Book review: Future Search

The ‘Complete Guide’ on how to conduct a Future Search, including its history, principles, planning steps, lots of examples and in the appendix even a step-by-step facilitator guide with worksheets and all.
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Dec 15, 2022

‘Future Search. Getting the Whole System in the Room for Vision, Commitment and Action’ (Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff)

Book review by Petra de Boer

I bought this book in September 2011, as part of the Future Search training in Noordwijk. The training was hosted by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff, the developers of the methodology themselves. Han Rakels – at the time an independent facilitator, now colleague – had lured me into participating in the training, as we were preparing a Future Search conference on the socio-economic future of South-Limburg. For me this eventually led to a major career shift, away from classic communications towards dialogue-based facilitation. 

I’ll save you the details of my shift. What I’d like to share with you is how I’ve been referring to this Future Search bible ever since. 

Queen of the large scale interventions

Future Search is the so-called queen amongst the large scale interventions methods. It is a philosophy and a method that enables stakeholders around a shared challenge to discover what binds them, create a shared vision for the future and design and implement mutually reinforcing actions. According to the back cover:

“Future Search is among the best-established and most effective methods for enabling people to make and implement ambitious plans. It has been used to redesign IKEA’s product pipeline in Sweden, develop an integrated economic development plan in Northern Ireland, and demobilize child soldiers in South Sudan. Written by the originators, this book is the most up-to-date account of this powerful change method.”

I have read the book once from front to back, but this was already back in 2011. Since then I think I have picked it up at least once a month, when preparing large dialogue processes or smaller scale interventions. 

Foundation for all interactive processes

Future Search is a ‘complete’ method, because the flow is so ingeniously designed. It takes stakeholders around a shared challenge, from the past, via the present to the future and common ground, to end up with broadly supported action plans. The sequence of carefully crafted relatively short tasks, enables stakeholders to look at their own system and take responsibility for action.  

I’ve designed and facilitated several Future Search processes and have also used elements of Future Search in many other dialogue designs. Moreover, the principles of Future Search have become the foundation for almost all interactive processes that I have facilitated over the past ten years

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