Future Studies: An Interdisciplinary Vehicle for Space Science Education


Kerry M. Joels
Curator, Future Studies
National Air and Space Museum

I. The Study of the Future

The interdisciplinary study of space includes fields such as: the sciences, mathematics, and engineering of hardware; the management, politics, and economics of program governance; and the history, art, journalism, and sociology of the effort. Future studies also require a wide variety of interdisciplinary skills. Marrying the subject matter of space studies with the methods of future studies produces a wealth of interesting interdisciplinary educational experlences.

Future studies, as the term evolved in the curriculum, does not deal exclusively with attempts to predict the future. Future studies can help to define the current status of society‹e.g., technologically, socially, esthetically. This "world view" then can be compared with other potential "world views" through a series of intellectual filters.

Of course, there is a predictive element to future studies. Trend analysis, surveys, statistical analysis, operational research, and systems research are just a few of the techniques available to the futurist. In fact, all three major divisions of research‹experimental, descriptive, and historical‹are used in the process called "futuring."

At first blush, one might assume that a futurist is primarily concerned with scientific and technical trends and their societal impacts. Futurist literature often creates this impression. But, as the field has matured, futurists have explored ethical, sociological, esthetic, and other considerations. The interdisciplinary aspect of space studies and the interdisciplinary nature of future studies techniques provide numerous dynamic combinations from which one can create stimulating sets of classroom experiences.

Studying the future creates another by-product: an awareness, or even an inertia, which can change the future or allow a better acclimation to the future.

Techniques used in the futuring process vary widely, but often include: (1) Delphi surveys, questionnaires, and polls that use individuals with specialized or generalized knowledge and attempt to reach a consensus on future options; (2) statistically-based methods such as extrapolation, probability, variance, regression, or correlation techniques; (3) analogies with existing systems or theses and scenarios developed to describe policy options (for example, see McDougall on historical analogy); and (4) role playing, simulation games, conflict resolution, mediation, negotiation, and other group dynamics techniques for planning and projecting the future.

II. Tools for the Futuring Process

A. Delphi Surveys, Questionnaires, and Polls

Perhaps the simplest techniques for futuring exploit expert opinion. Recently I had a lecture on the future of humankind from a New York cabbie. His conclusions were reasonable, and his sources‹e.g., television, the New York Daily News, Time magazine‹ were unimpeachable, if unimpressive. A poll of such "street philosophers" probably would reveal a great deal about how the thinking "ordinary working person" feels about the future. However, to verify such conclusions one would need statistics on New York cabbies, including: age, education level, outside interests, ethnic background, and income level.

A substantially easier and more reliable means of building a data base is to poll or survey a more intellectually homogeneous group about specific aspects of the future. The Delphi technique was developed for just that purpose. Delphi surveys employ several rounds of questionnaires, and participant feedback from preceding rounds is used to refine questions for successive rounds. The entire process is supervised by referees, who also generate the questionnaires. The questionnaires generally focus on forced-choice questions, for example: The space program would receive more funding if a major mineral deposit was discovered on the Moon. a) Strongly Agree, b) Agree, c) Neutral (no opinion), d) Disagree, e) Strongly Disagree.

The feedback provided between rounds is distributed to participants, who can compare their responses to the aggregate opinions of the group. Participant comments and questions also are incorporated into the next round of questionnaires. Such studies usually tend to develop a consensus. Moreover, Delphi surveys can be conducted by mail, creating a sample of many individuals in diverse locations.

One-shot polls and questionnaires also can be of some value in gathering data or refining questions. Panel discussions incorporate group dynamics and represent another device for examining policy options and defining opinion and dissent on future-related topics.

B. Statistical Tools

Statistical methods of prediction have been and continue to be widely used in future studies. Extrapolation curves "picture" projected changes or reflect the effects of outside disturbances on previous trends or forecasts. For example, a study might assess telecommunications devices which might dominate the weakest sectors of society and consequent behavioral or social changes. The study might concentrate on one particular product, e.g., home satellite antennas. Since the television viewing habits of families who own the device are known to be different from those of families who do not own an antenna, could the study predict the effect of widespread use? A simple linear extrapolation may not be relevant, because there obviously is some limit to the number of antennas that could be sold. Price breakthroughs, variations in economic conditions, or the development of an alternative technology (e.g., the read/ write video disc) could all dramatically affect any projected trend curve. The linear, exponential, or "S" curves that might be generated all tell different stories and suggest different societal effects.

