Futures Studies in the European Ex-socialist Countries


Frantisek Petrasek

  1. Some features of local futures studies ideology

A paradigmatic base from which the local futures studies can derive their ideology, has some specific cultural features created in the history of the nation.  Such features can be labelled by the term “futurosophy” (like reasoning the logic used for thinking about the future or, in another words, like reasoning the ”futurology”) (1). The Czech futurosophy manifests via discrete ideas, generated in longer cultural history of the nation.

The first feature can be represented by teaching of Jan Amos Komenskì (Latin name Comenius, 1592-1670, the last bishop of the local protestant Christian church, expelled by Hapsburgs after defeating Czechs and their state, later acting in the northern and middle Europe like teacher and theoretician of pedagogy). His teaching involves the thesis, that all ideas, which we create by learning, represent good information for the human being in case, that they are generated simultaneously with doing things. Doing things must be oriented by the Christian morality, otherwise ideas generated by that “learning by doing things” can motivate human being to act against himself. His message represents challenges for various political reformers as far as they have to consider the future of the society strongly dependent not only on actual practice of doing things, but also on the “world of values”, which people implement in their contemporary decisions. Futures studies, according to Comenius thinking, can bring adequate information for human survival in the case, that they lead not only to the creation of new structure of backlogs of knowledge suitable for exploitation in contemporary practice of doing things, but also to the establishing of values for practice of decision-making itself.

The second cultural feature of the local futures studies relates to democratic conceptualisation of political problems. A cosmopolitan and humanistic trust in an active role of human mind in creation of human future, which Comenius stressed in his idea of “pan-sophism” and which can be found also in many considerations of the Age of Enlightenment, was politically exploited 300 years later, by the first president of Czech and Slovak state, Tomas Garigue Masaryk, in 1918. His project of that state was based on the concept of humanistic democracy in which the citizen has an active role. Inhabitants must take care about their contributions to the public good themselves and create and protect democratic institutions for that purpose. The causes of a catastrophic fate of democracy in Europe and of a gradual restoration of totalitarian political systems in the first half of the 20th century were in Masaryk’s explanation allocated inside the human being, in his psychology and education, rather than out of him.

Futures studies, according to that humanistic and anthropocentric political thinking, help to illuminate the conditions for an active role of everybody in the public life, offering the warnings and opportunities for his or her particular cultural activities. Such an approach, typical for the Czech cultural practice, has appeared also during so-called Prague Spring in 1968, when new alternatives of political arrangements were analysed and scenarios for the transition of local political practice to the “socialism with human face” were prepared. Possibilities of foreign interventions, coming from the contemporary “outer world”, were allocated to the second plan of that project.

The third historically important cultural feature of local futures studies relates to the conception of technical skill. In the thinking of “technocrats” is that skill often conceptualised like a creative process, rather than an exploitation of artefacts for various cultural activities. Starting the 19th century was that technocratic concept intensively elaborated by engineering experience while the adaptation of human being to new technology remained as a task for humanistic thinkers and their historical and actual experience dealing with the human behaviour. The care about social and cultural impacts of a new technology, which has appeared in futures studies practice in the second half of the 20th century, has been manifested in the Czech history by visions derived from humanistic and democratic ideology. The known novelist Karel Capek has introduced an idea of the “robot” in the world awareness. The possibility of the subjugation of human beings by “robots” like products of human technological creativity which have got out of the control of their creators, he declared twenty years earlier, than analytical warnings of ecologists and biological engineers had appeared.

Futures studies, according to the mentioned above features of local thinking, help to conceptualise the human cultural activities by watching the production and consumption activities in the contemporary cultural practice of human societies and by the interpretation and prediction of their technological forms and their many-sided impacts on the human life. The watching may not be separated from processes of evaluation of cultural activities. Therefore the futures studies fill an active role in creating the attitudes and morality of particular men and women by appropriate methodology of the reorganization of their backlogs of knowledge and help them to reshape their value attitudes and understanding the world, which are they living in.

Also the concepts of “deep futurology” and “futurology as a social movement” suits well to the recently manifested concepts of futures studies widespread mainly among members of the civic futurological movement in the Czech Republic.

