Future Search LO10053

Wed, 18 Sep 1996 21:05:37 -0400

In LO10032, Thomas Benjamin states:

>Meetings can get bogged down by conflicting views.
>Apparently the tasks in the Future Search conference
>generates a productive group dynamic overcoming the
>limitations in say Organisational Development. Is this
>really true. How? What is your explanation for this
>phenomenon? What is the role of conflicts here?

I've conducted a number of Future Search conferences over the past three
years, and you can find a summary article in the Sept issue of Journal for
Quality and Participation. I would affirm from my experience that the
approach does overcome some traditional limitations of OD, but also add
that if used in isolation from other, preliminary and follow-up
activities, can introduce its own limitations. The basic thrust of the
conference is to organize membership and participation in the conference
in a manner that reverses the conventional "figure and ground," so that
areas of agreement are brought forth while areas of disagreement are
temporarily set to the side. If a group can achieve success in identifying
and collaborating around some fraction of its total experience that has
general agreement, this experience can be a transformational one for
individual participants. Sometimes, the areas of disagreement become less
important or even evaporate; in other instances, they must be picked up
and worked through, but this is much easier to do once some area of basic
trust has been established via the common ground work. The one example
that comes most readily to mind, since it happens virtually everywhere in
the USA, is the occurrence in a conference on the future of a school
district, where a participant who was a taxpayer without children enrolled
in the school repeatedly criticized the school during the early stage of
the conference, as spending too much and not getting results with the
kids. After working side by side for two days with some of the kids,
teachers, and administrators he had just criticized, the same taxpayer
became an avid champion for the district by the time the conference ended.
What changed? I think it was primarily mutual learning that occurred as
these folks had a chance to talk together about issues that mattered a lot
to them, in a context that asked them to focus, one task after another, on
their past, present, and preferred future. Now, anyone who's been to a
school board meeting where budgets are being discussed knows that the
dynamics are about 180 degrees opposed to this - there is deep
polarization, victimization, and lots of compromise. Future Searches have
shown that we just don't have to be satisfied with this!

John VanDeusen



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