Futures … and Humanitarian Futures

There is a growing community of people and institutions that engage in ‘futures’ analysis.  Isn’t this community just a dressed-up version of fortune-telling?  Perhaps.  What could be different from Nostradamus‘ approach however, is that futures techniques imply a new relationship with time, agency, and fate. Path dependence for the futures-oriented strategist means: the options you have in the future will be based on the choices you make in the present.  For humanitarian organisations, the rationale goes like this: future ability to save lives and alleviate suffering will be based, in part, on choices made today.

This community has a wide range of interests.  Some are concerned with trends in the future of human civilisation, or the transition to a globalised era, others about forecasting for commercial and public policy applications, or building expertise and providing consultant services in the use of futures techniques.  More links are available on the Humanitarian Futures Programme

It is paradoxical to consider why so little of these techniques and perspectives are in use by humanitarians.  There are few ‘translators’ of this stuff to the humanitarian mindset.   Global Dashboard touches on some issues, and Alex Evans has made some terrific points about the reslience of the international humanitarian system.  Other than Ambiguity and Change, and the IFRC internal ten-year strategy initiatives (apparently there is a facebook site for the new strategy 2020), there seems little out there.

Why is the future such a hard sell to humanitarians?


One Response to Futures … and Humanitarian Futures

  1. noahraford says:

    Great question Sean. I wonder, is the future any more of a hard sell to humanitarians than to other organizations? Prof. Alan Strathman has been doing research into “Considerations of Future Consequences” (CFC) and has developed a scale to measure the impact of immediate versus distant consequences. As expected, most people value distant consequences less than immediate ones, even if they’re almost guaranteed! Smoking cigarettes is a good example. Maybe the future is just a hard sell, plain and simple! But perhaps there is something inherently reactive to current humanitarian efforts that makes it particularly difficult?

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