Mastering social foresight
This eBook includes papers discussing facets of and ideas behind the recently-launched master degree course in social foresight at The University of Trento, Italy. The programme includes a mix of theoretical and empirical activities – integrating academic and non-academic skills. The master course is aimed primarily at professionals and officials, both public and private, wishing to acquire new tools to support strategic decisions. Participants in the master course develop the ability to understand the systemic complexity of contemporary society and acquire a variety of tools – formal and informal – to understand social dynamics and develop robust strategies in situations of uncertainty. The master course’s aim is to help participants to connect together different forms of expertise, including futures studies, social sciences, psychology, system theory, complexity theory and statistics. According to the distinction among the three levels of forecast, traditional futures studies (or foresight 1.0) and the discipline of anticipation (or foresight 2.0), the master programme is solidly grounded on the first two levels with some references to the third one. Perhaps differently from most of the other future-based masters worldwide, the Trento course includes systematic exposure to the relevant contributions of the human and social sciences (including psychology of decisions, social change, values, and secondary analysis techniques) together with the exploitation of formal frameworks (not only statistics, but also system theory and simulation). While the future is open and remains structurally open, it is important to understand the propensities that natural and social forces induce in the operational environment of decision-makers. The current trends may continue undisturbed or they may deflect in different directions, for both internal and external reasons (environmental, economic, political, technological, cultural, legal, etc.). Moreover, new forces can always emerge and radically change the context. When there is not enough information to extrapolate time series, build models or simulations (for lack of time or for other more substantive reasons), one must use other methods to ‘see’ possible futures. Identification of a multiplicity of possible futures has the purpose of opening and making more flexible the mental patterns of decision-makers. Because often not explicit cultural assumptions and professional values restrict the scope of the choices considered possible, reasonable or appropriate, deeper awareness of these assumptions helps broaden the perspective on the choices and their consequences for individuals, communities, organizations and institutions.
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