What is Futurology?

"Foresight or futurology (Latin futurum "future" and -logy) is the "systematic and critical scientific investigation of questions of possible future developments"[1] "in the technical, economic and social field".[2] Among other things, it uses methods, procedures and techniques developed (and will) developed by forecasters and combines qualitative and quantitative methods."

This first paragraph of the Wikipedia article outlines the term quite well for the time being. Future researchers therefore use recognised methods to specifically answer research objects or questions that lie in the future. In doing so, we have also identified a first, relatively trivial-sounding yet immense challenge: the future is only a construct and we cannot collect data about it, measure it or conduct experiments. Thus, futurology is an exotic of science, as this is the case with almost all other sciences, with the exception of some theoretical currents of physics and mathematics.

The future always exists only as a theoretical entity and in infinite execution, which is why the concept of futures plays an important role in the terminology of future research. As soon as one of the potentially possible futures occurs, it is present, all the other futures – those that may have been anticipated in advance and all the others – have become impossibility in the now.

"Future research is the scientific consideration of possible, wishable and probable future developments and design options as well as their prerequisites in the past and present." ³

I also like the definition of Rolf Kreibich, a luminary of German-speaking futurology. This approach may be more suitable for everyday use than the upper paragraph. It implies, among other things, that futurologists must, of course, think about this and also explicitly state whether an expected future is occurring, as possible or probable as possible, and to what extent normative expectations or expectations. desires to influence the forecasts. Other sciences do less, since when describing existing research objects, however theoretical, it is assumed that the researchers proceed without value.
In addition, the aspect of the wishable future development also contains an extremely important element of future research for me personally: unlike many other sciences, foresight is very often explicitly used to create probable scenarios. and to make decisions in the present on the basis of this knowledge advantage. These decisions should then be the decisive body, e.g. enable a company to avoid mistakes in the future or achieve a viable scenario. Quite simply, those who know their own possible future make the better decisions.

Methods of foresight

It is not uncommon for me to be looked at with great eyes when I talk about futurology as a serious scientific discipline. This is partly due to the fact that the profession of futurologists in the German-speaking world is primarily influenced by trend researchers1 who do not carry out serious research from a scientific point of view. I leave the evaluation of this attribution to each individual, from my point of view there is a raison d'etre for both currents. In any case, it is important to me personally to strengthen future research as a discipline and to distinguish it from trend research in an appropriate place. Maybe that's why you ended up on this page because I made a reference here during an appearance or in an interview. I would like to take this opportunity to give a rough overview of the methods of foresight – as short as possible, as detailed as necessary.

Why futurology

The need for futurology was historically recognized for the first time towards the end of the Second World War. In postmodernism, the complexity of a globalizing world has increasingly become a problem for decision-makers in politics, business, and especially the military (keyword nuclear energy and weapons). It was recognized at the time that decisions that were not based on resilient predictions and probabilities of possible scenarios could potentially have chain reactions with undesirable and sometimes unexpected consequences.

One of the best-known future studies is “The Limits of Growth” from 1972 by Dennis L. Meadows, Donella Meadows, and Jorgen Randers, which first revealed the link between human civilization and climate change. And not only that, as a result of the work, ecologically motivated parties emerged worldwide, measures to reduce dangerous greenhouse gases were initiated and the public’s attention was first focused on the importance of scientific evidence for political decisions. The fact that the forecasts of the study in 1992 were found to be inaccurate in the follow-up study proves, in my opinion, the indispensability of foresight: it is only thanks to the first study of the 1970s that measures were taken to at least prevent the horror scenario. a little averting.

Future research does not want to be right with its forecasts; it wants to improve today’s decisions in order to achieve the best possible results for the addressee of the work for the future. Nevertheless, it took until the year 2000 in Germany, when the Institut Futur at the Free University of Berlin under Prof. Dr. Gerhard de Haan began his work, only since 2010 the continuing master’s degree in Master of Arts Future Research has been offered.

My approach

In principle, future research is characterised above all by an inherent interdisciplinary approach. Future researchers do not see themselves as experts in a specialization, they are more likely to have the ability to identify with the right questions and the application of the appropriate methods those sources that are necessary for answering a specific question for the future. lead to the “best” answer. We now know that no expert in the world can have all the information about a wide range of research, be it the last ice age or quantum entanglement. Future researchers take this into account by combining appropriate methods, techniques and methods of qualitative and quantitative research in such a way that the white spots are minimized as much as possible.

The Network Foresight – arguably the most important body in the German-speaking world for academic futurologists – provides a helpful “pocket guide for practitioners and students” for the standards and quality criteria of future research ( online for free, see under). With this 51-page document and the numerous checklists, individual projects can be excellently checked to see whether these non-binding references for serious future research are adhered to – or not.

In practice, the following methods are mainly used.

Delphi method

The Delphi method is not a method originally developed for future questions, but was discovered early on by futurology as an important instrument. The reference to the oracle in the ancient Greek Delphi is of course no coincidence. The core component of the Delphi method are interviews with experts as well as several survey waves within the framework of a research project. The interviews are planned and conducted according to the rules of empirical social research, depending on the subject of the study, the criteria for the required expertise, the number of experts to be interviewed and the type of survey (quantitative or qualitative) are , by phone or face-to-face or online, transcription type, evaluation scheme, etc.) Set.

