What is Future Search?


Publication: 2014-01-07


Future search brings people from all walks of life into the same conversation - those with resources, expertise, formal authority and need. They meet for 16 hours spread across three days. People tell stories about their past, present and desired future. Through dialogue they discover their common ground. Only then do they make concrete action plans.

The meeting design comes from theories and principles tested in many cultures for the past 50 years. It relies on mutual learning among stakeholders as a catalyst for voluntary action and follow-up. People devise new forms of cooperation that continue for months or years.


Name:Future Search


Future search is a PLANNING MEETING that helps people transform their capability for action very quickly. The meeting is task-focused. It brings together 60 to 80 people in one room or hundreds in parallel rooms.


  • Sandra JanoffCo-Director -- Email

  • Marvin WeisbordCo-Director -- Email

  • Jennifer NeumerProgram Manager -- Email

  • Ronald LippittFuture Search derives from well-researched theories on the conditions under which diverse groups will cooperate (Weisbord, et al 1992). Our main sources of inspiration are two. One is Ronald Lippitt's and Eva Schindler-Rainman's large-scale community futures conferences in 88 cities, states, counties in North America. During the 1970's they assembled as many as 300 people at a time, a vertical slice of an entire community. In a day or two people would commit to many new projects considered unthinkable a few days before (Schindler-Rainman & Lippitt, 1980).

  • Eva Schindler-Rainman

  • Eric TristA second major source is the work of social scientists Eric Trist, an Englishman, and Fred Emery, an Australian. In 1960 Emery and Trist made a major breakthrough in meeting design working with the merger of two aircraft engine companies in England. They sought to apply the research of the late social psychologist Solomon Asch (1952), whose studies pointed to a set of conditions for effective dialogue. People would accept each other's reality, said Asch, if they could all talk about the same world and experience that all had the same psychological needs, for food, shelter, security, and meaning. They could then begin to treat "my facts" and "your facts" as "our facts", opening the door to effective planning.

  • Fred Emery

  • Kurt LewinFrom Lippitt and Schindler-Rainman we learned to get the whole system in the room and focus on the future, not problems and conflicts. From Trist and Emery we learned the importance of getting everybody to talk about the same world and having people manage their own planning (Weisbord, et al, 1992). The name "future search" honors both sets of ancestors. We also share with all of them a commitment to democratic ideals and their embodiment in the action research tradition of the famed social psychologist Kurt Lewin (G.W. Lewin, ed. 1948).

  • Future Search NetworkFuture searches affect every part of society - social, economic and technical. Future Search Network is an active participant in the following sectors ... * Business -- Banking, Manufacturing and Technology... * Communities -- Including Housing, Employment, Transportation * Congregations -- Religious Communities * General Education -- Private, Public, Elementary and Secondary Schools * Higher Education -- Colleges, Universities and Technical Institutes * Environment -- Agriculture, Conservation and Land Use * Government -- County, State and Federal Agencies * Healthcare -- Hospitals, HMO's, Nursing and Mental Health * Human Services -- Aging, Child Care, Cultural Institutions, Domestic Violence, Family Planning, Museums, Welfare Reform, Youth

  • InterAmerican Development Bank

  • Kahuku HospitalOahu, Hawaii

  • Future Search SponsorsHundreds of organizations, institutions and communities have sponsored future searches. This list provides their names and locations: