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How to develop a center for future studies


Prepared by Arthur B. Shostak, Ph.D.
Emeritus Professor of Sociology
the University University
May11, 2012


Services provided by a Center for Futures Studies (CFS) can include commissioned consulting projects, onsite and virtual education, grants-writing support, information about future-shaping matters, public relations material, subsidized research, research coordination, and support for ongoing and proposed research. An Annual Report to the University’s president would enable him/her to help shape and decide the Center’s future.

More specifically, CFS could contribute to the University in fifteen distinct ways:
1. It could create and maintain a futures-focused Inventory of both campus-based research (actual and potential) and the related interests of the faculty.
2. Drawing on the 2-part Inventory, it could promote research, teaching, and service exchanges.
3. It could help raise the University’s “Futures I.Q.”
4. It could aid in the orientation of new faculty.
5. It could uniquely help a Co-Op Program.
6. It could add to campus ambience.
7. It could help raise the K-12 “Futures I.Q.” in the neighboring area.
8. It could add a valuable new tie to alumni.
9. It could add a fresh option for prospective donors.
10. It could support an Articulation Agreement with a nearby Community College.
11. It could participate in a new degree undergraduate program in Futures Studies.
12. It could help set the University apart as the first American University to offer a Ph.D. in Futures Studies, and one of very few in the world to do so thus far.
13. It could operate the nation’s first University-based, interactive, crowd-sourced timeline of forecasts.
14. It could add a futures component to any celebrations of the University’s founding.
15. It could offer many fine Public Relations opportunities.

Opening a Center for Futures Studies would seem a timely addition to the University’s many future-shaping components. The move would burnish its historic lead in such matters, much as its many thousands of its innovative alumni might wish. Higher Education belongs in the future tense – and the University can help point the way.

