This framework by James Dator, one of the fathers of futures studies, is founded on two fundamental truths about our relationship to the future. First, we can never know for sure what lies ahead. That means we should think in terms of various possible futures, rather than attempt to make predictions with high degrees of certainty. Second, humans make sense of the future in the same way we make sense of the past: by telling ourselves stories about it. As a result, it pays to examine the stories to see our current situation more clearly while thinking about possible futures from different perspectives.
When so much feels uncertain, the Four Futures framework is a powerful tool to reignite thinking on where you’re at now and what comes next. It’s not as much about trying to predict the future as it is a framework to facilitate the building of useful models of potential options for consideration.
Dator’s model observes that all our narratives (stories, scenarios) on social change issues can be classified into four recurring groups of images, stories, or policies regarding effects of that change, as follows: