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Assessing the future of futures studies in management Jan Oliver Schwarz PII: DOI: Reference: To appear in: S0016-3287(07)00107-3 doi:10.1016/j.futures.2007.08.018 JFTR 1215 Futures
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Cite this article as: Jan Oliver Schwarz, Assessing the future of futures studies in management, Futures (2007), doi:10.1016/j.futures.2007.08.018 This is a PDF le of an unedited manuscript that has been accepted for publication. As a service to our customers we are providing this early version of the manuscript. The manuscript will undergo copyediting, typesetting, and review of the resulting galley proof before it is published in its nal citable form. Please note that during the production process errors may be discovered which could affect the content, and all legal disclaimers that apply to the journal pertain.

Assessing the future of futures studies in management Jan Oliver Schwarz* The Berlin University of the Arts Strategic Communication and Planning Adelheidstr. 34; 80796 Mnchen; Germany

Abstract It can be observed that a growing number of German corporations are using futures studies and its methods in various ways. This evidence suggests that there is a strong ongoing interest in the field of management in futures studies. To assess how the future of futures studies might look like a Delphi study was carried out. The experts in this Delphi study were asked not only to state how futures studies are used in corporations but also what futures studies need to accomplish in order to find more acceptance.

The Delphi study suggests that futures studies will become more important in German corporations. In particular the improvement of methods like environmental scanning, trend research, trend monitoring, strategic early warning and the scenario technique were suggested. While the results of the Delphi study do not suggest that new methods are needed, implementation remains a major concern.

*Tel.: +49(0)-89-97895072; Fax: +49(0)-89-97895073; Email: mail@joschwarz.com

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1. Introduction After the original evolvement of futures studies in the 1950s, which happened primarily in the governmental field, futures studies are today experiencing a growing importance in

corporations [1,2]. Royal Dutch Shell started out using the scenario technique in its planning process in the 1970s [3,4]. In the USA there seems to be contradictory evidence about the role of futures studies. Will it increase in importance [5] or will it decrease? Peter Schwartz [6] mentioned in an interview, that its role has already decreased in the past. Currently a growing number of corporations in Germany [7,8] are employing futurists. They are using the methods of futures studies, and are establishing future oriented think-tanks. There is a strong ongoing interest in that field, especially when it comes to management. This is not only reflected by the increase of corporate activities and an increase in the number of consultancies and think-tanks, but also by the increasing numbers of conferences on futures studies in Germany. This trend is underlined by various publications which urge corporations to develop foresight [9,10]. One of the most prominent authors being Garry Hamel and C. K. Prahalad [11]. How will futures studies evolve in German corporations? How can the demand for futurists be assessed and how can future fields of research be determined? The Delphi technique can answer some of these questions. The Delphi technique has the advantage that it avoids uncontrolled psychological interferences among the experts by making direct interactions impossible. Unfortunately there is very little literature on the usage of futures studies in German corporations which makes the Delphi techniques all the more suitable, it is recognized for being applicable when a question shall be answered which lies in the future.

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2. Futures studies and management 2.1 Futures studies To find a clear and commonly shared definition of futures studies is not possible. This article considers future studies in a corporate context, as an activity aimed at supporting strategic future oriented action [8]. In order to set a frame of reference for the Delphi study, considering the various methods of futures studies is important. When reviewing the literature [12,13,14,15,16,17,18] three methods can be identified: the Delphi technique, the scenario technique, and forecasting, understanding forecasting in a corporate context primarily as quantitative (business) forecasting. Strategic early warning systems, which are rooted in Ansoffs [19] concept of strategic issue management, play a significant role in Germany. Masini [15], May [16], and Lindgren and Bandhold [20] state that issue management is a method of futures studies. This study also covers methods of simulation and gaming and also techniques which foster creative thinking about the future. This selection reflects those methods of futures studies which are used in German corporations, as laid out in a study of the future consultancy Z_punkt [8]. These different methods will be discussed briefly.

2.1.1 Quantitative forecasting

The aim of quantitative forecasting, especially in an organizational context, is to help decision makers to make the best possible decision about future events [21]. The method of quantitative forecasting relies primarily on the technique of extrapolating data and trends. The basic assumption is that the past is the prologue for the future [22,23] assuming further that the environment of an organization will not change significantly [24].

