Foresight and Futures Studies

Steve Rennie posted this news of an MA course at Leeds Metropolitan University

MA Course at Leeds Metropolitan University

It has become increasingly clear that human decisions and actions play an important part in determining the future of both humanity and the world in which we live. At the start of the 21st century we are faced with a range of questions in economic, social, political and technological fields which could have major significance for the future. Many of these questions raise important ethical issues. They are also frequently surrounded by uncertainty.

To make effective decisions we would need knowledge of the future impact of alternative courses of action that we cannot possess. We are consequently forced to make decisions, which have long term implications in conditions of considerable uncertainty. Foresight and Futures Studies, a developing international discipline, aims to critically examine the difficulties associated with making decisions with long term future consequences in conditions of uncertainty and to provide methods through which these difficulties can be minimised and a creative approach to the future adopted.

Among the questions facing humanity is the growing awareness of our dependence on the fragile earth and the impact of human activity over the last 200 years on it. We are faced with the possibility that our species could be working towards its own destruction. We cannot be certain, until it is too late, but the awareness of the possibility creates a novel circumstance. If, for example, we are the first generation that influences global climate, and the last generation to escape the consequences, we have moved into a new era in which we are responsible as never before for what happens in the future.

To an extent, we have had this responsibility since humanity first planted crops, started making tools and began to use fire, but ours is the first generation to become aware of our impact and, consequently, to understand the nature of our responsibility. Previous generations have been able to live without this knowledge, to act in their present assuming that the future would look after itself. We do not have that privilege. Our technology, which if anything, is the cause of the problem, has also given us the ability to perceive it. Human technology has grown so powerful and human numbers have increased so remarkably that the future is not what it used to be. In such circumstances we need to develop our capability to critically assess our potential impact on the future and make decisions accordingly.

Technology, which is itself a product of human ingenuity, is having increasing implications for society. Information Technology, for example, has been called a meta-technology because it has potential implications across a wide range of situations including employment, transport, and the home. The nature of the impact, whether it will be beneficial or harmful and to whom, is subject to wide ranging debate. The ethical issues raised by bio-technology, particularly genetic engineering, are likely to increase as the possibilities of human intervention in natural processes grow. The potential of molecular manufacturing and other emerging technologies and the issues they raise have yet to be explored.

Social changes, particularly demographic changes in the size and location of world population and the ageing of western populations pose major ethical and political issues. In the west projections anticipate a smaller working age population supporting a growing number of pensioners who will require increasing expenditure on health care and social welfare. At the same time some commentators foresee major changes in employment which will raise important social concerns, and question the ability of society to support large numbers of dependents.

The future, as we approach the third millennium, seems ever more uncertain and even threatening. The mechanistic model of reality, on which Industrial Society was built, is increasingly challenged by advances in scientific knowledge. The developing ideas of, for example, Chaos Theory suggest that established methods of understanding reality and assumptions about influencing the future are more limited than once envisaged and that new approaches are required. The problems that confront us are frequently ill structured, "We do not know what information is needed; we have few comprehensive models and no prescription for how to process the information we have. Even worse, there is no end to the problem." Such situations require an approach and an education that accepts complexity and uncertainty and provides the means to deal effectively with them. Foresight and Futures Studies offers such an approach accepting responsibility for the future and of the importance of human action in influencing it .

This is no easy task and raises many philosophical and practical difficulties. The inherent uncertainty of the future means that we cannot know in advance what the impact of some of our actions will be, or how others will react to them. While we can anticipate some of the future discoveries which will be made, we know little about the impact they will have on our lives.

Foresight and Futures Studies offer concepts and methods to work with the difficulties of an uncertain future and to help us deal constructively with a rapidly changing present. They can assist the development of the ability to influence the future rather than merely predict it. To make the future happen for us rather than happen to us.

By focusing attention on the future Foresight and Futures Studies is concerned with the direction that society is taking, rather than where it has come from. In doing so it offers a unique perspective and affords opportunities for the development of the understanding and skills necessary for dealing effectively with the future. The course aims to develop this understanding and these skills to assist a range of social actors in the private, public and voluntary sectors.

Course Structure

The course is composed of three main parts: the Futures Core, the electives and the dissertation.

Core Modules

The four core modules define and consolidate the intellectual and academic philosophy of the course. The Introduction to Foresight and Futures Studies provides a firm grounding in the Futures approach through: an analysis of the various strands of the field in practice and theory; an examination of the historical development of Futures; discussion of some of the issues raised by Foresight activity; and an examination of the writings of major authors in the field. Issues for the Future offers a broad perspective of concerns that have potential importance for the future and an opportunity to begin a more detailed analysis of a particular issue. Methods of Foresight and Futures Studies provides an overview of the range of methods and techniques available for thinking about the future and an opportunity to develop abilities in selected areas. Futures Dilemmas involves an in depth examination of the theoretical and ethical issues raised by the future and human responsibility for it.


The two elective modules offer the opportunity to explore or develop your own personal, professional or vocational interests in Foresight within the framework of a defined field of study. The electives may be selected from the Masters level modules offered by the University or undertaken as a learning contract.

Elective 1 will normally be selected

Elective 2 will normally be selected

The electives provide the opportunity to develop substantive knowledge and skills to which the foresight perspective developed in the core modules can be applied. You will be able to draw on the special skills available throughout the University to assist you to pursue your chosen electives. The following Futures menu of electives is being developed, but your choice is not constrained to these areas. The number of electives available at any one time will be determined by the course team to reflect the prevailing resource situation and student demand.

You will also be able to select electives from Masters modules provided within the University subject to availability and satisfactory study arrangements

Where you choose to undertake a learning contracts you will be encouraged to relate your studies to experiential learning opportunities in the workplace or similar situation. If you opt to undertake two such learning contracts you will be encouraged to relate one to the exploration of an issue of concern and one to the development of abilities in Foresight methods.


The Dissertation is regarded as the culmination of the educational experience provided by the course in which you apply the understanding and skills developed in the core to a detailed study of an area of specific concern. Where appropriate this may draw on and develop work already undertaken during the electives. You will also be encouraged to relate your work to issues of direct relevance to your own activities. Although traditional methods of presentation, in the form of a 15-20,000 word dissertation, will not be discouraged, you will be encouraged to consider alternative forms and methods that may be more appropriate to your circumstances or topic, and which allow you to develop your skills of presentation.

Study Programme

The course will require attendance at three 2 day weekend sessions per semester, with an additional induction session at the commencement of your studies. These sessions will provide the opportunity for formal lectures by members of the course team and visiting speakers and discussion with your fellow students. Throughout the course you will be part of a learning group for the exchange of ideas and experiences with staff and students both during and between the weekend sessions.

For further information contact :

Graham May at Leeds Metropolitan University,
Steve Rennie "Rennie, Steve [HSC]" <>

or see Leeds Metropolitan University web page