Futures Triangle: A Futures Thinking Now Conversation

Topics: 101, Future of Learning, Systems Change

Educators are constantly working within individual, historical and community contexts that form complex webs within the education landscape. With school improvement and school redesign being a conversation for educators and education leaders for a long time, it’s helpful to break down the wholistic understanding into three distinct ways – the history, present and future. 

But the Futures Triangle never asks you to completely break issues apart to examine them individually. Rather, the tool intuitively hopes you hold them together to recognize the relationships, to ground you and to see trends for the futureUse this time with the Futures Triangle to think about the present and what you want for the future and what assumed constants have been retraining us from moving forward. 

Sample Exercise: Why do I make the choices I make?

Someone recently came to us with a way they’ve used the Futures Triangle, using the following steps: 

  1. If you only focus on the push of the present, what kinds of decisions do you make? Analyze the best choices and the possible solutions. 
  2. Now take into consideration the weight of history and the push of the present. How does that change the decisions you’re making? 
  3. Now apply the pull of the future. 

We all want to react urgently in the moment, but, by doing this exercise, you can reveal how introducing these other dimensions would change the decision-making process and the decisions made to be more conscientiously. In doing this, we’re able to break down conditioned ways of thinking and patterns that don’t work. This tool might be able to give pause to help uncondition yourself in how you first respond or react, what questions you ask, how you compartmentalize and how you determine what is most urgent. 

In collaborative efforts with insightful reflection, the Futures Triangle conversations are more intentional and tend to be broader, looking at external factors’ influence and venturing deeper into the Triangle’s uses. Taking the time to reflect on the big picture and the underlying reasons why a phenomenon is happening and why we do what we do can be useful. When facilitating, aim to find out the whys and hows without assigning blame. 

In response to the immediacy of COVID-19, we tend to look at the push of the present, rather than the pull of the future and the weight of the past. So much is overwhelming right now. Just getting through one day can be difficult. But coming together to have tough conversations and solve even the smallest problem can be extremely uplifting, rewarding and constructive. Now is the perfect time to experiment because the things that people thought were a given and a stable force are now debatable.  

Romero and Pello also explain why futures thinking tools are important for pandemic times and why education is the perfect place to do so. 
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The Futures Triangle can help teams explore desired complex social phenomena, paradigms or cultural understandings. It can also help teams take action, elevating understanding, consensus and community building. 

To see how it can be used, we filmed the process below. However, we would like to note that even though we are only two people modeling the process, the more people using the tool  especially from traditionally underrepresented but highly impacted groups  the better.

Learn how to think about and change systems with Looking Beneath the Surface: The Education Changemaker’s Guidebook to Systems Thinking.

This article was co-written with Rita Pello, former manager of communications for KnowledgeWorks.