Creating the future

I’m interested in large group meetings that help accelerate change and Future Search is an approach in which people from different organisations and communities come together on a difficult issue, or an area of potential growth and change, and develop a way forward together. Marvin Weisbord developed the approach with Sandra Janoff and it’s been used on issues as diverse as addressing affordable housing shortages in North America to child welfare in war torn Somalia.

I went to a 3-day simulation session in Chesterfield run by Sandra earlier this year. It was quite a revelatory experience. I saw first hand what it means to “hold the system up to itself” and the potential power of this approach to change – designed to make a difference in real time. Rather than coming together just to share understanding, the claim for this approach is that it leads to action across communities.

Our simulation involved the NHS and I “played” the part of a doctor – my brother is a consultant for real so I’ve heard him talk a lot about the challenges. It quickly became apparent across the room that different perspectives of staff, educationalists, policy makers and others create some of the problems that the NHS faces. We found ourselves mirroring what we hear and see in the media in the room. Furthermore, within areas of disagreement we found areas of common ground where people can make progress. I found myself getting quite emotional and had that “Aha” moment about how this approach to change could help unlock situations not just in the NHS but also in the corporate and charity sectors. It can help get the whole elephant in the room and help different groups recognize that some problems will never go away – they are just dilemmas that need to be managed and that it requires shifts from all stakeholders to make progress.

This is a good process for when people are stuck and looking for a shared vision and action, particularly if urgency is high. It’s especially useful if the stakeholders do not have other ways to meet and talk.

However, leaders need to be open to potentially creative solutions that may emerge; there is no point in adopting Future Search if one or other party is not open to possibilities.

Here is a link to the Future Search Network if you want to learn more:


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