Influential futures reports from the past

By Robert Hickson 18/03/2014

It was, apparently, “Future Day” on the first of March. I didn’t see that coming, and Google didn’t have a Doodle commemorating it so it can’t be that big a deal yet.

The School of International Futures celebrated it, after a fashion, by listing five important futures publications in the last half century.

Their criteria were

… these publications and the people involved have helped to shape strategic futures, to raise the profile and importance of strategic foresight and to embed futures into both policy and strategic planning.

Drum roll please …

The limits to growth (1972). This attempted to model future population growth and its effects. Its pessimistic scenarios resulted in extensive criticism, but some of it’s predictions don’t appear wide of the mark now.

Shell’s early scenarios (1973). When one of the world’s most profitable companies supports futures thinking for forty years there must be some value in it. Last year Shell published a brief retrospective on their scenarios.

Mont Fleur Scenarios (1992). These helped inform the post-apartheid government in South Africa. Adam Kahane, who facilitated the workshops, has given his impressions on their impact.

Kenya at the Crossroads Scenarios for Our Future (2000). I hadn’t heard of these, and aren’t sure what influence they actually had.

Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World (2008). From the US National Intelligence Council. They published their first global trend report in 1997 (looking out to 2010). But the 2025 report flagged a possible “multi-polar” world.


You could include the IPCC assessment reports. Irrespective of your opinion of them (or your position on climate change), they have been important for both governments and some in the private sector. However, I’d go for the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (2006) since coming from an influential economist it made many outside of the science and NGO communities really sit up and take notice.

The important thing about futures reports isn’t whether they are right, but whether they stimulate more critical thinking about the future, and they lead to change.