals.

Both types of scanning require futurists to be “information sponges.” Many futurists and organizations use structured methods of sorting and categorizing data to help sort useful information from noise.

Most get information from a wide variety of sources including newspapers, books, periodicals, scientific and trade journals, forecasts, interviews with subject matter experts, electronic media, arts and cultural trends, to name only a few. While most futurists scan broadly for background information, it is most effective when used in combination with a defined, focused framework.

Futuring

What are the possible futures?

For futurists, describing the future falls into two types of activities: forecasting and writing scenarios. The two are very different and it is important to understand why.

Forecasting describes how events may unfold. Everyone is familiar with a weather forecast. A futures forecast can take the form of a technology road map, a projection of a trend or a warning of an impending event. Although many futurists prefer to stay away from forecasting, we all do it to some extent. However, rather than predicting a single future, futurists consider multiple possible futures. A generally accepted forecast is called a probable or baseline future.

Another common description of the future for a futurist is a set of scenarios. A scenario is a description of how a future would turn out if a certain set of events or conditions happen. Scenarios are usually presented in a set of different possible futures where each scenario is based on different conditions. Back to the weather analogy: with no forecast I can still plan for multiple scenarios. For example, if it is sunny tomorrow, I will take a walk in the park. The second scenario: if it rains tomorrow, I will read a book. Scenarios are a way of describing a future so you can consider the consequences before an event happens. It may never happen – probably will never happen – but foresight will enable you to make better decisions.

Visioning

How does the future enhance our shared vision and mission?

Discovering what could happen in the future can be one of the most exciting parts of a futures study. Futurists use a wide range of techniques to imagine what could be possible.

One way to find out about future possibilities is to ask people. Futurists use a number of techniques to ask people about their ideas and dreams of the future. The methods range from structured surveys of experts, to workshops, to informal interviews. Another way to explore the future is to look deep within oneself. By directed visualization, a person can become immersed in a future and “see” details that may have otherwise been overlooked.

Visioning is used to discover new opportunities, open and expand the range of possibilities, survey a full range potential futures and explore the future, but it also leads to a goal.

From the discoveries about the future, the final step is to select from all the possibilities what is the most plausible and what is most desirable. The purpose of many visioning exercises can be to get a detailed description of what the most appealing future would look like. From the vision, we can begin to understand how to move toward that future.

Designing

How can people tangibly experience what is to come?

Futurists use design to develop prototypes, offerings or artifacts that enable people to experience alternative futures. These may be multi-player simulations, or immersive environments. Under designing, futurists must facilitate learning through interpersonal and experiential events.

By creating group activities that let participants interact future issues, artifacts or offerings, people cultivate “memories” of expected, alternative and surprise futures.

All of the methods, techniques and processes that a professional futurist employs are intended to improve our understanding of what needs to be done today. Many times a final product of a futures project is not important. The key outcome is that during the process of exploring the future, participants are deeply engaged and become aware of how to see the future for themselves.

Adapting

How can we generate options in view of what the future might bring?

Futurists often work with leadership to test strategic plans against possible futures. Foresight precedes strategy to shape its formulation. This can help enterprises adapt to emerging change as plans are implemented. Futurists are often called upon to communicate alternative futures, vision, goals, and strategic options to capture stakeholder attention and influence their actions.

This may involve supporting efforts to benchmark the present state, and reach toward goals, with appropriate strategies, options, tactics, and actions. Perhaps the most important step of adapting is to be able to plot a course to get from the present to the future you desire. If you come to a preferred vision of the future you can work back to the present by “backcasting” to identify steps that must take place to get there.

Once you have an idea of what needs to happen, you can begin to plan how to make each step along the way take you in the right direction. It also might mean monitoring indicators or precursors to indicate how uncertainty is resolving to move toward specific scenarios.

What titles do futurists use?

Our members use different titles: professional futurists, strategic foresight professionals, change strategists, technological futurists, foresight practitioners, innovation managers. However, we all share certain methods: scenarios, complexity, emerging futures, horizon scanning, alternative futures, and visioning, to name a few.

How does one become a futurist?

Many become futurists by learning on the job and through professional development, frequently with deep knowledge in another field or discipline. Others become futurists by earning a graduate degree in futures studies in one of the dozen graduate degree programs worldwide, and apprenticing with professional futurists.

What all foresight professionals in APF share is a working knowledge of futures concepts, tools and methods, drawn from the literature. They participate in futures professional development, conferences, and industry foresight networks.

What are some of the main organizations involved with the future?
  • Association of Professional Futurists (2002) – enhances competencies of those who work the future.
  • Millennium Project (1996) – national “nodes” across the globe that produce an annual State of the Future report and sponsor a World Future Day.
  • World Futures Studies Federation (1971) – international group of academics who advance futures research
  • World Future Society (1967) – was the first organization to popularize the future through publications and summits.
What is the history of the field?

The contemporary practice of futures studies emerged during the second half of the twentieth century as two parallel American and European strands.

In the US, the formal study of the future began after World War II when Herman Kahn of RAND started using scenarios to explore the consequences of nuclear war. He found scenarios to be a useful tool for enabling people to “Think the Unthinkable.” In Europe, Bertrand de Jouvenal’s Art of Conjecture was a key development in the emergence of futures studies. In France, Gaston Berger founded the Centre International de Prospective and the important journal entitled Prospective. Practitioners such as Robert Jungk began to conduct “future workshops.”

The 1960s saw the emergence of several consulting firms and think tanks devoted to futures studies plus the formation of the World Future Society. De Jouvenal founded the Association Internationale de Futuribles Association and the journal Futuribles in France. Kahn went on to found the Hudson Institute, and other RAND analysts, such as Olaf Helmer and Ted Gordon, went on to develop the Delphi method and helped Roy Amara start the Institute for the Future, with Gordon later forming The Futures Group. SRI became a focal point of futures research under the guidance of Willis Harman in the 1960s. The Institute for Alternative Futures was later launched in the 1970s by Clem Bezold with help from Alvin Toffler and James Dator.

Royal Dutch Shell became the most recognized corporate practitioner of futures studies in the 1970s, using scenarios under the guidance of Pierre Wack, who learned/borrowed the technique from Herman Kahn. Shell later produced several leading “second generation futurists,” such as Peter Schwartz, who went on with colleagues, such as Jay Ogilvy and Stewart Brand, to start Global Business Network in 1987. By the mid-’80s, Oliver Markley invited Peter Bishop to teach Futures Studies at the University of Houston, which further strengthened professional futures work.

Since these first generations futures work has spread beyond its roots in Europe and the US to embody a global movement today with third and fourth generation academics and researchers such as Riel Miller or Sohail Inayatullah with UNESCO, to practitioners such as Wendy Schultz or Stuart Candy. Estimates range from 5,000 to 15,000 practitioners, depending on how one counts. Today, APF has 400 members and is the leading association where foresight professionals meet and work together to advance professional excellence in the field.

This section, in part, was adapted from Wendell Bell’s two volume set The Foundation of Futures Studies: Human Science for a New Era (1997) and Richard Slaughter’s CD-ROM series The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, vols 1-4: Millennium Edition (2001).