We recently used a simple yet useful method for generating forecasts with a client that was interested in addressing the futures of the environment and was also interested in conducting both exploratory and normative futures (i.e., they were interested in both analytic foresight work as well as normative futures work. See my earlier post on A Response to “Contexts of Future Conflict and War” for a comment along these lines). The method is something I call the 4 Relationships (4Rs), and it asks the researcher/group to consider how various trends and emerging issues will collectively impact a few key relationships in society. I originally developed it for straight developing new scenario forecasts, drawing upon experiences with ecosystem foresight in the UK and non-Western perspectives in foresight in Hawai’i, but right now I’ve seen the most (read: quickest) value (in workshop settings) through using it in a supplementary role to other forecasting methods.
The four relationships have to do with the natural environment, the built environment, and people. By considering the basic relationships between these three elements we can explore four questions:
- How will the relationship between people and the natural environment change?
- How will the relationship between people and the built environment change?
- How will the relationship between the natural environment and the built environment change?
- Because of all of those, how will the relationships between people change?
Other frameworks, such as Verge, specifically ask the researcher/group to explore relationships within society, but part of what guided me in coming up with the 4Rs is the increasing role that the built environment has played in society, and the greatly increased role I anticipate it to play in the decades ahead. Additionally, it is increasingly important to have researchers/groups focus on how people not only will relate to each other, but how the major systems upon which communities rely, namely the natural ecosystems and the built infrastructure will relate to each other.
To date we’ve explored how the 4Rs can be used in at least four ways:
- Using the answers to the four questions as the basis for a scenario
- Use the questions in an iterative and intuitive fashion to produce scenario timelines
- To produce supplemental content for an existing forecast
- To critique an existing forecast and improve the internal logic and systemic underpinnings
I would offer that if one were to use the 4Rs to lay the foundation for a forecast (#1, above), then it would help greatly to truly use it as a framing device that guides the user in seeking out supplemental models to apply within each of the four questions. For example, in delving in the question of “how will the relationship between people and the natural environment change?” I would look for theories of change or historical precedents that specifically offer insight into how people’s perspectives of and relationships with the natural ecosystem change. And then repeat that inquiry within each of the four questions.