2.1.2 Simulation and gaming Simulation and gaming are terms that are used to describe variants of a similar principle. Both methods can be perceived as being decision-aiding technologies involving mathematical modelling. Gaming is rooted in the game theory which is a mathematical theory dealing with abstract competitive situations involving players, moves and payoffs. Simulation, in contrast to the game theory, is an activity which sets out, after constructing a model of reality, to observe how the entities represented in the model react to player interventions [14].

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2.1.3 Delphi technique


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The Delphi technique was one of the spin-offs of defence research [25]. It was developed by Olaf Helmer and Norman Dalkey in 1953 [14] at the RAND Corporation with the aim of improving the use of expert opinion in policy-making. The core of the Delphi technique is that a pool of experts deals with a certain problem that lies in the future. During this process the experts do not have any contact with each other; their opinions are submitted by questionnaires. In evaluating the questionnaires the goal is to achieve a consensus between the varying opinions.

2.1.4 Scenario technique

The development of the scenario technique reaches back to the 1950s when Herman Kahn of the RAND Corporation [26] and his colleague, Anthony J. Wiener, established the scenario writing technique. In the 1970s Royal Dutch/Shell developed the scenario technique further into what is nowadays known as scenario planning, connecting the scenario technique with strategic planning [27]. In contrast to scenario writing, scenario planning is more a qualitative method which relies on a process conducted by the management of an organization rather than by scenario experts [28]. The main aim of scenarios is to identify existing trends and key uncertainties and combine them in pictures of the future, not covering all eventualities but discovering the boundaries of future outcomes [29]. Most importantly, scenarios should cover generically different futures rather than variations of one of them [30], thinking about the unthinkable.

2.1.5 Issue management and strategic early warning The purpose of issue management is first to identify and monitor social, technological, political and economic forces and trends, then to interpret and define implications and opinions and finally to set strategic action in order to deal with the situation [15]. These thoughts have been incorporated in Germany in the concept of Strategische Frhaufklrung (strategic early warning). The underlying assumption is that discontinuities do not emerge without a warning [31]. These warning signs can be described as weak signals. The concept of weak signals [32] aims at early detection of those signals which could lead to strategic surprises and to an event which has the potential to jeopardise an organizations strategy. Detecting weak signals is achieved by scanning the organizations environment. The concept of environmental scanning [33] describes a process whereby the environment in which an organization operates is
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systematically scanned for relevant information. The purpose is to identify early signals of possible environmental change and to detect environmental change already underway [34].

2.1.6 Creativity Under the heading of creativity all those methods are summarized which foster creative thinking about the future. In particular the brainstorming technique is suitable to deal or think about the future [35,16,8]. Another creativity technique in futures studies is the future workshop designed by Robert Jungk [16,18]. Using these techniques can become important for instance in conducting a scenario exercise [18].

2.2 Futures studies and management

The concepts of strategic management and futures studies both argue that they recognize the rising complexity and dynamics in an organizations environment and the need for managers to make decisions in such an environment. By looking briefly at the role the future plays in planning and decision making, it is necessary to underline the importance of futures studies in management. The anticipation of the future in planning can already be observed in daily planning situations, since every action decision implies some assumption about the future [36]. Plans connect the present with the future, a plan pulls the future into the present [37]. Without a perception of the future decisions can not be made, so decision making is predominantly future orientated [38]. In particular the scenario technique has established itself as a widely accepted tool in strategy formulation [39,40,41]. The concept of strategic management itself is concerned with dealing with the organizations environment. Igor H. Ansoff [19] outlines that strategic management is a systematic approach for managing strategic change which consists of positioning the firm through strategy and capability planning, real time strategic response through issue management und systematic management of resistance during strategic implementation. The aim of strategic management is to proactively create the future [42], underlining the importance of thinking about the future in management.

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2.3 Futures studies in German management The brief discussion on the interrelationship between decision making, planning and the future stresses the importance of futures studies in management. The German future consultancy Z_punkt did the first survey on futures studies in German corporations [8], attempting to
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evaluate the motivation and goals in applying futures studies in corporations and analyzing the methods. 26 larger corporations were surveyed which were familiar with futures studies or at least had established highly innovative and future oriented strategies. The study concludes that futures studies no longer have the status of being the court jester in corporations. Futures studies are about to be recognized as an important part and an important tool for formulating corporate strategy. Futures studies are not fully established in those corporations surveyed, but since the early 90s their acceptance rises and looses its exotic status.