Correlation, another analytical tool, can investigate both possible relationships among subjects with varying characteristics‹e.g., age, salary level, education level‹and other discrete or continuous variables. Such correlations can develop useful inferences on future-related topics. For example, if there was a high correlation between salary level and the likelihood of purchasing a home satellite receiver, researchers might be able to identify a specific group whose behavior might ultimately change as a result of such a purchase.

C. Analogies and Scenarios

Less mathematically-based future studies activities often use analogies and scenario development. Many historical and natural precedents can form the basis of meaningful forecasts. Rates of diffusion, population increases or decreases, and other factors often constitute natural yardsticks for measuring the accuracy of predictions or observations. Historical analogy facilitates research into parallel or analogous situations. For example, a stimulating and useful comparison can be made between the rise and fall of Ming dynasty naval exploration and contemporary space exploration.

Scenario development hypothesizes a variety of possible social, economic, and political developments and discusses the implications of such developments individually and in combination. A scenario also is a framework for structuring forecasts. The scenario can depict a detailed future (with extensive discussion about the ramifications of significant factors) or make a simple statement of condition (allowing the identification of relevant variables and the discussion of policy options). An illustrative list of possible scenarios is included in Appendix Three.

D. Role Playing and Simulation Games

Futurist studies also have adapted several group dynamics techniques in widespread use in the social sciences. Role playing permits firsthand student participation in the decisionmaking process and incorporates a great many affective (emotional) factors surrounding specific issues. In role playing, students may individually or collectively form evaluation boards, conduct hearings, or assume the roles of competing mission scientists, spacecraft designers, civilian review boards, and other "stakeholders." Congressional testimony and technical documents provide a wealth of background information‹and periodicals (e.g., Aviation Week and Space Technology), newspapers (e.g., The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Christian Science Monitor), and news magazines and commentaries often publish materials on contemporary space science issues. The research necessary to prepare for an effective role-playing exercise hones skills which can be applied to all academic activity.

Conflict resolution and negotiation skills can be subcomponents of role-playing activities. Launch schedule allocation, mission priorities, research and development funding, and other specific problems can be negotiated and resolved in the classroom setting. Occasionally, even seemingly irreconcilable positions (e.g., space as a boondoggle versus a salvation) can serve as fascinating vehicles for lessons in comparative values. Such lessons often translate to post-graduation industrial and professional settings as well.

Simulation gaming requires more extensive preparation but also transfers learning out of the textbook and into the experiential realm. A simulation game can be win or no-win and can utilize all the foregoing techniques.

Hypothetical or actual conflicts involving groups, nations, or individuals provide a framework for the evolution and testing of strategies appropriate to the particular goal of the chosen game. Games should be constructed to avoid the cheap or quick victory. Therefore, game development often proceeds experimentally, until the bugs can be worked out. Of course, playing such games can consume a great deal of time and consequently might be considered a "laboratory" experience.

Suggested game topics include: limited or limitless growth, space funding, star wars‹the military in space, U.N. conference on communications resources, energy‹the space option, and designing the manned Mars mission. All of these topics suggest obvious multivariable problems and opportunities for competing philosophical or technical objectives. Some games are designed specifically as no-win games which allow a variety of conclusions; sometimes the process of the game is more important than the outcome. Such factors should be clearly stated in the game instructions.

The students may wish to design their own scenarios for role-playing situations or games. Elements of gaming (objectives, methodologies, strategies, chance) can all be integrated into the game structure. Success in the game can be measured in terms of accumulation of position, wealth, resources, positive decisions, or success at compromise, cooperation, or adaptability.

A selection of space science future scenarios appears in Appendix Three to serve as an idea bank for the various techniques discussed. The scenarios can be used as a basis for: developing analogies; suggesting trend analyses; undertaking policy analyses; creating questionnaires or Delphi surveys; or even conducting interviews with faculty "experts" and refining the scenarios themselves. The sample scenarios also provide topics for role-playing and simulation games.

Clearly, the future is not predictable. No amount of statistical evidence renders any system totally knowable, and natural systems have both quantum and macro uncertainties. However, a choice of futures is more likely when there is an adaptation to change. Moreover, perceptions of the future are as powerful as events themselves. Cultural overlays to objective events and ethical and philosophical factors are all part of perceiving and thereby interpreting the future. The most important aspect of the Club of Rome report on limits to growth, for example, may be the futures we avoid as a result of the analysis. The dire predictions of shortages, overpopulation, and ecological disasters may be avoided through timely recognition of dangers and modification of group and individual behavior. In this vein, societal momentum or inertia can be affected by the futurist. Since all predictive techniques influence the perception of reality, the futurist can play an important role in corporate, governmental, technological, and academic activity.