15 FEATURES OF A University

1. FUTURES INVENTORY – The CFS could develop a thoroughgoing, current, and revealing inventory of futures-related research – actual and proposed (“live” grant applications). Interviews with deans, department chairs, current grant holders and applicants, etc., would enable the CFS to maintain and analyze such data to the University’s advantage.
Along with detailing research projects, the Futures Inventory could also record the interests of faculty in aspects of the future they would welcome exploring “down the road,” a “wish list” of value both in highlighting grants worth pursuing and in guiding the search for new faculty.
This Inventory would enable administrators to anticipate where the University is likely to contribute to society over the near future, what new degree programs warrant consideration, and what sort of donors seem most likely to respond to the University future-focused solicitations.
2. FUTURES IDEA EXCHANGE – The Center for Futures Studies could foster the exchange of innovative ideas among otherwise far-flung and “silo-like” components of the University community on both coasts. It could foster fruitful exchanges among University Centers (such as Corporate Governance, Labor Markets and Policy, Public Policy, etc.), eminent organizations whose discrete research and action programs regarding the future may not be well known to one another.
A CFS Web site could serve as a source of updates on future-oriented projects, and a forum for informal related dialogue. Every month the work of another team and/or researcher could be highlighted. Future-based data points, factoids, and other stimulating aids from the vast futures literature could be employed as dynamic colorful aids to the imagination.
3. “FUTURES I.Q.” – The CFS could help boost the University’s “Futures I.Q.” (its level of awareness, insight, and knowledge) through eight inter-related activities –
a. CFS staffers could add a futures component to real or virtual University courses, as in discussing the tools of forecasting, the lessons of failed forecasts, and the current forecasts of leading academics, builders, corporate statesmen, science-fiction writers, scientists, and others of like stature.
(Having taught such an elective Futures course for many years at the University I can attest to the considerable interest onsite students have in “Big Data” methods, “Black Swan” events, Brain Research findings, Chaos Theory, cross-impact analysis, scenario writing, systems approaches, Long Wave theories, model building, Personal Intelligence Agents, “Profession Creep,” science-fiction ideas, trend analysis, values analysis, and other such high-powered tools. Having also taught an Online Futures course I can attest as well to the ability of such an Internet offering to attract able enrollees from here and abroad).
Students could thereby learn a bit about how to forecast regarding their own lives and public affairs. How to avoid “future schlock” and blunt “future shock.” How to improve their “cope-ability” and manage risk. How to accept the notion the future may outwit many cherished certainties. And how to help shape a personal and public future close to their heart and mind’s desire.
As students are likely to experience more change in their lifetime than ever true before in human history, they should while at the University learn as much as possible about the art and science of choice-making and the range of future options.
b. CFS staffers could stand by to assist students with research projects that have a futures component. The CFS could collect the resulting Term Papers, etc., and have them as a resource for student (and faculty) use over time.
c. A weekly CFS column printed in the student newspaper could call attention to a future-focused research project underway in the University, the better to help forge a positive identity of the University with such major change-aiding work.
d. A monthly Futures Film Series could feature a panel of the University faculty discussing the pros and cons of the hard and soft sciences in films dealing with topics such as AI Frontiers, the Pros and Cons of the Borg, Cloning Controversies, Eugenics Gains, Espionage in 2025, Jobs in 2025, Sports in 2025, Terrorism in 2025, Tomorrow’s Hospitals, etc.
e. Once a semester a CFS-sponsored Weekend-long Forum could include a distinguished outside speaker, panels of relevant University faculty and students, a related major film and discussion panel, and high-value IT display material – all of it sharply focused on a timely futures topic.
Subjects could include – How can America adapt its Constitution for the mid-21st Century? Achieve and maintain a Strategic Bandwidth Advantage? Develop more University “Towns” – the Job Factories of the Future? Pay for more significant Environmentalism? Promote Green Chemistry? Slow the heating of the planet? Relate to enemies whose aims are irrational and non-negotiable? Help remake a $2.6 trillion U.S. health care industry?
f. Major speakers could be sponsored to spend a day visiting classrooms and give an evening public address, e.g., Mary D. Nichols, chairperson of the California Air Resources Board, heads what is arguably the nation’s most effective body for recycling carbon pollution; Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen may soon produce the world’s largest airplane, and use it as a platform for a space transport system, thereby transforming the space industry; Chemistry Professor John Warner promotes “Green Chemistry” as an over “bridge” between Industry and Environmentalists; Blair Levin heads the Aspen Institute’s Gig.U Project, a consortium of 37 University communities working to promote private investment in next-generation ecosystems.
g. CFS staffers could assist the University’s Grants Specialists in strengthening parts of grants applications that invite “blue-sky” speculations about the potential rewards of the proposed research.
h. CFS staffers can scan the record of the nation’s nearly 4,000 colleges and universities for future-shaping innovations the University can adapt and improve upon, e.g., in 2011 LaSalle University became the first in the Philadelphia area to install GPS transmitters in its campus shuttle buses, thereby upgrading convenience and safety. (1)
4. NEW FACULTY – The CFS could staff a half-day workshop as part of the formal orientation of new faculty. They would learn about the University’s commitment to futuristics and get to explore the Inventory’s contents. Attendees would also be surveyed, and their future interests could be entered in the University’s dynamic Inventory (see #1 above).
5. CO-OP – The CFS could make an intensive open-ended study of forecasts for the changing labor market here and abroad, as imagined 5, and even 10, years from now.
