Futures Thinking

Please read and reflect on the following executive summary for this proposal,
or even better, the full proposal given here: FuturesThinkingProposal.pdf
Then please read and contribute to the commentary for this proposal.

Executive Summary: Futures Thinking and Innovation
Authors: Janna Anderson and Anthony Weston


In his Charge to the Class of 2011, President Lambert laid out challenges to the generation we are now educating, including remaking public education, facing the debt issue, the need to find practical solutions for energy and environmental problems and to find our way to a resilient and vigorous practice of religious tolerance. This QEP proposes that Elon embrace the project of teaching students the necessary skills to think in distinctively critical, creative, and constructive new ways – in short, Futures Thinking (FT) – at a whole new level of deliberate aspiration and specificity.


Suppose that in ten years all Elon graduates were able to:

  • Anticipate and articulate multiple significant ways in which patterns of change now developing – including those probable but not now visible – will affect and possibly transform both the field of his/her interest/major and society as a whole.
  • Use multiple problem-solving and creative-thinking skills to develop original ideas for innovative responses to such patterns of change, both foreseeable and unforeseeable; including significant and broad-scale possible mitigations or alternatives to the negative aspects of the patterns of change now being discussed or beginning to emerge.
  • Base these abilities in turn upon multiple significant ways in which they have already been engaged with Futures Thinking at the personal and institutional levels, as well as engagement with the work of contemporary futures thinkers; and their deeply-rooted expectation to make FT a part of their continuing lives.

New Curriculum

Develop and implement a futures-oriented curricular initiative systematically integrated into GST110. On the upper level, mandate a futures component in senior seminars, and/or a separate course (“Chemistry: Past, Present, Future”, “The Future of History”, etc.) in each major. Create Immersion Semesters for students interested in taking carefully-coordinated clusters of futures-oriented courses in various disciplines, with a coordinated travel component. Create a Futures Studies minor with affiliated faculty from across the University.

Related Initiatives

Create an independent office of diverse Futures Advocates to challenge and diversify our usual operating assumptions and practices in regard to the future, including establishing a series of invited Visiting Futures Visionary/Scholars who will speak both to Elon’s situation and to the region’s. Commit to funding at least one major new future-oriented regional or global initiative per year, designed from the start to be able to spin off into independent, on-going projects (that might also employ and showcase our students and graduates). Initiate a "funding best futures project," which involves students led by faculty filtering foundation requests for philanthropy, with the possibility of developing a global reputation for philanthropic futuring. Create and “brand” a futures studies curriculum for K-12 educators. Establish a campus-wide foresight unit to monitor emerging-futures scenarios. Launch highly visible and carefully thought-through small–scale pilot projects on or near campus, such as incubators for new technologies, projects to revivify locally degraded economies/ecologies, and arts initiatives with a distinctive futures focus. Make Elon a visible generative node both for new programs and for new ideas in the area.

The full proposal given here: FuturesThinkingProposal.pdf

Please read the comments on this proposal and post your own thoughts/responses (or e-mail QEP@elon.edu)

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All Comments

  • If Futures Thinking becomes our QEP I would like to suggest that we consider starting "Elon Labs". The idea is to have students work on product/idea/? development with the support of faculty in an interdisciplinary/entrepreneurial setting. For example, one can think of students in science fields collaborating with business and communication students on traditional high tech product development; communication/humanities collaborations on expressive projects; education/business/communication collaborations related to educational innovations, etc. The goal would be to help students think in interdisciplinary and creative ways, promoting innovation and strategic thinking. It would also be a natural fit for many of our students who choose Elon because of the engaging learning environment.

  • As a senior, I wish this already existed...30 minute sessions in the Career Center just aren't enough, though they are incredibly helpful. This would be fantastic.

  • I propse that Futures Thinking be a major focus for the Elon community. The main reason most students attend a university is to better ourselves for a FUTURE career. With future thinking we can prepare for the society in which we will all be a part of and further our personal goals in every area of things to come.

  • I found this Qep to be the one that is most different from other plans on the list as well as what Elon is already proposing to change via other avenues (strategic plan, gst audit, etc). I really like it and I hope to see Elon institute it.

