futures studies, news

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” – Soren Kierkegaard (1844)

This quote from the Danish Philosopher Kierkegaard illustrates a well-known issue in futures research: we act in the hope of specific outcomes or consequences, whereas we look at the past and see sets of “causes”. Most of the time, both don’t correlate, so that the outcome doesn’t come well line with our hopes. Those two perspectives enact indeed opposite logics, set in different times and spaces – so that forward and backward looking are quite irreconcilable.

As far as futures studies are concerned, some work has nevertheless been undertaken and a few methods try to remedy it. The “backcasting” method comes first in this category. It consists of working backwards from a desired future in order to identify major causes (in terms of events and processes, systems, …). From then on, a bigger picture of what is at stake with the desired future is shaped.

“Backcasting reminds participants that the future is not linear, and can have many alternative outcomes depending on decisions made and the impact of external events on an organisation”. – Raphael Popper

“Backcasting nevertheless applies specifically in contexts where envisioning a desired future makes sense. Alternatively, it can serve well as a thought experiment, in order to to open up our thinking to various futures.