Students going out on Co-Op could be briefed by CFS staff about the extraordinary challenge companies have innovating in an age of rapid disruption (only a tiny fraction of businesses reach the age of 40). (2) On their return they could be interviewed to learn what they observed of the innovation process (pro and con). Their thoughts (minus company IDs) could be shared via the CFS student newspaper Web site, and could also be drawn on in University courses. Employers of special innovation-distinction could be invited to campus as guest speakers.
6. FUTURISTIC AMBIENCE – In collaboration with a Design College the CFS could help promote ever-changing artwork throughout the campus that expands ideas about tomorrow’s options – bright and dark. Particular emphasis could be placed on University specialties – communications, computer science, engineering, fashion, medical equipment, robotics, nanotechnology, and so on.
An annual Futures Art Contest for middle and high school students citywide would have prize-winning material featured on campus, thereby calling the attention of area youngsters to University’s future-focus.
The University Library could be encouraged to set aside a panel for regular display of book jackets of exciting new future-oriented books. It could also sponsor book talks by local or traveling futurist authors, and set aside a section of its Web site to highlight futures magazines, books, etc.
7. FUTURIST LOCAL K-12 – ASSIST CFS staffers could help local area pre-school, primary, and secondary school staffers upgrade their pedagogical use of futures-oriented material. The University’s Education School could serve as a consultant in helping the area schools pioneer in the artful employ of Educational Futuristics, arguably the “Next Big App” in K-12 education. (3)
Particular attention could go to boosting the focus on the future in the ambience and curriculum of any area high schools with a futures orientation. (4)
8. ALUMNI RELATIONS – The CFS could assist the staff of the University Alumni Magazine in identifying graduates whose careers have been distinguished by future-shaping innovation(s) – and such individuals could be featured and honored in each issue.
They could also be invited to speak in classes throughout a day that includes a Faculty Club invitation-only luncheon (complete with a plaque-award ceremony).
9. DONOR OPTIONS – The CFS, working with the University fund-raising specialists, could identify many sparkling new projects in need of ample financial support from outside sources. As many would extend for several years (if not decades), donors would have the satisfaction of lengthy recognition and appreciation.
10. ARTICULATION AGREEMENT – The nation’s first Junior College to develop a major in futuristics, Anne Arundle CC in Arnold, Maryland, could be invited to send its best students to the University to earn a futures-oriented BS degree guided by the CFS. This would be another “first” for both schools, and a proud distinction.
11. UNDERGRAUATE EUDUCATION – Undergraduate courses in futuristics exist across the
educational landscape: the Business College at Notre Dame, for one, requires a Futures Studies course of all undergraduates. After the CFS has become a valued and “regular part of the scene,” the University could become the first in America (perhaps in the world) to require a Futures Studies course of all incoming students – a ground-breaking requirement of enormous significance in Higher Education, and, in helping to ensure America’s future.
A 2010 paperback workbook, It’s Your Future – Make It a Good One!, by Verne Wheelright, might be a sound basic text, especially if coupled with The Extreme Future: The Top Trends that will Shape the World in the Next 20 Years, by James Canton (2007).
Building on this, the University University might become the first American University to offer a Bachelor’s degree in Futures Studies, and the CFS could thereby help generate FTE’s.
In due course, it could then offer the second mainland Master’s Degree Program in Futures Studies
12. MASTER’s/PH.D. PROGRAM – At present, only one American University (U. of Houston)
offers a Master’s Degree in Futures Studies, and only one other, the U. of Hawaii, Manoa campus, offers a Ph.D. in Futuristics. (Graduate degrees are offered in Japan and Taiwan, and related programs exist in Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, Israel, and Scandinavian countries.)
After having learned much operating the mainland’s second Master’s Degree Program in Futures Studies, the University University might pioneer in offering the first and only mainland Ph.D. Program in Futures Studies. Likely to attract talented students from around the world, the Program’s alumni might yet prove among the most consequential ever in the University’s history.
Holders of a Future Studies Masters Degree (U. of Houston) have secured employment as an Analyst, Consultant, Editor, Global Trends Manager, Human Resource Planner, Ideation Leader, Issues Manager, New Business Developer, Performance Consultant, Professional Speaker, Project Manager, Professor, Researcher, Scanner, Strategic Planner, Teacher, and Writer, etc.
Major employers include all levels of government, especially planning bodies; branches of the Armed Services, “FORTUNE 100” global companies, major “inside-the-Beltway” lobbying organizations and think tanks, giant life insurance companies, major investment firms, major built environment developers, 14,000 school districts, mass media firms, consulting firms, polling organizations, etc.
13. TIMELINE SURVEY – Adapting with permission the algorithms first used by the New York
Times in December, 2011, the CFS could invite the University community to “date” selected forecasts and collaboratively edit a timeline for many years to come; valuable as a research aid, the project is also a high-powered PR aid. (5)
14. UNIVERSITY ANNIVERSARIES – The CFS could help assure a futures component in any
celebrations of the University’s operation. For example, it could complete a far-ranging scientific survey to identify the 100 men and women thought most significant in shaping the world since the University’s start, and the top 125 innovations – social and material – likely to shape the next 100 years.
16. PUBLIC RELATIONS – The CFS, in collaboration with the University specialists in PR,
could promote extensive media attention to various future-focused matters, e.g., the IBM Corporation could be invited to make the University the locale for its annual announcement of the “Five Most Significant Future-Changing Developments” – a high-profile media event.
The CFS could also sponsor an Annual Survey of Faculty and Student Forecasts, and gain considerable PR “mileage” from this creative (and nuanced) venture. As with most futures research, the timeline would start five or more years out from the present.


