Futures consciousness is the human capacity to understand, anticipate, prepare for, and embrace the future.

Futures Consciousness is a set of individual abilities and tendencies that can be shifted or developed with practice. Increased awareness of the role that each of the five dimensions of FC play in individuals’ day-to-day lives could help them to take a broader view on future possibilities and to pursue goals more effectively. Improving our futures consciousness will help us identify our own role in shaping the future and build our capacities to become active change-makers.

Futures consciousness consists of five dimensions: time perspective, agency beliefs, openness to alternatives, systems perception and concern for others.

FC in a nutshell

  • A group of abilities and aptitudes used when thinking about the future.
  • Used every day, but usually without thinking.
  • Can be developed with practice, through raised awareness.
  • Used to make better long-term decisions.

Time Perspective

Time perspective is the ability to be aware of the past, present and future, as well as the way events follow each other over time. The concept includes the degree to which awareness of the future is integrated into one’s decision making to assess potential consequences over the long term. An example of this might be how far an individual can defer gratification (delay receiving a reward in the present) to get long term benefits, such as making payments into a voluntary pension scheme today at the cost of everyday luxuries. Short-term thinking and lack of consideration of consequences are the result of a limited time perspective.

  • How often you look into the future.
  • How far you look into the future.
  • How easily you can see or imagine consequences of actions.

Agency Beliefs

Agency Beliefs are a basic sense of confidence that an individual has in their own ability to influence the external world. These beliefs also concern the scope of our agency, meaning how far we think our influence can reach. This sense of agency can influence key decisions that will set the course of our life, for example whether we believe that we can set up our own business, or apply for a university course in which we could thrive. Fatalism, a passive attitude towards the future or a lack of responsibility for one’s own actions may result from limited agency beliefs.

  • How much we believe our actions influence the world.
  • Recognition of whether something can be easily changed or not.

Openness to Alternatives

Openness to alternatives is composed of abilities used to critically question commonly accepted ideas and influences an individual’s willingness to consider alternative ways of being and doing. Being open to alternatives also requires an individual to accommodate and accept a degree of uncertainty in the unfolding of the future. An example of openness to alternatives would be our ability to resist the polarizing effects of social media, and break out of siloed thinking. The opposite includes being uncritically optimistic or pessimistic, accepting authority without questioning or an over reliance on past experiences to understand the future.

  • How open we are to how different the future can be.
  • Thinking critically about present ways of doing things
  • Acceptance of uncertainty.
  • Creativity in imagining alternative futures.

Systems Perception

Systems perception is the ability to recognize human and natural systems around us including groups, societies and ecosystems. This involves the practical application of holistic systems thinking to help recognise the wider consequences of decisions. An example of systems perception is the consideration of the conditions of producers and retailers when selecting between consumer products and hence, being aware of the complex impacts of a simple choice or action. Being unable to see ourselves as a part of these various systems leads to suboptimal solutions or makes us incapable of understanding our responsibilities as a result of disconnection.

  • Ability to see how human and natural systems are connected.
  • Recognition of the wide reach of consequences from one system to another.
  • Holistic systems thinking.

Concern for others

Concern for Others relates to the degree to which an individual pursues favourable futures for a group beyond themselves. Individuals with high concern for others have broadened their moral and ethical values to include people who are at a distance to themselves either culturally, physically or temporally. It also implies the ability to perceive connections between a preferred future for ourselves and for others. Standing up to an injustice in a public space or sacrificing present day welfare for future generations would be examples of this dimension. A failure to develop this dimension may reduce an individual’s understanding of the importance of the common good, and may lead to a self-centered lifestyle or lack of deeper meaning in life.

  • Understanding how every person, place, and animal are linked together.
  • Willingness to give something away to make the world a better place.
  • Identification with physically and temporally distant people.