Researching the future : method or madness?
This paper examines the methodological issues behind futures studies, questioning whether it is possible to claim a futures study as methodologically ‘sound’, and critiquing how futures methodology fits within the methodological paradigms currently recognised in the research field. The extent to which futures methodology can be considered a paradigm in its own right is also examined as are the assumptive foundations of futures studies. While all the evidence raises many questions as to the form of futures methodology, the lack of clarity does not make a futures study invalid or unreliable, and hence sensemaking from the chaos of futures ‘data’ does ensure that futures studies can be based on method rather than madness. How does one research the future? The very notion of researching the future is a paradox. The word research lies within the time boundaries of the past and the present so to research the future appears a logical impossibility. Attempts to ground the methodology in any single paradigm or set of constructs proves a fruitless task. Indeed, it becomes apparent that when undertaking research into an area that is something new, in the future, which could constitute a new field of research, fundamentally a new methodology needs to be created. This paper discusses how the development of a futures methodology is an on-going process which cannot be bounded by the limitations of strict rigour, but is nevertheless a rigorously sound approach to carrying out research. When researching the future, no one method is appropriate in isolation. While quantitative methods such as forecasting, extrapolation and time series may prove useful if there is raw numerical data to work with, a hypothesis cannot be tested and proven as is the case in many quantitative studies. Given the nature of ‘the future’ itself, raw quantitative analysis needs contextualising and interpreting in light of the assumptive future constructs, and the assumptions themselves need examining for ‘assumption drag’ so that underlying trends and wave patterns are accounted for.