"...productive and very valuable!"

VP, Chief Medical Officer
Doylestown Hospital

Future Search

Future search is a unique large-group planning method that is used by hundreds of communities and organizations around the world and across business, government, education, health care, non-profit and faith-based institutions.    A Future Search Conference offers tremendous value enabling people to:

1. Collectively create a picture of a desired future they all want and to start working toward it right away

2. Bring large, diverse groups together to collectively discover the values, purposes, and projects they hold in common

3. Dramatically improve communication, learning and collaboration

4. Improve strategic thinking and understanding of important strategic factors

5. Improve relationships across the organizational system

6. Lower resistance to change and create unprecedented levels of commitment for sustainable action

Future search is especially helpful in uncertain, fast-changing situations. A future search usually involves 60 to 70 people–large enough to include many perspectives and small enough that the full group can be in dialogue at each step in the process.  Participants need no training or expertise.  The optimal length is approximately three days, with a minimum of four half-day sessions.

How Future Search Works: Principles

The conference is designed to principles that enable people to work together and explore strategic issues without defending or selling a particular agenda, and with a focus on creating common ground for action.  These principles include:

  • Get the ‘Whole System’ in the Room — a cross section of people with the information, authority, resources, ability to act, and stakes in outcomes
  • Global Perspective, Local Action — everyone sees and understands the big picture before deciding upon action
  • Focus on Common Ground and Future Action (not problems and conflicts) — treat conflicts/problems as information, focus and act on building common ground and on clarifying and achieving a desired future;
  • Self-Managed Small Group Dialogue and Learning — consultants manage large group facilitation, participants self-manage (using guidelines) their own small-group conversations and learning at certain times.

The Future Search Agenda

The work is done in two and a half-to-three days. There are five tasks. The first task establishes a common history: participants draw time lines on sheets of wall paper and explore their personal history, the history of the theme of the conference, and major global events leading up to the present. The second task is done as a large group: a mind map of trends which influence the conference theme (e.g., ‘trends that influence the future of ‘…’ ).  People fully explore the external trends influencing their future and, as participants, experience the complexity of circumstances and dynamics in which they all work and live.

Once the Mind Map is complete, participants weight those trends they feel are most significant with regard to the focus of the conference. This helps to narrow the focus and prioritize items to use for planning emphasis. The third task is the first time that stakeholders work within their own peer or ‘stakeholder’ groups. This task calls for stakeholders to assess, with regard to the most significant trends, what they are doing now they want to continue to be doing, and what they are not doing they would like to be doing.  Stakeholder groups also list what they are both proud of and sorry about as a group.   This is an important and powerful step that helps groups take responsibility for the status quo, and for other groups to understand more of each other’s world views and motives.

The next task involves people, now in mixed groups, to create ideal future scenarios and bring these scenarios to life through enactments and role plays. Following this, all groups work together to identify common ground themes–key features that appear in every scenario. The whole group confirms their common desired future, acknowledges differences and makes choices about what they want to accomplish and how to use their energy. In the final segment, participants volunteer and make public commitments to work together on desired plans and actions.

see our Future Search Client Orientation here: Future Search Presentation, Shem Cohen

For more information explore: www.futuresearch.net




Fast-Track Strategic Planning at the Federal Reserve Bank (click title to read the summary)


The Federal Reserve Bank needs to create technology improvements for an important arm of the bank.  Multiple stakeholders across the country need to be involved to negotiate complex needs and interests and create solutions that will be accepted, supported and acted upon across the Federal Reserve System.


Future Search Conference:

Establish a common purpose and direction

Broaden horizons, integrate interests

Develop shared responsibility and commitment to act


A $2.5M technology improvement project conceived through multi-stakeholder engagement, planned and implemented through a broad base of support

A planning process that saved 6-8 months of planning time and the Fed a lot of $

A better-connected organization, deeper relationships across people and groups


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