As the process of establishing a Center for Futures Studies has start-up hazards worth anticipating and avoiding, six guidelines below may be of help -
First, there is the matter of administration and oversight. Attached to the Office of the President or that of the Provost, the CFS could be led by a full-time Director (a tenured faculty member) and two (non-faculty) assistants (a methods specialist and a pedagogy specialist). Oversight could be provided by a committee co-chaired by a top campus administrator and a top Faculty Senate representative. Committee members could include two Student Council choices, and a member of the Board of Trustees.
Second, there is the matter of physical site. Locating the CFS office in a particular University College could create the erroneous impression that the host’s focus – whether business, education, engineering, or the social sciences – will be the Center’s preoccupation. From the outset the Center should be perceived as wide-ranging in concerns, open-minded in approach, and neutral concerning ongoing rifts in future-oriented public affairs (as in the Climate Change “war” between contrarians and believers, etc.)
Third, there is the matter of expectations. The Center may be asked by the media to make predictions, as of election winners, military campaigns, sales outcomes, etc. In declining CFS staffers should explain that futurists do not “predict,” as such pronouncements invite the use of exclamation points and rest on the falsehood that the future can be revealed. While aspects can be anticipated and thereby planned for and somewhat bolstered – the future is not fixed (thank Goodness!) and cannot therefore be “known.”
It is vital that interested parties understand futurists do not talk about THE future. They distinguish among four inter-related models of tomorrow – Probable (most likely), Possible (goes reasonably beyond the Status Quo – in positive or negative ways), Preferable (most desirable), and Preventable (least desirable). Futures studies ask which one of four “assumed futures” is under review, from whose perspective, how, and for what purposes.
Responsible futurists also avoid offering forecasts for events closer than five years or more distant than 100, though exceptions have been known, e.g., major corporations employ forecasters (aka “planners”) to study the next quarter and year, while astronomers study esoteric computer models that range through to the end of time (as we “know” it).
Any communiqué from or about the CFS should assiduously avoid certain words taboo in futuristics – namely, “will,” “will not,” “must,” and “must not” – as in the sentence – “Iran will succumb to internal unrest by 2015, and will not remain a theocratic state beyond 2016.” Or – “Companies must rethink how they conceive future systems or become places where innovations go to die.” Both sentences are far too absolute, and should be formulated instead with conditional language, e.g., would, could, should, might, and may.
Fourth, there is the matter of reputation. Businesses that offer research grants should agree at the outset to certain carefully written constraints on their later uses of CFS-supplied forecasts, projections, etc. The reputation of the University’s CFS should be rigorously protected.
Fifth, there is the matter of outside alliances. Among its first formal activities the CFS could take out an Institutional membership in the World Future Society, the oldest and most highly regarded of such organizations. Staffers and a small number of selected faculty and students could be subsidized to attend the Annual WFS Meeting. Staffers could be expected to write articles for its award-winning magazine, The Futurist, and participate in its inter-active Web site. Subscriptions to the magazine could be taken out for top administrators, Deans, Department Chairs, key student leaders, and selected members of the Board.
Experienced college and University-based futurists could be asked for advice, e.g., Wendell Bell, Yale; Peter Bishop, U. of Houston; Roger Caldwell, Arizona State; Bill Halal, GW; Art Harkins, Minn.; Andy Hines, U. of Houston; Reed Riner, Northern Arizona; Steven Steele (AACC); and Kay Strong, Baldwin-Wallace (Cleveland). Tim Mack, director of the World Future Society, could be of help, as could Jim Dator, who has long led the U. of Hawaii Ph.D. Program, and Steve Henick, the AACC futures program director, and Mark Champion, director of the Futures Center at Lansing Community College. Many professional futurists, who could serve as speakers, etc., detail their availability in a special section of every issue of The Futurist.
A 2002 edited book by Jim Dator – Advancing Futures: Future Studies in Higher EUniversitycation – could be circulated among key parties. A June, 2010, issue of the Journal of Future Studies included an article – “Why Teach the Future?,” by Peter Bishop and Kay E. Strong, that could be also circulated. Likewise, in the spring of 2012 a new book by Peter Bishop and Andy Hines – Teaching about the Future: The Basics of Foresight EUniversitycation – will share insights from their leadership of a Masters Degree Futures Program at the U. of Houston. The book and its authors could be a valuable resource.
Finally, there is the matter of scope. There may be a temptation to stick with relatively “safe” futures topics, such as alternative energy, new uses of nanotech materials, K-12 uses of virtual education options, hospital uses of massive computer power, etc. It is vital, as well, however, for the CFS to also consider what in 1970 pioneering futurist Alvin Toffler called “mind-staggering ideas.” (6)
Typical are what cutting-edge companies value now as disruptive innovations, i.e., planned changes for “making the complicated simple, making the expensive affordable, and driving growth by transforming what exists and creating what doesn’t.” (7) Mind-boggling uses of the “cloud,” sci-fi-like advances in uses of brain inserts, and other exotic frontiers come quickly to mind, as does the fact that in 2011 it took a month to run a project involving 30 billion separate calculations; in 2012 it may take only two or three hours. (8) The CFS agenda should artfully include bold and creative ideas, the better to insure the University University continues to make, as well as teach history.


