1. Who has used Future Search?

Since 1991, Future Search has been used in thousands of communities, organizations and businesses all over the world.  People discover that Future Search is accessible, affordable, effective and bridges race, gender, age, class and other demographic factors.

2. How much time does it take to plan a Future Search?

Three months is an optimal minimum to get it on everyone’s calendars. The most important tasks for a Planning Team is to clarify the Task (the purpose) of the Future Search and identify the stakeholders needed to ensure that we can accomplish the task. We devised the acronym ARE IN to assure that the “right people are in the room.”  

The planners invite people so that collectively we have the AUTHORITY, RESOURCES, EXPERTISE, INFORMATION AND NEED without having to ask permission from anyone who isn’t there. This insures people have a voice as well as an opportunity to listen to other perspectives.

Getting full participation and ownership from the outset speeds up planning and implementation at every level and every stage. The Planning Team also decides the dates and deals with the details of holding the 2 1/2 day meeting.  

Allow time to make contacts, print up participant manuals, arrange for the facilities, order food, and acquire other supplies.

The Future Search will be held for 18 hours over 3 days, usually beginning on the afternoon of the first day and ending mid-day on the third day.

3. How will we get people to attend a 2 1/2 day meeting? It is difficult for us to get good attendance at a 3 hour meeting.

Experience shows that when the purpose is clear and those invited have a stake in the outcome, these meetings are well attended and people stay the whole time. Members of the Planning Team often make personal contact with invitees, explaining the process and soliciting a commitment to full attendance. In addition, we find that people are often more willing to commit to a longer meeting they believe will have real results, than a shorter meeting that have been a waste of their time.  In this process participants achieve four outputs — shared values, a plan for the future, concrete goals, and an implementation strategy. We call this a “two sleep” meeting, which allows for much needed soak-time. It is a huge commitment, but the aim is to transform the organization or issue for action. 

It also depends on how you look at it. Many organizations working on long range plans, or a strategy to create fundamental change find they are spending 4-8 hours a month in various meetings related to the topic, and keep meeting for months without closure. A Future Search gets everyone involved in making and implementing the plan together for one concentrated period. Rather than months from now, your organization is ready to take action right away.

4. How does Future Search deal with disagreements and diverse ways of looking at life?

Future Search is designed to bring people together to discover what they agree upon. Differences are noted but not worked. People speak fully about what they believe rather than putting others down. Participants find it a wonderful experience to be able to speak and listen in an environment that values each idea. We find that many organizations spend 80% of their time talking about the 20% of things they disagree about. Future search brings this ratio more into alignment.

Future Search starts by giving everyone a chance to tell their stories and to talk about what is most important to them. Participants tell what past experiences have formed their beliefs, how they feel about what is going on in the world today and what they hope for in the years to come. From this foundation, the community or organization identifies commonalties shared across their diverse perspectives. Participants work together to clarify what they share in common and where they disagree or feel in conflict. Then the group identifies ways they can forward together. One outcome of Future Search is a set of shared parameters, which can be used to evaluate controversial issues. The process has been used with great success in communities with a history of conflict.

5. Does this process work with employees with all levels of organizational skills, understanding and education?

Yes. This has been proven over and over. Actually, the people closest to the work often have profound information to share with leadership. Education and literacy levels are irrelevant to the success of the conference.  Many participants discover that their pre-conceptions about each other are inaccurate and that there is a much deeper understanding of what is going on in the organization at all levels.  Sometimes the people at the top have less information than they think.

People need only show up and use the skills, experience and motivation they already have. People accomplish what they already want to do and never dreamed they could. Future Search allows people to work through the issues that stand in the way of implementing their own hopes and dreams.

6. Who is included in a Future Search?

During the recruiting phase, the Planning Team identifies a broad cross section of stakeholders from the “whole system” to create a microcosm of the entire system. This process builds deep buy-in and ownership; volunteers and leaders emerge, and longtime leaders are re-energized.

