The Futures Triangle
The futures triangle method consists of identifying three competing factors: the past, present and future contexts. Each of these three corners of the triangle has their own set of trends, drivers and inhibitors, which the users of this method need to list and rank. By using these three corners of the triangle—the weight of the past, the push of the present, and the pull of the future—it is possible to create plausible futures, an essential component of foresight work.
- The first are the contending pulls of the future. The process begins with naming the pull of the future, which contains one dominant visual image or vision. That becomes the issue or context that is being examined in the next steps. There are naturally many competing optional images for the future, but only one shall be put here, together with all beliefs and ideas that a group thinks are linked to the image.
Useful questions to detect the future image and its pulls are:
- What would be the ideal future for this issue or topic?
- Do we have a shared vision of the preferred future and of the futures we want to avoid?
- Do we have a shared image of the logic behind how the future gets formed in this specific case, or are there competing logical beliefs?
- If we were adrift in a river, where do we end up in the issue?
- What tools and resources do we have that can affect the direction and lead us towards that future?
- What do we lack to influence change? What are our limits?
- Is it possible to impact the futures? Or is it needed at all?
- The second is the pushing of the present. The present contains many forces that are currently pushing change forward. These pushes are trends, drivers, technologies and decisions or acts of agents that make new things happen.
Useful questions to detect pushes of the present are:
- What trends and technologies are changing the future right now?
- What things are pushing change forward?
- What already known new policies, procedures, laws, budgets, decisions and technologies will start to push changes forward in the near future (like in the Kennedy case)?
- The third factors are the weights of the past.
The past contains weights, for example, those structural barriers that inhibit change and prevent us from achieving a particular pull or push of the future. These historical weights can be understood as being organisational structures, policies, laws, regulations, procedures, knowledge structures or historical narratives that limit or prevent us from moving forward. They can include existing investments in infrastructure, technology, education, and all the societal contracts, achieved benefits, debts, and demographic structures.
Many strong societal organisations are dedicated to maintain status quo such as labour unions, religions, the army, and so on. Useful questions to detect such weights of past are:
- Who benefits from the status quo or loses if it is changed?
- What are the barriers to change?
- What is holding us back, or getting in our way?
- What are the deep structures that resist change?