The best known and oldest corporate future think-tank in Germany is the DaimlerChrysler Society and Technology Research Group in Berlin. The group was established in 1979 and has now about 30 consulting researchers in Berlin, Kyoto, and Palo Alto, California [7]. Deutsche Bank is another example of a corporation using futures studies. Within the corporate centre of Deutsche Bank there are activities in the personnel department [43] and in the macroeconomic research department [44]. The chemical corporation BASF just recently established the thinktank Future-Business with 12 researchers [45] and Siemens mobile established the think-tank Product Visionaries to research the future of mobile telephones in Germany [46]. Deutsche Bahn, Lufthansa and BMW have also established think-tanks [47]. Other examples of German corporations employing futurists are the Allianz Group, Deutsche Post [48], EADS [49], Siemens [50], Volkswagen [51], Munich Reinsurance Group [52], and Deutsche Telekom [53].

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3. The design of the Delphi study While there is evidence that futures studies become more important in German corporations, little can be said about the future perspectives of futures studies. Therefore the Delphi study was initiated. The Delphi study consisted of two rounds. In the first round the participants received the questionnaire with quantitative and qualitative questions. In the second round the members of the panel received the results of the first round. In the light of this information the members of the panel were asked to revise their expressed opinions. This second round is the most important feature of a Delphi study [54]. The results of the quantitative questions were presented in absolute and relative figures, the qualitative questions were clustered.

An essential feature of this particular Delphi study is that experts from three groups were invited to participate: corporate managers working in a strategic context and strategy and management consultants (corporate managers); futurists in think-tanks and consultancies (futurist); and also scientists in the field of management. Members of the first group (corporate managers) were selected by contacting corporations and consultancies with the request to name employees which work in a strategic context. Criteria for the corporations were an annual turnover of at least 500 million and with more than 10,000 employees. The consultancies were selected by inviting the top 20 largest strategy and management consultancies. The second group (futurists) was selected by researching various think-tanks and consultancies. Finally, the third group (scientists) consisted of members of German Universities.

In the first round the 84 participants filled out the questionnaire. 64 of them responded in the second round and returned their comments concerning the results of the first round. The response rate for the second round was 76 percent. In the figure below the proportions of the three expert groups in the second round of the Delphi process are displayed. The largest group is the one consisting of corporate managers - which also reflects the focus of the Delphi study.

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Figure 1

4. Results of the Delphi study 4.1 The status-quo: futures studies in German corporations To assess the status-quo of futures studies in German corporations only the answers provided by the group of corporate managers are of concern at this point. Since the questions concerning the status-quo were not distributed in the second round of the Delphi study, the answers of the members of the group of corporate managers of the first round are displayed.

Figure 2 displays the answers to the questions which methods of futures studies have been used in the past and at what frequency. Combining the figures for frequently and occasionally allows the conclusion that the methods used most in German corporations are environmental scanning, trend monitoring, trend research, strategic early warning and the scenario technique, followed by quantitative forecasting and those methods for thinking creatively about the future. Comparing these results with the Z_punkt study [8] it appears that the importance of environmental scanning, trend monitoring, trend research, and strategic early warning has remained at the same level. In contrast the use of the scenario technique and quantitative methods has increased, whereas the methods for thinking creatively about the future remained at the same level.

Figure 2:

Other questions concerning the status-quo of futures studies in German corporations revealed that 36 percent of futures studies are carried out by single employees, followed by 28 percent in own departments. Only 18 percent of the members of this group stated that futures studies are an integral part of the planning process or that external consultants (17 percent) are brought in. The results further revealed that futures studies are carried out by 56 percent in departments such as strategy, planning, corporate development or marketing and only 23 percent of them in technology focused departments.

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For analyzing the status-quo in corporations it is important to evaluate the acceptance of futures studies. The Delphi study suggests that the acceptance of futures studies in companies is on the rise: 71 percent of the members of the panel agreed with this statement. Some panellists also mentioned that futures studies have already won acceptance in their company and that the
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approval rose when results were presented which were for instance of use for the planning department and where futures studies could relate to concrete business questions. Only 9 percent stated that the acceptance is declining.