  1. Last fifty years of the futures studies

If evaluating the knowledge about the methodology of futures studies, then the Czech practice does not represent different backlog of knowledge in comparison with the world “state of the art”. Differences originate thanks to peculiar ways of implementation of futures studies in the decision-making and are caused by the local demand for the knowledge about the future. Discrete periods of futures studies can be distinguished from that viewpoint. In the post-war period, the futures studies were stimulated by the technological policy induced by the cold war and arms racing between two contemporary world superpowers. Futures studies were provided by methods allowing to establish future values of main output characteristics of technological systems and gradually also of those systems, which were used by the state government and by enterprisers for innovation and production of new products and services. The Czechoslovak Communistic government exploited such practice for whole time, during which the system of centrally planned economy in Czechoslovakia was provided (practically till the end of its political power). That period has brought methodology of technological forecasting by historical trend analyses and by an extrapolation of values of particular output characteristics. Concept of managing the society according to the state plan allowed to exploit all methods suitable for controlling the behaviour of the society like a behaviour of “determined automaton”. Productive and consumption activities of inhabitants were de facto predetermined by extrapolated volumes of output indicators in the central state plan. In sixties many futurologists spoke about that practice like about “forecasting, when the future is known”. However, analyses and assessment of future development of human values and attitudes and forecasting their impacts in the cultural practice of the society, were completely missing there.

The mentioned above post-war period of futures studies practice development was finished in the democratic part of industrially developed countries in the fifties. Time extrapolation and trend analyses represented too narrow means for answering questions of those users, who felt unpleasant side impacts of innovative activities, either on the nature or on the human being itself. Today we can look back at first wonderful collections of forecasting methods, elaborated namely by Erich Jantsch (2) in sixties, and we can understand that contemporary futures studies like “science in statu nascendi”. Careful descriptions of methods were done, but an explanation how to choose the adequate method for given task of the user, was still missing in that time.

A strong innovative competition on world markets and also in arms racing induced new futures studies practice in sixties. Predicting the future values of discrete qualities of the “world” has become a mean for optimisation of particular developmental or capital investment projects (3). So called “technology assessment”, “need assessment” and subsequently “social assessment” have entered the managerial and governmental practice as a new device by which futures studies help to formulate less risky goals for economic, social, environmental, foreign or other policies.

In that period we can speak also about futurology like newly born science discipline, which explores the arrangement of the cognitive activity of the decision-maker when he prepares goals for his actions and develops future oriented thinking for that purpose. During that period also university curricula dealing with forecasting methodology for decision-making have appeared and strategic or integrative studies have been cultivated with wider exploitation of already known forecasting methods. Social and natural impacts of new technologies in the cultural practice were evaluated by the development and implementation of new methods for the multi-access evaluation of “complex” social projects and developmental programs, also in the Czech academic practice in the late sixties. One of those projects, known under the title “Civilisation on the Crossroads” was provided by the interdisciplinary research team of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, headed by the philosopher Radovan Richta. More than 80 experts elaborated the scenarios of the future development of industrial society, under the presumption, that its political regime could follow the practice of socialistic regime. In 1968 and 1969 were the results published in France, Italy and contemporary Russia and stimulated wide professional discussions among politicians and future oriented thinkers.

Futures studies in seventies and eighties, when so-called normalization process continued and the country was occupied by the Soviet army, were definitively divided. An “official prognostics” was methodologically subordinated to the state five years planning mechanism and was provided by forecasting services at the State planning committees for economy and for technological development. After 1978 also the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences was engaged in forecasting the future development of scientific branches for the central planning system needs. The second stream represented by “unofficial prognostics” was subordinated to the civic interest in the renewal of democracy. Its institutional form was shaped mainly by private and academic initiatives.

