Title

Future Search

Brief Description (including a definition if possible)


Future Search is a large-scale interactive planning process enabling diverse stakeholder groups, each with their own agenda, to achieve shared goals through collaborative action.

History (if applicable)


Originated by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff in 1985. Inspired by Eric Trist and Fred Emery's Search Conference methodology.

When to use


To address a major challenge shared by multiple stakeholder groups, each with their own interests and value requirements.

How to use


The central concept of Future Search is getting the whole system in the room to find common ground.

The approach is best suited to groups of 64 people (8 cabaret tables, each seating 8 people).

The length of a Future Search event is two to three days (including two overnight sleeps).

Participants find a way to address a shared challenge by working through the five stages:

1. Review the past from several different perspectives.
2. Map the present.
3. Create a range of future scenarios.
4. Identify the common ground.
5. Develop action plans.

A Future Search conference is planned by a steering committee of volunteers and managed by two facilitators.

Work is done at round tables in mixed groups of eight.

(This is the official version. In the light of research done by Nicolas Fay, Simon Garrod and Jean Carletta, and experiments undertaken by David Gurteen, sub-groups of four are likely to be more productive.)

Extensive use is made of large sheets of paper taped to the wall.

The past is reviewed through three ‘timeline’ charts – one for personal milestones, another for important organisational or community developments, and a third for global events.

Participants then create one large mind map of current reality, and say what they are proud and sorry about regarding the current situation.

Each small group generates a vision of the future, which it presents in a creative way to the other groups.

Common ground is then identified.

The action planning that completes the Future Search is normally done in functional or self-selecting groups.

The Future Search methodology does not extend to coordination of post-event implementation work.

Tips and Lessons Learnt


The fixed format of Future Search presents a number of limitations. For example, in one of the activities, the participants are seated in arcs around a large sheet of paper taped to the wall, and they create a mind map showing the various factors related to the shared challenge. This activity cannot be undertaken with a very large group. The upper limit is around 70 people.

However, the same result can be achieved through other means, such as a Post-it Note process.

If the group mind map activity is included, it is better to have participants create it themselves, in their own writing, rather than have the facilitators create it for them.

The Future Search format is best used as nothing more than a starting point. Real Time Strategic Change principles can then be employed to create a customised conference design.

Examples & Stories

(add your story)

Who can tell me more?


Related Methods / Tools / Practices


Real Time Strategic Change (Robert W. Jacobs)
Whole-ScaleChange (Dannemiller Tyson Associates)
Search Conferences (Eric Trist and Fred Emery)

Resources (add your resources)

(URLs, photos, podcasts)

Keywords, Tags


Co-creation, Collaboration, Large Group Interventions, Futuring

Photo or image credits

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Page Authors


Page initiated by Jack Martin Leith.