4.2 Focusing on the methods of futures studies The majority (94 percent) of the panellists agreed that the importance of thinking about the future will rise and that futures studies can be of help. This result underlines the need to think about the future in a strategic context. This is widely accepted among the members of the panel and futures studies is perceived as being of help in this process. In figure 3 the results are displayed which concern the question which methods can lead to a rise in interest in the future, considering the answers of the entire panel. In contrast, in figure 4 the results are displayed concerning which methods of futures studies will experience a rise in interest in the corporations (specific) of the group of managers. Therefore figure 4 displays only those answers of the group of managers concerning their own corporation and figure 3 displays the opinion of the entire panel on the future development of the various methods in corporations in general.

Figure 3:

Figure 4:

Combining the positive answers (strongly agree and agree) one can conclude that the methods of environmental scanning, trend monitoring, trend research und strategic early warning (86 percent) and the scenario technique (83 percent) are most likely to experience a boost in interest in the future. The lowest figures were received by the Delphi technique (48 percent) and simulation und gaming (47 percent). Figures 3 and 4 display that the group of managers came to nearly the same conclusions as the entire panel. It is significant however, that in this group the high amount of neutral answers is an indicator that several methods of futures studies are not known to corporate managers. Also it can be concluded that there is some scepticism in the group of managers when it comes to using these methods in their own corporations.

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4.3 What future studies needs to accomplish


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After considering the potential of various methods of futures studies, it is important to stress which methods need to be improved and what can be done to further their importance in management.

The three methods which were mentioned most frequently in the Delphi study as those methods which need to be improved, were the scenario technique, quantitative forecasting and strategic early warning. Various panellists stated that it would be less important to develop new methods but better to implement those existing more successfully, to get them to work better in practise. The scenario technique in particular should be more strongly integrated into strategic planning and should also be designed for the use in smaller corporations. Stressing the issue of implementation: panellist expressed the view that it is essential for futures studies, that the results of such activities are adaptable for the specific needs of a corporation and to meet their requirements.

Focusing on these requirements the panellists were asked to name the questions which will be of importance in the future. The answers were so diverse that it would have been illogical to cluster them. However, it underlines that before applying a method of futures studies, it is important to analyze the corporation and its requirements very carefully in order to set up an exercise which is designed to the particular demands of an organization.

The methods which received the most credit from the panel, are those concerned with detecting change in the organisations environment ahead of time: environmental scanning, trend research and strategic early warning. This implies that it is essential to understand and detect those changes underway, laying the foundation and then start thinking about the future. This aspect underlines the importance of differentiating in the field of futures studies among those methods which are concerned with detecting change in an organizational environment, such as environmental scanning or strategic early warning, and those methods which are designed to think creatively about the future, applying the scenario technique or brain storming for instance [55]. The results of Delphi study also pointed out that futures studies need to achieve a rise in acceptance. That they should be kept simple, less time consuming, less academic and easier to integrate and implement into corporate processes. Those statements fit well with the demand from the field of futures studies that they should be creditable, expressing the need to
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differentiate from crystal ball gazing and journalistic trend research. Even more strongly expressed, was the concern that futures studies lacks measurability.

The results of the Delphi suggest that one of the most important issues is to recognize its implementation. The study suggests, that the need to use futures studies is accepted, but that the difficulties and problems in using them impede a further rise in acceptance. The recognition of futures studies is related to the extent to which the results are adaptable and are useful. One major concern of the panel is that the implementation of futures studies should be less complicated and that the contents need to be designed to fit the demands and requirements of those who are supposed to work with it.

4.4 More results of the Delphi study

Other issues in this study included the image of futures studies, standards and further development of the field. The opinion was expressed several times that futures studies should focus less on prediction and more on detecting changes in the environment of an organization in order to develop robust organizations. The term futures studies has been subject to criticism itself; some favoured the term foresight instead. In promoting a better image of futures studies the necessity was expressed to demonstrate the relevance and to work against the negative image.

A majority of the panel agreed that corporations will rely more on external futurists to deal with future related questions. 20 percent of the panellists were undecided on this question. It was agreed that futures studies will be carried out as an ongoing process in corporations opposed to single activities. This might not only imply a shift from exercises to processes but it is recognized also as another approach towards consulting. One member commented that one should be sceptical of the agreements on these answers, since in times of quick-wins the implementation of long-term processes might be quite a challenge. 69 percent of the panel agreed that a chair in futures studies at a German university would be helpful.

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5. Conclusion A review of the rare literature on the future of futures studies [56,57,58,59,5,60] points to the fact that the results of this Delphi study are not entirely surprising. Two concerns are again and again expressed: that future studies need further improvement and that there is a need for integration of the methods of futures studies as a holistic approach, designed towards the special needs of organizations. The criticism of the scenario technique, in particular concerning the knowledge base, in the literature [61,62] is absent in the results of this Delphi study. But since the scenario technique has been identified as a method in the Delphi study which needs further development, it could be argued that looking more closely at the knowledge base could be very rewarding to improve this method. The issue of measurability is missing in the literature. Certainly, the argument can be made, that dealing with the future implies dealing with immeasurable phenomena. But this seems to be an issue which should be addressed and which should not be set aside too easily.

The Delphi study argues that futures studies have a foundation in management, at least in German corporations and in their management. This study underlines the importance of further improvement of environmental scanning, trend research, trend monitoring, strategic early warning and the scenario technique. Referring to methods which are concerned with creating alternative pictures of the future and which are also concerned with detecting change in an organizational environment and keeping track of these changes and eventually reacting strategically to them. The message behind this selection of methods is that the need to prepare a company to deal with the future is understood and that simple predictions or forecasts are avoided. This in return is a good indication of the acceptance of futures studies in German corporations.

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The biggest challenge in developing futures studies lies in the improvement to implement its methods in corporations. While the results of the Delphi study do not suggest that new methods are needed, implementation was described as the major concern. The importance of this issue is also reflected in the results of the study. No clear picture could be derived from the study if futures studies should be carried out internally or externally, or as a combination of both.

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The key to further acceptance of future studies is to improve the implementation in such a manner that the outcome of these activities match the demands of the potential recipients and that the results are adaptable. This discussion marks the future research question: how to implement futures studies, how to apply them and how to understand the organizational and cognitive challenges. The question needs to be raised how much the organization or rather the corporate culture needs to be changed in order to deal with methods which tend to deliver uncertain results [63].

The Delphi study was able to prove the potential of futures studies in German corporations. With 84 members of the panel in the first round and 64 in the second round, this Delphi study captured a wide variety of opinions and provided an insight into essential issues: the status-quo of future studies in management in German corporations and the future of futures studies in German corporations and their management. Futures studies are highly regarded in management but the scepticism described in the study has proven that the field of futures studies needs to be developed further.

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[56] E. B. Masini, New Challenges for Future Studies, Futures. 33 (7) (2001) 637-644. [57] S. Inayatullah, Layered methodology: meanings, episteme and the politics of knowledge, Futures. 34 (2002) 479-491.

[58] R. A. Slaughter, Futures Beyond Dystopia, Routledge Falmer, London, 2004. [59] J. B. Mahaffie, Professional futurists reflect on the state of futures studies, Foresight. 5 (2) (2003) 3-4.

[60] M. J. Morgan, On the Fringe: Future Opportunities for Futures Studies, Futures Research Quarterly. Fall (2003) 6-20.

[61] R. B. MacKay, P. McKiernan, Exploring strategy context with foresight, European Management Journal. 1 (2004) 69-77. [62] T. J. B. M. Postma, F. Liebl, How to improve scenario analysis as a strategic management tool, Technological Forecasting & Social Change. 72 (2005) 161-173. [63] J. O. Schwarz, Pitfalls in implementing a strategic early warning system, Foresight. 7 (4) (2005) 22-30.

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Figure captions

Figure 1: Title: Group proportions Description: The figure displays the relative group proportions among the members of the panel of the Delphi study.

Figure 2: Title: Methods being used

Description: The figure displays the answers provided to the question which methods of futures studies have been used in the past in the corporations of the group of corporate managers

Figure 3: Title: Methods which importance will increase (in general)

Description: This figure displays the opinions of the members of the entire panel concerning which method of futures studies are likely to experience a rise of importance in general.

Figure 4:

Title: Methods which importance will increase (specific) Description: This figure displays only the opinions of the group of corporate mangers concerning which methods of future studies are likely to experience an increase in their specific corporations.

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Figure 1:

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Figure 2:

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Figure 3:

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Figure 4:

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