The University staffers at a Center for Futures Studies can be expected to work humbly and cautiously with equations, extrapolations, models, scenarios, simulations, and trends, all of which are held tentatively, ceaselessly revisited, and often revised.
Skilled at mind-stretching work that is interdisciplinary, imaginative, and commonly exhilarating (though sometimes also unnerving), theirs is the sort of high-minded intellectual adventure that can help lift an entire University community.
Above all, the University’s CFS can be expected to help provide more graduates whom, in C.P. Snow’s compelling term, “have the future in their bones.” (9) As called for over four decades ago by futurist Alvin Toffler, such alumni can “make critical judgments, weave their way through novel arrangements, and be quick to spot new relationships in the rapidly changing environment.” (10) They should be able to cope with “unintended, unanticipated, or unrecognized consequences of human action and/or natural forces beyond human control.” (11)
In at least 15 significant ways a University Center for Futures Studies could help the University graduate such strategic and valuable students … masters of the “art of the long view.” As well, far-reaching faculty research into the four futures, as aided by a CFS, can help enrich the lives of us all – now and long into tomorrow.




1. McGinniss, Michael J. “President’s Report,” LaSalle Magazine, Fall 2011. P. 10.
2. According to a study of more than 6 million firms. As cited in Ante, Spencer E., “Avoiding Innovation’s Terrible Toll.” WSJ, January 7-8, 2012. P. B-1.
3. See in this connection, Shostak, Arthur B., Anticipate the School You Want: Futurizing K-12 EUniversitycation [2008], and Creating the School You Want: Education @ Tomorrow’s Edge [2010], both published by Rowman & Littlefield.
4. See a very critical chapter about a so-called high school in Shostak, Arthur B., Creating the School You Want: Education @ Tomorrow’s Edge; op. cit.
5. Lin, Thomas and Jonathan Huang. “Imagining 2076: Connect Your Brain to the Internet.” NYT, December 13, 2011. P. D-2.
6. As cited in Dowd, Maureen. “Honeymoons in Space.” NYT, December 14, 2011. P. A-29.
7. Anthony, Scott D. and Clayton M. Christensen. “The Empires Strike Back.” Technology Review, January-February, 2012. P. 66 (66-68)
8. Berman, Dennis K. “So, What’s Your Algorithm?” WSJ, January 4., 2012. Pp. B-1, 2.
9. As cited in Toffler, Alvin. Future Shock. New York: Random House, 1970. P. 403.
10. Ibid. p. 402. Such graduates should have “cope-ability,” creativity, and communication “smarts” equal to formulating and debating “assumed futures.”
11. Ibid. p. 458. A goal would be to make our grasp of the four futures “more sensitive to social costs and benefits, less coldly technocratic and econocentric.”

Invaluable advice was generously provided by futurists Wendell Bell (Yale), Peter Bishop (Houston), Sharon Pinnock, and especially, Steven Steele (Anne Arundel CC).