Appendix Three materials also include a brief reading list and several course syllabi that reflect the above methods.

Appendix Three

Future Studies

Scenarios, Readings, and Syllabi for Future Studies

Kerry M. Joels Curator, Space Future Studies National Air and Space Museum

I. Some Useful Scenarios
€ Products are manufactured in space and produce profits on Earth.
€ The Shuttle proves inadequate to carry tonnage required for space industries.
€ The nation's economy takes a serious downturn.
€ The Europeans sell hundreds of launches on their expendable boosters.
€ The Soviet Union announces a manned mission to Mars.
€ A multinational oil company decides to build a commercial shuttle to provide launch services.
€ The national resolve to continue space exploration waivers in the wake of a serious Shuttle accident.
€ A product manufactured in the microgravity of space‹e.g., a drug that slows the aging process, a crystal that revolutionizes the semiconductor industry, biologicals and pharmaceuticals that virtually eliminate several diseases‹creates a dramatic impact on social or economic structures.
€ Solar power satellites prove marginally feasible, and the Arab countries invest money to have the satellites built and, consequently, own the power satellites.
€ Studying planetary data provides clues to accurate long-term weather prediction on Earth, but more detailed analysis is needed .
€ Third World nations block expansion and utilization of radio frequency spectrums and geosynchronous orbit slots.
€ International concern over the militarization of space intensifies .
€ A radical launch vehicle breakthrough reduces the cost of a pound of payload from $2,000 to $10.
€ A radio transmission of extraterrestrial origin is received.
€ Communications satellite costs average $1-2 per hour for audio, video, and data-two-way transmissions.
€ A space action lobby receives massive public and political support, or the U.S. assigns high priority to accelerated space exploration .
€ A breakthrough in communication satellite engineering makes one thousand television channels available to every household in the U.S. or the world.
€ A company or a nation obtains a monopoly on remote sensing of mineral, agricultural, and other resources.
€ Political activists make aerospace programs and installations the target for media campaigns and demonstrations.
€ A major space effort generates half a million jobs.
€ Electronic universities offer accredited degree programs via media.
€ A space mission discovers a group of asteroids or a lunar site containing tons of rare and strategic metals or minerals.
€ Nuclear war seems imminent, and a large self-supporting space station to house 100,000 people is under construction.
€ A fundamental breakthrough in artificial intelligence eliminates the need for staffed space missions.
€ A test solar power satellite "blows out" some communications satellites, but transmits power successfully.
€ The European Space Agency and the Soviet bloc agree to build a Eurograd space station for 1,000 cosmonauts.
€ The Space Telescope detects exploding X-ray objects that destroy life in whole galaxies at regular intervals.
€ Fusion energy initiates another era of cheap energy for Earth.
€ A new ice age reduces the world's food growing areas, but solettas (i.e., satellite-based solar reflected mirrors) demonstrate the capability to extend growing seasons.
€ Remote sensing discovers vast oil or mineral reserves in relatively accessible and politically stable areas, or in the polar regions.
€ The U.N. is authorized to establish a "human migration and space utilization" organization.

II. Some Useful Books

Kenneth Boulding. "The Meaning of the Twentieth Century." Harper and Row, 1962.

James Bright. "Technological Forecasting for Industry and Government: Methods and Applications." Prentice-Hall, 1968.

T. Stephen Cheston and David Webb. "The Space Humanization Series." Institute for the Social Science Study of Space, Vol. 1, 1979.

Jerry Grey and Christine Krop. "Space Manufacturing III." American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1979.

Marilyn Ferguson. "The Aquarian Conspiracy." Tarcher, 1980.

Willis Harmon. "An Incomplete Guide to the Future." San Francisco Books, 1976.

Ehrich Jantsch. "Technological Forecasting in Perspective." Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1967.

Thomas Jones. "Options for the Future." Praeger, 1980.

Herman Kahn. "The Next 200 Years." William Morrow, 1976.

Robert Maidment and Russell Bronstein. "Simulation Games: Design and Implementation." Merrill, 1973.

John McLucas and Charles Sheffield. "Commercial Operations in Space 1980-2000." Vol. 51, Science and Technology Series. American Astronautical Society, 1981.

Gerard O'Neill. "The High Frontier." Bantam, 1978.

Gerard O'Neill. "2081." Simon and Schuster, 1981.

E.F. Schumacher. "Small Is Beautiful." Harper and Row, 1973.

