What We Do
IFTF has pioneered tools and methods for building foresight ever since its founding days. Co-founder Olaf Helmer was the inventor of the Delphi Method, and early projects developed cross-impact analysis and scenario tools. Today, IFTF is methodologically agnostic, with a brimming toolkit that includes the following favorites:
Ethnographic Foresight: Themes That Matter
IFTF was an early leader in using ethnographic observation and interviews to go beyond the obvious and uncover the hidden meanings of emerging tools and practices. We anticipated many of the themes that shaped the diffusion of computing and the Internet into homes of people all over the world. Early on, we recognized from in-home interviews the importance of personal health ecologies that have come to define the broad consumer health economy of today. Several of our staff are trained in anthropology, and we collaborate regularly with Jan English-Lueck and the Department of Anthropology at San Jose State University to build a global database of ethnographic observations.
Signals-Based Forecasting: The Future in the Present
In a time of rapid innovation, signals of change are all around us. The challenge is to see the big future trends that emerge from these “weak signals.” To discern these larger patterns, we need frameworks. These frameworks help us collate and categorize signals. For example, a recent Catalysts for Change project for the Rockefeller Foundation used a four-catalyst framework of new evidence, new capacities, new rules, and new stories. Another, Internet human|human Internet, developed a framework of four Internet capacities—to flow, to sense, to control, and to emerge—to interpret the multitude of signals that are likely to shape the future relationship between this vast technological network and its users. These kinds of frameworks and the signals that bring them to life can be used to create maps that make sense out complex horizons of human, technological, and environmental futures.
Expert Voices: Aggregated Visions
Experts have a very special part to play in envisioning the various futures that might shape our lives in ten to twenty years. They have depth of understanding and experience in the many substrates of the future: technology, medicine, science, finance, environment, and even religion. Among our favorite experts are those we call “practical visionaries.” These are people who are working in the trenches to make a new future, drawing on visions that stem from—and, in turn, shape—their practical innovations. We may interview experts individually or bring them together for a day or longer to help them think together and construct shared scenarios from their divergent viewpoints.
Designing the Future: The Human-Futures Interface
Just as we need a human-computer interface to tap the power of computing in everything from our phones to our thermostats, we need a human-future interface to tap into the power of the future to help us make decisions today. At IFTF, we are working to create this interface by designing artifacts and experiences that let us experience the future viscerally in the present. These design projects demand more than just the “facts” about the future. They require us to imagine new ways that the familiar objects of our daily life will be reinvented to adapt to futures that may be entirely unfamiliar. It’s this dissonance between the familiar and the unexpected that opens our minds to possibilities we have only begun to envision.