Why we need everybody improving whole systems

By Sandra Janoff, co-founder of the worldwide Future Search Network


Tonnie van der Zouwen: For many years I am a member of the Future Search Network. Founded by two wise people, Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff. In a recent email to the network, Sandra makes very clear what Future Search is, an what it is not. And why adopting a structural approach rather than a behavioral approach is now more important than ever. We need everybody changing whole systems to deal with the urgent issues of our time. The principles of Future Search are guiding my practice in doing and teaching action research and as a whole system change facilitator. In this blog I would like to share Sandra’s inspiring message.

Future Search enabling the learning curve

Sandra Janoff: Why I’m investing in the Future Search Network now? For me, building a new or re-energized Future Search Network is not about spreading the “brand” far and wide. It’s about deepening and enriching the notion of “everybody improving whole systems.” Future Search is a set of principles for enabling structural change. I see the Network as a way to make ourselves more ready to do this work in the world and make the world more ready to apply it.

Weisbord’s Learning Curve. Source: Book Future Search (Weisbord & Janoff, 2010)

I want the Network to tackle the critical social, environmental, health, economic issues that we face today. There is no escaping the gravity of these issues in the world at this moment. This is beyond thinking about individuals. This is about changing institutional structures that support dysfunctional systems in the context of the other dysfunctional systems in which they live.

I want a community of facilitators who are committed to learning together about what this means, who are aware when this comes into conflict with their need to earn money and support different objectives and who know the difference well enough to articulate what they are doing. When good consultants work in other paradigms they do good work, but a variation of Future Search is not Future Search.

Focused on structural change, not behavioral

I want the boundaries clear. Future Search is not training, it’s not teaching, it’s not consciousness awareness, it’s not relationship building, it’s not behavioral change. These are by-products. That has not really been clear enough. Many colleagues didn’t really understand the depth of our words and thoughts when Marv and I said we are structuralists, not behaviorists. Now is the time for me to walk this path with as many who want to be on it. And, of course, it has to begin with me making the path itself clearer. I am ready to do that. I appreciate the opportunity to share this. This is a time to sit in readiness of what needs doing and gaining clarity about what we can do.

Principles of Future Search

  • Get the “whole system” in the room, invite a significant cross-section of all parties with a stake in the outcome.
  • Explore “the whole elephant” before seeking to fix any part, get everybody talking about the same world; think globally, act locally.
  • Put common ground and future focus front and centre while treating problems and conflicts as information, not action items.
  • Encourage self-management and responsibility for action by participants before, during, and after the future search.

Read more about Future Search and the Network on www.futuresearch.net, or read the book.

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