Fannie Shaftel and G. Shaftel. "Role-Playing for Social Values: Decision Making in the Social Sciences." Prentice-Hall, 1967.

Malcolm Shaw. "Role-Playing: A Practical Manual for Facilitators." University Associates, 1980.

Alvin Toffler. "The Third Wave." Bantam, 1980.

J. Peter Vajk. "Doomsday Has Been Cancelled." Peace Press, 1978.

III. Syllabus University of Minnesota Course: Education in Future Social Systems Instructor: Arthur M. Harkins

Description Interdisciplinary inquiry into problems of social specialization and generalization; projections and analysis of long-range (thirty years or more) social and technological trends related to education.

Comment The purpose of the course is to describe and explain the basic forms of theory, methodology, and method used in the research, creation, and evaluation of alternative social and educational futures. Theoretical justifications for the rigorous study of the future are critically examined, especially those associated with "engineering"‹ or architectonic‹systems approaches to social and education reconstruction.

1. To provide a systematic introduction to futures study at the graduate level for students interested in education: Why look to alternative futures in society and formal/informal education; What to look at in alternative futures, such as negative or positive futures; and How to look at alternative futures, such as discovery and invention perspectives and forecasting methodologies. The educational policy implications of the above.
2. To identify and systematically analyze practical problems encountered in introducing a new field to graduate education students and to relate that field to other disciplines and areas of study, for example: sociohistorical/systemic studies of education; anthropological/systemic studies of education; sociological/systemic studies of education; legal/systemic studies of education; educational policy implications of the above.
3. To equip and motivate education graduate students to pursue systematic productive studies of alternative educational futures within their own major fields, further developing their understanding of futures methods and their critical appraisal of futures study. For example, from policy and other perspectives, how are major features of their fields: Forecasting? Developing along mutually supportive or conflicting lines? Shapable? Not controllable?
4. To pursue points one through three within the framework of comparative general systems thinking and analysis, stressing educational policy issues.
5. To identify needs for systematic curriculum development in futures study, in itself and within students' areas of preparation through: library and field research; brainstorming with fellow students; proposals for, or scenarios about, alternative curricular futures, together with their policy implications.

Relationship to Other Courses An orienting and overview course for those wishing a study of socio-educational futures; useful as a balancing perspective for those whose studies have been largely historical/contemporary in focus.

IV. Syllabus

University of Houston, Clear Lake City
Course: Study of the Future
Instructor: Christopher Dede

Texts
Thomas E. Jones. "Options for the Future." Praeger, 1980. A packet of selected articles. Various course handouts.

Methodology
This course will utilize a combination of lectures, readings, simulations, guest experts, and films to generate group discussions on the field of futures research.

Objectives
(1) To give an overview of the history and current status of the field of futures research.
(2) To describe the major schools of thought on the future, with illustrative examples of prominent individuals in each.
(3) To depict the major organizations active in forecasting and their typical activities.
(4) To indicate the relationship of future studies to similar fields (such as policy analysis, strategic planning, and technology assessment ) .
(5) To discuss the structure of knowledge and the epistemology of futures research.
(6) To evolve a qualitative sense of the relative magnitudes possible in numerical data and to indicate the extent of the base of knowledge on which forecasts draw.
(7) To present a synthesized picture of the next decade, its major issues, and likely outcomes of alternative present choices.
(8) To convey the ability to be an intelligent consumer of futures forecasts.

V. Syllabus
University of Houston, Clear Lake City
Course: Research Methods for the Future
Instructor: O.W. Markley

Purpose and Description
This is an introductory survey course relevant to students in business, educational futures, public affairs, and studies of the future. Its purposes are:
(1) To give an overview of methodological approaches, research methods, and forecasting techniques that are used in the field of futures research.
(2) To develop understanding and working skills in using modern information retrieval techniques, including on-line computer-based searching of bibliographic data banks.
(3) To provide a familiarity with the strengths, weaknesses, and typical applications of typical methods and techniques of importance
(4) To encourage a critical orientation when dealing with the methods and results of futures research.

Format and Topics
This course will utilize a combination of lectures, readings, homework assignments, and guest speakers, as well as continuing discussion of the materials being considered.

Major topics will include:
(1) Conventional research as contrasted with futures research.
(2) A futures research case study (illustrating the three principal aspects of futures research).
(3) Finding futures facts fast.
(4) Monitoring and updating of current trend reports.
(5) Characteristics of principal methods and techniques.
(6) Human factors and other characteristics of futures research as practiced in business, government, and think tanks.


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