Session 6 :: Generic Futures

1) Overview: To prepare for class you learned about three different kinds of alternative futures.

  • A. Business Futures From the Shell Scenarios team you learned the history of how futures scenarios developed in the oil industry and how countries around the world are using such scenarios to think about their political futures.Shell Scenarios: Exploring the energy future 

Mountain and Oceans Scenarios 

  • B. Global Futures Chris Luebkman described four plausible alternative futures created based on two axis: Human Development Index (high or low) and Planetary Health (high or low). He describes four alternative worlds: Selfish bubble, Carbon is crime, Vortex of despair, and Ecological age. His scenarios are global in scale. They are connected to UN development goals. 
  • Selfish bubble (click here)

Carbon is crime (click here) 

Ecological age (click here) 

As of 2015, the UN SDG set a 20130 deadline to be accomplished. UNSDG goals 

From a design perspective, one would have to ground the scenarios into a particular context (i.e., continent, country, region, state, city/rural area, neighborhood, zip code, community, lot, building, room, etc).

C. Generic Futures Jim Dator describes four different kinds of generic futures that cluster different types of images of futures. the other two kinds of alternative futures described above actually map to Dator’s generic futures.

  • GROWTH A future that manifests the results of current trends and conditions extrapolated forward. This includes both positive and negative growth. Continued economic growth is the basis for the “official” view of the future held by most governments and organizations.
  • DISCIPLINE A future in which a core guiding value or purpose is used to organize society and control behavior. For example, if continued economic growth inevitably leads to collapse, then mandating changes to the system and putting limitations on certain kinds of human behavior (discipline) is a proposed solution. China’s one-child policy is an example of a discipline solution to population growth.
  • COLLAPSE A future in which major social systems are strained beyond the breaking point, causing system collapse and social disarray. Human organization returns to basic needs in order to rebuild. Global environmental collapse due to increased atmospheric and oceanic carbon dioxide levels is one example.
  • TRANSFORMATION A fundamental reorganization of a society or system that signals a break from previous systems. The shift from nomadic hunter-gathering societies to stable, hierarchical agricultural societies was one of the most profound transformations in human history. Greater-than-human machine intelligence, and the revolution this would entail, is a popular transformation scenario.
  • Here is a representation of how some forces of change map to the four generic futures.Futures ForcesGrowthCollapseDisciplineTransformPopulationIncreasingDecliningControlledLimitedEnergySufficientScarceLimitedAbundantEconomyDominantSurvivalRegulatedTrivialEnvironmentConqueredOvershotSustainableArtificialCultureDynamicStableFocusedComplexTechnologyAcceleratingLimitedRestrictedTransformativeGovernanceCorporateLocalStrictDirect 

15 mins: Questions from OLI

  • Watching the Royal Dutch Shell company’s videos about futures made me cringe. Are we sure we should be using methods that colonists are using to ‘settle the conflict’ without talking about the origins of the conflict? More broadly, should we be making futures scenarios for people in non-Westernized societies? Isn’t this just continued colonization?
  • There was the mention that alternative futures oftentimes are perceived as ridiculous or implausible. How can you look past the implausibility of an alternative future to design for that scenario? How should the plausibility of a scenario factor into a design?
  • 5-minute discussion 
  • 1-minute reports

Looking at Masdar City through the lens of generic futures

  • Ten teams, groups work on each type of scenario (Growth, Discipline, Collapse, Transformation). Reorganize so that we have the following teams form five larger teams e.g. the following teams are next to each other and have access to a wall/whiteboard to work on..
    • Teams 1, 5 – Growth
    • Teams 2, 6 – Discipline
    • Teams 3, 7 – Collapse
    • Teams 4, 8 – Transformation
    • Teams 9, 10 – Transformation

55 mins: Sense-making of your alternative futures


Step 1. Represent the four alternative futures you made on Step 14 on a post-it note.  Take a picture of the 4 post-it notes together. Upload the images to the slide deck.

Step 2. Sort and cluster the 16 alternative futures in your group. Use the walls and the whiteboard to do this. What features do the alternative futures have in common? Name each cluster. Document photographically and upload images to slide deck.

Step 3.  Map your self-defined clusters from Step 2 to Dator’s four generic futures. What kinds of images of the future do your clusters fit under?

  • What futures forces seem most prominent in Masdar City Images of the Future clusters as described in each cluster?Futures ForcesGrowthCollapseDisciplineTransformPopulationIncreasingDecliningControlledLimitedEnergySufficientScarceLimitedAbundantEconomyDominantSurvivalRegulatedTrivialEnvironmentConqueredOvershotSustainableArtificialCultureDynamicStableFocusedComplexTechnologyAcceleratingLimitedRestrictedTransformativeGovernanceCorporateLocalStrictDirect 

Step 4. Each group has been assigned to one of Dator’s generic futures. 

  • Teams 1, 5 – Growth
  • Teams 2, 6 – Discipline
  • Teams 3, 7 – Collapse
  • Teams 4, 8 – Transformation
  • Teams 9, 10 – Transformation

How do your concepts from the Masdar assignment Step 6, and Step 10 map to the generic future your group is assigned to? It what way is it a match for the type of future and in what ways is it not a good fit?

Upload Masdar images for Step 10 as a reply to your own post of Step 6 to the discussion. Comment on the fit or lack of fit as a reply to the your post. (Instruction link)

Recap :: We’re going deeper into the ideas of alternative futures and how they connect to Masdar City design concepts.

Homework :: 3 items

  • OLI page 17
  • Week 3 reflection

This is a graded discussion: 20 points possible:

Unit 3: You’ve begun to study alternative worlds this week.

Consider the two types of alternative futures we studied from Chris Luebkman and Jim Dator. What connections do you notice between Luebkman’s ( e.g., Selfish Bubble, Vortex of Despair, Carbon is Crime, Ecological age) and Dator’s generic futures (i.e., Growth, Collapse, Discipline, Transformation)? How do these images of the future relate to Masdar City?

Process Hint: to find the connections between the types of alternative futures you might want to write key words to describe each alternative scenario and then map the connections.

Please write a brief post describing the connections (150 words), and comment on 2 of your classmates. 

  • Finish the in-class assignment. Submit for grading.

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