7. Will a Future Search get us out of planning and into action?

Most definitely. One of the keys to the Future Search methodology is that it does not stop with the vision, it goes the next step to action. The nitty-gritty work begins immediately following the conference. It is important to make an adequate commitment of staff time to the outcomes. Planners can build in these kinds of supports for action coming out of the process. If each action plan group can commit enough time immediately following the Future Search, a lot can be accomplished quickly. If it is strung out over a number of months it will be less effective. One approach is for each action group to hold smaller versions of the Future Search in order to generate continued common focus. Follow-up for the Future Search is flexible depending on the complexity of the outcomes. Review Meetings are often held to revisit action outcomes 6 – 9 months after the conference. 

8. How do we reconcile this process with the way we normally make decisions?

Future Search has fewer steps and is easier to implement. It is more supportive of full participation than other processes that are strung out over time and may have inconsistent participation. Clustering of times is an enormous asset of Future Search. Future Search creates a strong commitment to issues and outcomes because all participants are present for all activities.

Future Search does not set aside existing process or leadership roles but invites others into the process of building a common vision and committing to making it happen. Information is brought to the process by including people with the information that is needed to accomplish the Future Search task. Broad participation and buy-in results in outcomes that are generally easy to integrate into traditional systems of leadership or governance.

9. If we invite participants, the Future Search may be seen as an exclusive meeting. We are used to having open meetings where everyone is welcome.

The reason we invite people is to make sure that a cross section of the community is present, not for the purpose of excluding anyone. Sometimes, where an open meeting format is important, the Planning Team will put out an open invitation to the entire community, setting a deadline for responding. After that deadline, the team will review the lists of attendees, identify any missing voices and invite them also. The main purpose is to get both the usual people and the not-so-usual people to the meeting.

10. What if the group comes up with ideas I can't live with? I want to be able to approve all actions after the conference.

It is up to you to set the parameters of influence up front.  A Future Search can give participants a range of influence from full planning and implementation authority to playing an advisory role.  In this way, Future Search doesn’t inherently challenge the culture of an organization.  At the same time, through entering into a Future Search process, many businesses have discovered that too much top down control may have been stifling an organization.  A Future Search can change this, giving authority to those who understand the company at each level of operation, and recruiting employees at all levels as agents of change. This can build employee ownership, customer loyalty and other factors that have a long term positive effects on a business or organization. In addition, you will be one of the participants.  During the Future Search, only decisions supported by everyone present will be accepted as part of the output of the conference.

It is many leaders’ fear that the group will go off in a completely different direction. That rarely happens. If you have a high need to control the outcomes of the conference, Future Search may not be for you. If you want effective and long-lasting results, it is important that you, as the leader, support the work product of the Future Search. This means allocating resources to support the outcomes, keeping people informed of progress toward the goals and continuing to speak to and reinforce the shared vision.

11. Anything we decide can be changed or ignored by our elected officials.

This may be true. However, because elected officials are included as participants, they will already be part of the outcome. If they feel threatened by the process it could make things difficult, but the most common scenario is that once the official is educated and understands the Future Search principles, they get behind it. They will have the same buy-in and understanding as other participants and will be able to represent the outcome to their colleagues. In addition, we ask participants to choose actions they are ready, willing and able to make happen. The process is not about making recommendations to others. It is about empowerment and capacity building.

In some places that have public meeting requirements, these requirements fall away if no more than two members participate. A number of creative solutions have been found when it is important to have more than two members attend. One such solutions is to assign staff to welcome members of the public, tell them what is going on, give them a place to sit and observe and give them a time each day when they can say something. This has been found to provide minimum disruption to the conference.

12. Will we have to air our "dirty laundry" in front of customers.

Chances are that your customers are dealing with many of the same issues you are: tight delivery requirements, workforce issues, environmental regulations, changing markets and quality problems. They are very likely to relate to your problems. And, very likely, they already know your problems. Our experience has been that customers appreciate being in on the conversation and will be more impressed with your proactive attempt to chart your future than they are concerned about real-life problems you might be having. As your customers see you changing in ways to better support their business requirements, they will be thankful for having been invited into the conversation.

13. How can we keep down costs?

Use public facilities rather than hotels. Get food services to cater meals. Get volunteer to help with logistics. 

14. Where should a Future Search conference held?

While it is good to be physically and mentally away from everyday activities, each organization or community has to decide what is right for them.  It is not a basic requirement to be away. Any room that meets the basic criteria for the Future Search can be used. Most important is a room with wall space for the time lines and mind map and windows for natural light!!! 

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