Future Search in Communities and Human Services 

Community is critical to our personal and social well-being, yet, there is often too little funding. For example, after school activities, youth and family centers, clubs and other youth activities, which in earlier decades were a part of life for the average citizen, are often available only to the wealthiest communities.  Over the past few years, many Human Service agencies have taken on the role of supporting communities with the purpose of engaging clients, service providers, funders, business partners, community members and regulators in building partnerships for more efficient, effective and sustainable delivery systems. Many have discovered Future Search as the community building process that helps people take control of their future, overcome conflicts and cynicism, pull together to realize common dreams and build a meaningful life for themselves. 

One Example:

Lack of affordable housing in many communities combined with escalating prices of middle income homes makes housing a chronic problem. While there are new models in the wings, such as community land trusts, implementing a new model is difficult. It requires bringing together all the parties — public and private funders, regulators, interested community groups, residents, housing developers, non-profits. This is a major challenge for communities or agencies trying to effectively implement a housing program that draws broad support and truly meets a communities housing needs. Here is an example of how these communities faced their housing challenges.

The Future of Affordable Housing in Scottsdale Arizona

In this rapidly growing, upscale community, local teachers, police, and civil servants could not afford to live where they work. The housing crisis raised many fears. As one community member put it, “I’m concerned that our children will not have the opportunity to choose to live in this community after they grow up.” Another said, “Seniors might have to move because of rising prices and taxes and fixed incomes.”

The community, divided over the issue of housing, decided to see what a Future Search could do. “We chose Future Search as a proactive way to involve citizens in the housing issue.” Positive benefits that resulted from the Scottsdale Future Search included a general community awareness of the complexities of Scottsdale’s housing shortage, and a level of citizen activity around housing that Scottsdale had never witnessed before. Participants joined action groups which included:  Public outreach to educate the community on the concept of affordable housing, Analysis of current policies having an impact on housing affordability with the intention to update the general plan to reflect meaningful principles and incentives, and a nonprofit to focus on improving the health and vitality of its low-income neighborhoods.

Brian Swanton, Housing Development Manager reported, “Several months after the Future Search, I began seeing advocates for the housing issue agree with “subsidized” housings’ greatest critics, and vice versa. It turned out that neither side really had a disagreement about the end product. They simply disagreed on the road that would take them there.”

Note: In Santa Cruz, California citizens with the same issues and frustrations also held a Future Search on housing.  Their outcomes included: A $10,000 rental assistance fund for local Families in Transition program, A fund raising effort to increase the farm-worker loan fund from $250,000 to $350,000, and $5.5,000,000 to fund a 36 unit, low-income housing project. Their story is documented in a FSN video

Video: A Future Search on housing, Santa Cruz, California

“For me, did the Future Search work? No question about it. It provided a living model of democracy.”
– Tony Hill, Community resident, Santa Cruz

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How Future Search can help improve Communities and Human Services:

  • Planning for and meeting housing needs 
  • Building a shared vision for a neighborhood or community
  • Collaboratively addressing issues such as the needs of children and adults, public safety, community or economic development, homelessness, drugs and drug abuse, etc.
  • Re-vitalizing a neighborhood organization
  • Planning for emergency preparation
  • Dealing with issues related to education
  • Building community capacity
  • Creating integrated service systems 
  • Implementing client-based service delivery models
  • Strengthening partnerships among agencies and community


Children infected with AIDS in Tanzania
Africa Bridge, a non-profit, whose mission is to nurture and inspire leaders in their struggle against HIV/AIDS in Africa, ran a series of Future Searches in the community of Idweli in SW Tanzania. The focus was a brighter future for the children of Idweli who are infected with or impacted by HIV/AIDS. The first FS was for the children ages 6-25. The second FS included the children with a broad representation of community leadership. As a result of this work, the community has received funding from the Paul Newman Foundation of $10,000 to begin work on a center for AIDS and other orphans.

Seattle Human Services Coalition, King County, WA. USA
Two umbrella agencies sponsored a Future Search to meet basic human needs and eliminate institutional racism in the Human Services system.  This conference included all the community as well as a participant who was homeless.  Onsite child care met the needs of the single mothers who came to the meeting. The three days enabled leaders and residents of King County to face their profound issues in a setting of dialogue and discovery. As a result, committees of providers, funders and community members started working immediately on new advocacy efforts that included changing their own policies.

A Search for World Class Communities – Berrien County, Southwest Michigan
The Council for World Class Communities invited a group of 30 Future Search Network members to facilitate a series of eight Future Searches in Berrien County Michigan. The work was part of a larger project to heal the wounds and tensions between the communities of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, while engaging communities in the whole region in implementing a shared future for the region. The theme for the project was: Creating a set of interdependent world-class communities where diversity and inclusion are the foundation, and no one will be left behind. The Future Searches brought together people from both St. Joseph’s and Benton Harbor to create their future for education, healthcare, government, faith community and economic development. With the support of the Whirlpool Foundation, the economy of Benton Harbor shifted from decline to growth and the residents of both communities continue to collaborate to create dramatic shifts in their commitment to the region. 

Planning that Empowers, Leon, Nicaragua
The Leon Accessibility Project planning process initiated by the US Polus Center and its local sponsoring prosthetic clinic, Walking Unidos, used Future Search to bring stakeholders together with the goal of making Leon, Nicaragua a “City Accessible to Everyone.” The sponsor elected to use Future Search as part of their planning process, because of its alignment with the organization’s commitment to empowerment and self-sufficiency.

Campo de Gibraltar County, Spain
FS was used for devising a holistic development plan for economic growth involving social and economic partners in town councils and County Council. Agreements were achieved around projects in the environmental and employment sector. There were also initiatives to foster small and medium-sized companies, where a high percentage of the economy in this county (south of Spain) runs on these small enterprises.

Novosibirsk, Siberia
Future Search titled “Women – Leaders of Siberia: Strategies for Collaboration” was part of The Connective Leadership Project. Participants were women from 4 Siberian regions; leaders of NGOs, administration, business, education, crisis centers, students. Together, they built a common ground for cooperation and created 6 joint projects. Printed report was distributed to participants at a follow-up presentation two month later. Several participants were selected to go to the USA for training to develop their projects. Several women participated in a training on lobbying Women’s Issues in State Duma in Moscow.  They also established Siberian Coalition of Women’s NGOs for lobbying of women’s issues. Funded by grant from Bureao.