The role of questions in futures thinking

Bogie, G. M. (2010-10)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2010.


The opportunity identified is to develop further breadth and depth of inquiry in futures work by making explicit the use of questions throughout the process of futures work. The focus of this study is therefore process related rather than subject matter specific. Common sense suggests that all research methods apply questions and inquiry at some point in the process. The proposition put forward is that many research projects only imply questions and do not deliberately articulate the underlying inquiry process. This study therefore focuses on those methods that explicitly apply questions as a deliberate process or as a specific element in a process of futures work. The primary objectives are to identify the extent to which questions are used in existing futures work; to consider how other disciplines could inform the study; and to identify, adapt or create a framework of inquiry specifically for futures thinking, where the framework establishes explicit and deliberate use of questions in the inquiry process. The review of futures literature identified that questions are often used in a specific manner and it is notable the number of futures methods that use questions in a primary role. This becomes most evident in the paradigmatic and exploratory methods. The practitioners who stand out as strong proponents of questions are Inayatullah, Ulrich, Senge, Godet and Sardar. The study then focuses on thinking processes that have relevance to futures work, drawing from other disciplines including psychology, social psychology, philosophy and the social sciences. It explores the use of questions in individual thinking, conversation, collective thinking and learning processes. The process framework is a synthesis of ideas, combining futures thinking with these different perspectives. The concepts are used to generate a framework of futures thinking using positive questions with conversation; and these are the central ideas that distinguish the process. Using all the components concurrently and collectively reflects the systemic nature of futures projects. The preparation and appropriation components define context, identify meaning, create challenges and compel commitment. Positive energy is generated by focusing on positive intentions and positive questions. Individual thinking may be critical, reflective or creative; values, virtues and ethics act as standards for evaluating the wisdom of actions of the individual within a social context. The process is multi dimensional, operating simultaneously and sequentially, within and in conjunction with other methods. Learning is pursued as a collaborative endeavour through conversations that matter. The process framework aims at creating meaningful futures through active engagement in positive questioning and conversation with the aim of taking collective action that is both innovative and wise.

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