Chapter 1. Introduction – Our Emerging Foresight Field

Foresight Training Options

Today, most foresight professionals are trained informally, both on-the-job and via conferences, workshops, and in self-study. Our field attracts individuals with undergraduate or graduate degrees in business, engineering, statistics, economics, the social sciences, journalism, the humanities, and just about every other discipline on offer. Such diversity is central to foresight. No matter the academic subject, there are folks within it who are curious to look to and analyze the future.

Fortunately, some universities and a few educational startups, like Singularity University and our Foresight University, are starting to see the value of teaching foresight competencies and methods. There are now a small number of both residency-based and online foresight courses and certificate programs available to aspiring foresight professionals. There are also, by our count, twenty-three full-time graduate programs in primary foresight (MS and PhD programs) presently available globally.

U. Houston Foresight MS (since 1975)

U. Houston Foresight MS
(since 1975)

U. Hawaii Foresight MS and PhD (since 1976)

U. Hawaii Foresight
MS and PhD
(since 1976)

Our first two graduate programs in foresight emerged at the University of Houston, (MS only, since 1975) and the University of Hawaii—Manoa (MA and PhD, since 1976). In the forty years since, close to thirty additional MS and PhD programs in foresight have emerged globally, and the majority of these survive today. The strongest growth in foresight education, especially in certificate programs, has been in the last ten years.

Thirteen of these MS and PhD programs teach in English, and ten in other languages. English-language graduate foresight programs now exist in Australia (U. of Swinburne, unfortunately closing), Canada (Ontario College of Art and Design), Denmark (Aarhus U.), Malta (U. of Malta), Finland (Turku School of Economics), Germany (European Business School), Hungary (Corvinus U.), South Africa (U. of Stellenbosch), Taiwan (Tamkang U.), and the United States (California College of the Arts, U. of Houston, U. of Hawaii).

There are also non-English-language residency programs available in Colombia (EU Colombia) France (CNAM), Germany (Free U of Berlin), India (U Kerala), Iran (U Tehran), Italy (Leonardo Da Vinci U), Mexico (Monterrey IT), Portugal (U Lisbon), and Taiwan (Fo Guang). See FERN’s list of 23 primary (foresight-specialized) residency graduate programs, roughly 100 secondary (foresight-related) foresight graduate programs, and a smaller number of online, part-time secondary foresight grad programs at our online and community-editable directory of foresight resources,

As you can see in the World Map below, Asia, Africa, and Latin America need much more coverage!

World Map of Primary Foresight Graduate and Certificate Programs

World Map of Primary Foresight Graduate and Certificate Programs

Unfortunately, most universities don’t strongly support the concept of foresight education. These programs are typically underfunded and poorly marketed to prospective students, and their annual number of entrants is small. Universities will often terminate programs as soon as the faculty leader retires or gets ill, or even if student attendance drops for a few years. They rarely enable foresight faculty and students to offer their foresight methods throughout the university, as an internal client of the program, to facilitate better foresight thinking in all the academic domains.

Foresight faculty also deserve some blame for the immaturity of our field. Most foresight programs today teach only a small subset of the skills and methods we’ve described in the Guide. They don’t address all Four Domains of foresight (personal, organizational, global, and universal), and they teach only a small subset of Twenty Specialties we’ll introduce later in this chapter. Many programs are even imbalanced with respect to the Three Ps, neglecting many of the anticipation skills relevant to foresight (probable futures), and preferring to focus on its art (possible futures) or its politics (preferable futures).  Graduate foresight programs often don’t require basic scientific literacy of their students, or strong verbal and analytical skills, as prerequisites for entrants. Other serious academic disciplines have such prerequisites, and foresight needs them too. Successful new foresight programs will need higher entrance standards, to encompass more of the diversity of foresight practice, to require students to do valuable internships during their training, both for internal and external clients, and to do original research to validate, and improve our methods.

A good foresight program, whether graduate or certificate, should also be outcome evaluated. How did the program contribute to the future success of the student and her organization? Educator Donald Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Learning Evaluation is a great model for such work. Kirkpatrick was past president of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD). He recommends that learning programs evaluate themselves, and be externally evaluated, in the following four ways:

  1. Reaction. How did the student feel and think about the training? This should be quantified, by pre- and post-training surveys.
  2. Learning. What knowledge, skills, and attitude changes occurred? This should also be quantified, by pre- and post-training tests (and for attitudes, short-response questions).
  3. Behavior. How did student behavior change as a result of training? This evaluation should be done “on the job,” three to six months after training (observationally, assessing lasting change).
  4. ROI (Return on Investment). What were the useful results, as a function of effort and money invested? What changes in job performance (ability), reward (pay, reputation), or adaptiveness (success) occurred? How could the program improve its ROI in any of its specific results? Does any other program offer a better ROI, specifically or generally?

Levels three and four (Behavior and ROI) are best evaluated by those impacted by the training, for example, by a 360º performance evaluation, not by the trainers or the students themselves. If your learning program doesn’t do, and help its students initiate, these four kinds of evaluations, you can self-evaluate by asking yourself, your managers, and your direct reports these questions, during and after any training program. If you don’t like the answers, make changes until you do.

The value of most graduate foresight programs today comes not so much in the skills learned (which are usually rudimentary and incomplete, in our view) as it does in the reputation you’ll gain for treating foresight seriously, once you have the credential or degree, and in the lifelong connections you make to a community of other passionate and talented folks who also find themselves compelled to think about and improve the future. By testing your foresight methods, models, and insights against your colleagues, you will greatly improve them. As foresight is such an emergent field today, these programs work best for students who are self-starters, who are internally driven to better understand and guide change, and who enjoy working with a cognitively and skills-diverse community of visionary, critical and evidence-based colleagues. Each of us, individually, can only clearly see a small piece of what must and may lie ahead.

For our field to fulfill its tremendous potential we will also need many more MS and PhD graduates of our existing programs, and degree holders from other disciplines, to go out and start more training programs (graduate programs, certificates, and courses), both in universities and in entrepreneurial startups in coming years. The more good programs we have, the more powerful our profession becomes.

Don’t neglect getting a foresight education, if that is your interest or calling. We can all work in small ways to improve our field, both during our training and our careers. Foresight will continue to grow up in coming years, and its future is bright.

Showing 2 comments
  • Dr. Manal Al Hasawi

    Interested in bringing your training to Kuwait. Would like to be contacted by the appropriate person to discuss further

    • John Smart

      Thank you Manal. I will contact you shortly. Warm regards, John.

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