  • The category of "futures thinking and innovation" also encompasses principles of "design thinking" now being used by the world's most innovative organizations. Futures and design thinking can provide a wonderful (and much needed) bridge between arts, sciences, and commerce by applying traditional principles of art/design/production to redesigning commerce and innovatiion through creative problem solving. (This Forbes piece discusses overlap of "futures thinking" and "design thinking": http://www.forbes.com/2010/01/14/tim-brown-ideo-leadership-managing-design.html ). Here are several links to a few interesting articles on how this might be implemented in an academic setting, and potential for using such a focus to help build powerful bridges of collaboration between liberal arts and professional programs at Elon (eg, http://www.aacsb.edu/publications/archives/julaug08/32-39%20sustainable%20innovation.pdf ; http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/business/10mba.html?pagewanted=all ; http://www.unusualleading.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/HBR-on-Design-Thinking.pdf ). If only our Congress could employ futures-thinking and design-thinking to bridge their entrenched ideological positions and engage in real problem solving!

  • I definitely think this is a good QEP that everyone can take advantage of coming out of college. I can't speak for other majors but as a Communications/New Media major it's often pretty intimidating thinking about career options when I sometimes feel like I'm studying for jobs that won't exist in five years. And on a larger scale, knowing how to anticipate and go about solving future problems is one of the greatest advantages we can get out of our college education. Given how fast technology and society are changing, I feel this is a very relevant initiative that would greatly benefit the university as a whole.

  • I find that this QEP Futures Thinking is the best out of the six. This basis of Futures Thinking can be a larger umbrella that can encompass all of the QEP Proposals. It is important to anticipate the needs of all students both in the present and the future. With this proposal, it sets the students up for success when it comes to technology, change, diversity which will make our students more globalized in their futures.

  • I am responding to the first three responses to this QEP - which you will find below this point on the page... <br/><br/>The very fact that anyone would write that futures thinking is a skill that is "unrelated" or not "integrated... closely" shows how desperately we all need to be educated in it. One person remarked, "I struggle to think how that many people can get involved." Of course futures thinking involves everyone. Isn't your future important to you? Is the global future, the local future important? Is it important to consider the past and the present and work to accomplish the best possible results today for a better tomorrow? Is the acquisition of skills in horizon-scanning, creative problem-solving and innovative thinking vital to everyone no matter what his or her area of interest and life plans? <br/><br/>This is a QEP that is "integrated... closely" with all the others. Is a QEP that thoroughly embraces ALL of the elements of ALL of the other proposed QEPs worthy of our consideration? Of course. Please recognize that diversity, civic engagement, information literacy, intellectual engagement, and writing are all essential in the pursuit of a community that actively embraces all of the elements of futures thinking and approaches them in a purposeful manner. <br/><br/>The Elon Academy - uplifting area high school students and giving them hope for the future and the tools to accomplish their own positive future and a brighter future for all of us - is just one example of futures thinking brought to fruition. Imagine a university community that pulls together to accomplish more of this type of goal all the time thanks to having futures thinking embedded in all we do. The Elon Academy is the embodiment of Elon futures thinking. We can do MORE.<br/><br/>Developing more purposeful ways to advance global good because we more thoroughly understand where we have been, where we are and where we might be going is what futures thinking is all about. Not standing idly by and waiting for the future to happen to us, but cultivating a deep understanding the possible, probable and preferred futures scenarios that are likely to play out and working toward the best outcomes we can possibly achieve - this takes foresight. Such abilities require nurturing and training. This QEP helps every person in our community and all of the people we touch everywhere forever in a great ripple of positive change.

  • This is way cool but just seems so unrelated to other things are are doing. Maybe that is the point but I struggle to think of how that many people can get involved.

  • This is a thought-provoking proposal. I suspect it would be us out ahead of other institutions in some ways, but I don’t see it as closely intertwined with our existing institutional priorities and General Studies curriculum revisions as some of the others. While it would be worthwhile and interesting, it would take us into a new areas and I must admit I’m someone who is leery of adding “another new thing” when there are already important newish things on the table (like General Studies revision). I feel like there’s less consensus that futures thinking is one of the absolutely necessary things all of us should be inculcating in our students.

  • This idea would be particularly good if integrated more closely with diversity and civic engagement.