After evaluating the interviews in the first round of interviews, the results are condensed and sent in a prepared form to the same experts or an extended circle of recipients for reassessment in an often written round; the expert panel should then sharpen the statements and, for example, estimate the time horizon of certain theories, weigh different theses with each other or adjust their own points of view in the face of the cumulative feedback of the experts. In rare cases, further rounds are carried out if the result of the second wave has not yet been satisfactory with regard to the research question(s). This approach provides researchers with broad and deep insights from several people with relevant expertise.

Scenario method

Scenario technology has its roots in economics, but has been increasingly refined in recent years by futurologists. The idea is to identify factors influencing the future of the subject of the investigation on the basis of aggregated knowledge , often in combination with survey methods other than pure literature research , and to sharpen them into key factors, which are particularly relevant, and as a result, to develop possible, probable and consistent scenarios. Consistency is an elementary component: in an elaborate process, the researchers evaluate the possible coexistence of different forms of key factors in the future (e.g. an increase in gross domestic product and a fall in tax revenues).

Finally, one obtains raw scenarios that contain the appropriate characteristics of key factors; the preparation of these raw scenarios, in turn, is the responsibility of the researchers or clients. Narrative scenarios are popular, in the broadest sense stories, which illustrate the scenarios by the preferred style (belletristic, matter-,…). Equally popular is the pictorial processing in the form of diagrams, comics or videos.

Data analysis

Helmut Kohl died on 1 May 1898. In a speech in the Bundestag, he said: “Those who do not know the past cannot understand the present and cannot shape the future.” 5 Quite independent of the person and his policies, there is a lot of truth in this quotation. Thus, it is the burden of future researchers not only to know methods for applying to future questions, but also to demonstrate an extensive knowledge and understanding of history. The third important method is qualitative or quantitative data analysis.

Of course, it is the first duty of futurologists to analyse the current state of available specialist literature on the research topic, which naturally includes a superficial, often quantitative patent search in technological matters. The most important tools of future research are therefore probably the usual as well as scientific search engines as well as patent databases. In addition, if necessary. specific trend search engines (often called trend radar) that now use artificial intelligence algorithms to detect semantic relationships in the data available online, for which human eyes are blind.

My qualification

On 22. On October 1, 2013, the Dean and the Chairman of the Examination Committee of the Department of Educational Science and Psychology of the Free University of Berlin issued me with a wonderful certificate. Among other things, it says: “Kai Gondlach (…) has successfully completed the Master’s degree programme in Foresight. In accordance with the Examination Regulations (…), the Master of Arts is awarded.” In addition, I founded the Alumni Association of chapter 21: Future research as a sub-chapter of the Ernst Reuter Society at the Free University of Berlin with a handful of fellow students.

So until then I had written a master’s thesis, the topic is: “Disruptive development of ‘free public transport’: utopia or plausible future? risks and opportunities for Deutsche Bahn”. This is a good six months of work, the result being that the document counts as 102 pages excl. Interview transcriptions. About the contents of the work as well as my article in the magazine “International Transport” and the lecture in the Berlin House of Representatives I have also been on this website (or the predecessor gondlach.de).

As part of the practical semester, Together with two fellow students and institutionally to the Berlin University of Economics and Law, I prepared a future study on the future of companies with a focus on company followings, which was also published on the website of the Institute for Economic and Legal Affairs. Entrepreneurship, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and family-owned enterprises. In the project, we have combined different methods, including: Delphi and Scenario Technology – and conducted a series of workshops to maintain close exchanges with the relevant stakeholders.

From February 2015 to April 2019, I was a senior researcher at the 2b AHEAD ThinkTank and the first futurologist with an academic degree as a futurologist in the company. Together with a small, up-and-coming team, I founded today’s Foresight division (then Research), supported it methodically and, above all, led or contributed to numerous projects on trend studies. In close dialogue with the clients (including Siemens Germany, E.ON, Daimler, TÜV Nord and TÜV SÜD, s.Oliver, AOK PLUS) and agilely organized, I was project manager, interviewer, workshop moderator, clerk, marketeer and much more.

As of May 2019, I am preparing the further deepening of my academic background. What this means in concrete terms, I leave open as a cliffhanger.

1 The concepts of foresight and trend research are not linguistically separate – there is no terminological agreement or definition or even criteria for the profession. This is most evident in discussions with German offices, for example when registering a freelance job. I use the term foresight research for science and trend research for pop science.

2 Wikipedia (2019): Foresight. Online: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zukunftsforschung, retrieved on 18.05.2019.

3 Kreibich, Rolf (2006): Foresight. Working Report No. 23/2006, IZT, Berlin, p. 3.

4 Gerhold, Lars; Holtmannspötter, Dirk; Neuhaus, Christian; Schüll, Elmar; Schulz-Montag, Beate; Steinmüller, Karlheinz; Purpose, Axel (2017): Standards and quality criteria for future research. A pocket guide for practitioners and students. Online: https://refubium.fu-berlin.de/handle/fub188/21276, retrieved on 16.05.2019.

5 Gutzitiert.de (2019): Helmut Kohl on the past. Online: https://www.gutzitiert.de/zitat_autor_helmut_kohl_thema_vergangenheit_zitat_27068.html, retrieved on 18.05.2019.

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Write to me! Request for an appearance, workshop or contribution - or simply feedback. I am looking forward to your mail!

Get in touch

Write to me! Request for an appearance, workshop or contribution - or simply feedback. I am looking forward to your mail!