Future Search in Education

Education may be the most difficult institution in our society in which to create intentional change. Administrators are constantly challenged by students, faculty, communities, public and private governing boards, unions, legislatures, courts and others to respond to a myriad of issues. Schools and Universities exist in a constantly changing environment, impacted by changing funding sources and priorities, changing curriculum needs, complex research priorities, and other conditions that require continual and immediate responses. And, people involved in education are deeply committed to meeting these challenges.

More information can be found in the book, Future Search in School District Change: Connection, Community, and Results.

Three Examples in Education:

There was never a school that needed to close the past and refocus on a bright future as much as Oak Hill Elementary School, Overland Park, KS, USA. Its history was filled with outstanding accomplishments, but a number of circumstances moved the school into near crisis. The Future Search process proved to be an amazingly effective vehicle, not just for celebrating the past, but helping the school community and staff develop a shared vision for the future. It brought real and lasting change in the form of significant program implementations, improved morale, increased dialogue and shared decision making. The principal, Dr. Sandra Chapman, reported, “No other initiative changed the culture and direction of the school and my ability to function as a leader in such a dramatic way.  It was successful in part because of the timing, but also because of the process of including the whole system in the room. Future Search is a positive, energizing and productive approach to dynamic leadership.” 

In Washington, DC, George Washington University’s School of Business and Public Management created a new vision for its undergraduate program that subsequently was endorsed by all necessary groups and committees on campus. Stakeholders present were: business and liberal arts faculty, parents, alumni, students, staff, administration, and business, non-profit and government employers. The Undergraduate Associate Dean noted after the meeting that the students really now feel they are a part of making things happen at the school.

In Storrs, Connecticut, The University of Connecticut’s Division of Student Affairs held a Future Search that produced seven organizing principles for future planning: building campus community, eliminating administrative barriers, supporting diversity, improving technology, promoting excellence, integrating in-and out-of-classroom student learning, and enhancing “town-gown” relationships. Following the Future Search, outcomes were “worked” at a division-wide retreat of nearly all of the division’s 500 employees and in a joint student affairs/academic affairs conference.

Slideshow: The Future of ICT in Yemeni Higher Education

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How Future Search Can Help Schools:

Future Search is effective in establishing shared, goals, standards, implementation strategies, or curriculum priorities. It can help departments, schools and communities develop and implement their mission. It is a powerful way to coordinate activities between departments, agencies or other service institutions. Future search creates a framework in which powerful conversations can occur among people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to talk together. In fact, Future Search is based on the belief that the more diverse the group, the more successful the gathering will be. For example, at a higher education Future Search, you might find yourself sitting in a circle with a junior and/or senior faculty member, a student, an auxiliary services administrator, a student affairs professional, a local employer, and a leader of the community.

Ways Future Search has been used in Education:

  • Build commitment in a school or program
  • Develop or implement curriculum
  • Build common ground among parents, teachers, students, community members and others in the school community
  • Support collaborative implementation of performance standards
  • Long range strategic planning
  • Respond to complex social, political and economic realities to achieve community-wide solutions.
  • Build stronger relationships with surrounding communities
  • Plan for administrative technology systems and infrastructure


Irvington, New Jersey, USA, Children Count: Together We Can Make a Difference
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) conducted a project in four Essex County, NJ towns (Newark, Orange, East Orange, and Irvington) to assess the quality of early care and education, to strengthen school readiness. In order to mobilize and include the missing voice of the Irvington community, NIEER Project Director organized a team of local stakeholders to develop a two-day community planning forum. This innovative, interactive conference harnessed the perspectives of multiple stakeholder groups in the community to address the need and desire for improving the quality of early childhood education in Irvington, New Jersey.

The Future of ICT in Yemeni Higher Education: Building a National Policy and Master Plan
The purpose of this Future Search was to build a shared vision on utilizing information and communication technology (ICT) resources for the 10 state universities and community colleges in Yemen and develop a national ICT policy and master plan. Stakeholder groups represented University/college vice chancellors, Government officials, Yemeni ICT experts, University/college administrators, University/college ICT managers, Library specialists, Academicians, Foreign (Dutch and Tanzanian) experts. Yemeni participants come from all over the country. A review of ICT initiatives in Yemen led to stakeholders voicing concern that the approach to ICT development had been haphazard and risking waste of investments, duplication of efforts, and other levels of inefficiencies. A shared commitment was made to strengthen the nation-wide capacity to plan for phased growth in ICT. (See slideshow above.)

