Future Search LO10066

Thu, 19 Sep 1996 16:22:27 +1200 (NZST)

Replying to LO10032 --

Thomas Benjamin wrote:

>" From my learning about the method, Future Search focusses on identifying
>common ground rather than resolving conflicts. I have text book
>knowledge, but no experience in how it actually works. After reading some
>of the postings in this list on the nature of conflict resolution, I now
>have doubts about the promise Future Search offers about avoiding problem
>solving and conflicts."

>Future Search as a technique has promise. Christopher Schoch has reported
>its use in India. But successful "using" is not the same as the questions
>I have?

>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 would appreciate some reinforcing dialogue from any one who has also
>experienced the conference on a definite theme."

We have facilitated some Future Search conferences, and have used Search
derived techniques in more bounded interventions. There are schools of
thought about how structured Future Searches should be. For myself - I'm
entirely pragmatic and make situated judgements. Sometimes unstructured is
OK, sometimes structured seems better. Sometimes it just isn't the
technique to use. Basically I believe in 'structured process,
unstructured content' which is the view of my mentor in such matters, Ann
Martin at Cornell.

In my view the main value of search methods is that they mask existing
power relationships and create a greater equality of voice amongst
participants - people must respond to what is said because it is not
usually clear who said what. This alters the dynamic dramatically. This
can go wrong if the facilitator fails to do the job (and it can happen
very easily) and exposes (or permits the exposure of) the normally
powerless and unheard. When this happens the weak suffer a sense of
betrayal, the strong get outraged ("why haven't you told me this before?')
and the whole thing falls apart.

But when it all goes right searches have a remarkable capacity to produce
shared mental models where there were none before. We did a little
exercise last week with a highly conflicted group and ended up with
complete accord - because it turned out the disgreements were not real.

Conflicts don't disappear in a well conducted Future Search - but it
becomes very clear which aspects of the conflicts are substantive, and
which are bred from dysfunctional historical cultural and power
relationship factors. The real high moments come when a Future Search not
only separates out real substantive from power-situated conflicts, but
also reveals to the participants the extent to which their own
dysfunctional behaviours are impeding the system's capacity to function.

Computerised decision support centres are really another form of Future
Search technique. Indeed they are probably the most well structured
variant of Searches.

Phillip Capper
New Zealand



Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>