Garvey School District Head Start, CA, USA
A Future Search was held to align the program for low-income preschool students and their families with national Head Start standards. A cross section of teachers, administrators, parents, higher education, school district, and social agency representatives participated. Outcomes: The plans were approved by State and National Head Start. Most of the action plans are now part of the ongoing work of the Garvey Head Start Agency.

Los Angeles County Office of Education Division of Student Support Services, CA, USA
A Future Search was held to enhance physical and mental health services, attendance, welfare and school safety support provided by the division to the 82 school districts of LA County. Participants included division staff and administrators, school nurses, counselors, attendance and welfare personnel, attorneys, and representative of other divisions of LACOE. Outcomes included plans improve education of the whole child, collaborations between agencies, technology communication systems, and data driven planning.

Shape the Future: A Toronto, Ontario, Canada District Quest to Support Student Success in Tomorrow’s Schools
The Toronto school board sponsored a two-and-a-half day, multi-stakeholder conference for to plan for a successful Toronto School District. The Future Search brought together a wide cross section of stakeholder groups, including students, staff, families, community and business. The group a vision for what it would take for students born at the time of the Future Search to feel proud of the education they receive in Toronto.

Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, CA, USA
A Future Search for the 15 year old school serving talented students from across Los Angeles County brought students, academic and arts teachers, administrators, parents, representatives from arts organizations, the university where the school is housed, and the L.A. County Office of Education together. Plans were made to better integrate arts disciplines, integrate the academics with the arts, expand facilities, and to increase foundation funding. The plan became part of the “Focus on Learning Accreditation” process. Students are now demonstrating very high achievement in academic and arts areas. Foundation funding has increased.

San Gabriel Unified School District, CA, USA
San Gabriel District held a Future Search to develop a plan for student physical and mental health in middle and high schools in partnership with the health department, police department, parks and recreation, city government, local hospitals, and social agencies. Students, teachers, administrators, board members, parents, and representatives of all the agencies attended. As a result, the school district was awarded a Healthy Start Grant from the California Departments of Health and Education to implement a Healthy Start Program in the district.

Novosibirsk, Siberia
Future Search titled “Leaders for Siberia in XXI century: Creation of the Leadership Development Institute” was held in Novosibirsk. Regional and city administration, NGOs, Siberian Academy for Public Administration (SAPA) faculty and administration, other educational institutions, business people and students came together to create the plan for a Leadership Development Institute. They created three joint stakeholder projects to take the Institute forward. Funded by SAPA.

Nizhnyi Novgorod, Siberia
Future Search was held titled “Business and Education in 2005”, a three-day event at the Nizhnyi-Novgorod Educational Fair sponsored by Vasilyi Kozlov, Director of the Fund of Management. Stakeholders were directors of business schools, faculty and trainers, suppliers, businesses as customers, students, specialists on marketing, personnel managers and recruiting agencies. They developed new strategies for business/education relationships.

Austin Community College, Austin, Texas, USA.
Six Future Searches were run at Austin Community College in a period of two and a half months. Five were run campus-wide, one at each of the five campuses at Austin Community College. The sixth was a capstone conference for the college as a whole. The stakeholders included students, staff, faculty, administration, institutional partners, governmental/regulatory Agencies, community connections, and business. The five campus conferences provided a detailed and invigorating picture of the potential futures of each of the individual campuses. The Capstone Conference pulled together the various visions and included new input focused at the institutional level. The validation of the earlier conferences occurred as hoped for and integrated the various strands of activities into a more comprehensive vision for the college.

First full Future Searches in Japan in Education, August, 2008
This Future Search was held at Ouji Junior High School in Nygoya Japan. Over 60 stakeholders, from students to the Superintendent of Education gathered. Very high energy and commitment. A second Future Search followed at Nissei High School of Maizuru City, Kyoto The first is a public school. The second is a Catholic High School. Here we had 80 stakeholders that represented the whole system. Both Future Searches were exciting meetings. Toshimitsu Tsumura and Kazu Nakamura, Department of Psychology & Human Relations, Graduate School of Humanity, Nanzan University, Nagoya, JAPAN

Future Search in Dar Es Salaam
A Future Search conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on the Future of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Secondary Schools in Tanzania. The conference bought together nine different stakeholder groups, including high school students, high ranking government officials, development partners, the private sector and secondary school principals and teachers amongst others to explore and strategize ways of implementing ICT initiatives in secondary education. The conference was sponsored by the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).