An official stream stimulated evidence, measuring and extrapolation methods of forecasting values of all indicators, by which planned volumes of production were controlled. As a result namely Ministry of Technology has elaborated a system of forecasting of all main products, with respect to their expected quantities and innovations in the forthcoming 15 years. Analogically, the Academy of Sciences elaborated the list of most promising fields of scientific researches including their expected equipment by professionals and experimental technology for next 15 years. Finally State Planning Committee elaborated its visions of long-term development, in which expected innovations together with preferences of the Communist party were taken like goals for all productive and consumer activities of the population. The market economy analyses and social assessment of expected structural changes of the national economy were absent in that practice and only marginal studies of environmental impacts of planned technological changes were made by authors of forecasts.

Unofficial futurologists concentrated their endeavour to gathering knowledge about forecasting methodology from abroad and on critics of the official policy. Their results helped to formulate alternative strategies for political decisions what was publicly appreciated namely after “velvet revolution” in 1989, when many members of unofficial prognostics became active politicians.

After the Soviet invasion in 1968 continued unofficial prognostics in the Czechoslovak Futurological Society (established by Milos Zeman in 1968). Its working team provided also future research, namely synoptic simulation models were developed and implemented for occasional users (machinery, regional management of water economy, electrical network, farming or physical culture and sport activity management, etc.). The implementation of those models was provided in seventies and tested in the local practice by private initiatives of authors (4) in cooperation with some institutes, whose management was ready to carry the adequate political risk. Authors often lost their job, when elaborated alternatives distinguished from those, which were made officially. In 1985 an unofficial activities were strengthened by establishing an autonomous department for forecasting at the more academically acting institution, Czechoslovak Scientific and Technological Society. Twice a month, more than hundred intellectuals were discussing alternatives to the existing political scene and their impacts on the life of Czech population. Their sessions were officially forbidden in 1987, but their leaders succeeded by renewing public conference and editorial activity in 1988, when best contributions from panel discussions were published by an unofficial journal “Prognostika”. Thanks to that practice, a new independent and civic society for cultivation of futures studies and for the dissemination of their results into the society could be quickly established in 1990 .The Civic Futurological Society joined endeavour of various specialist oriented to the future. Its educational, conference and editorial activities were widened in 1992 by an institution of ”The Inter-university Futures Studies Programme” and by establishing its Centre at the University of Economics in Prague. That professional institution coordinated futurological research at Czech and Slovak universities and organised conferences and editorial activity including research reports and textbooks. The Civic Futurological Society publishes futurological revue “Dialogues with the Future” since 1991 and holds international colloquium “Designing the Future in Europe” in a form of biennial, since the same year.

Evaluating last ten years of futures studies from the methodological viewpoint, a gap can be seen in comparison with an implementation of futures studies in institutionally stabilised industrial societies. The political implementation of futures studies in seventies and eighties was stimulated there by the existence of ecological, cultural and global problems in decision-making of local institutions. However, the needs of anticipation in domestic Czech official practice were in the same time generated mainly by short time interest in providing five-year plans. In the last ten years after velvet revolution, problems of performance of newly established democratic institutions caused, that the interests of the state government and enterprises were concentrated again on the short time decision-making. Futures studies at the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences were interrupted. No research or pedagogical unit existed up to 2000, when the Center for social and economic strategies at the Charles University was established. (12).

The political stimulation of more long-term and complex thinking has appeared when Czech government have initiated project of strategic management for the governmental socio-economic policy, in 1999. Futures studies for establishing national interests and dispositions for joining the EU are presupposed for that aim, together with strategic support of state region policy. In the Czech Republic continues also the cultivation of civic future oriented initiatives, namely for the support of an ecological movement and movement for sustainable life on the planet. They represent new and young energy, which stimulates futures studies and their implementation in the public policy (6), (7).

Futures studies are also supported by initiatives of Czech president Vaclav Havel. He has initiated an international conference Forum 2000, at which communicate prominent scientists and statesmen and provide wide intercultural dialogue dealing with global problems and with perspectives of their solution by wide inter-human and inter-institutional cooperation all over the world (8).

  1. Challenges to futures studies

Futures studies represent a specific part of contemporary thinking. Unfortunately, the daily “agenda” of our thinking changes rapidly, as plenty of innovations must be interpreted and evaluated if we want to formulate goals for our cultural activities. Our cultural environment is in a steady transformation. However, our psychological dispositions for thinking remain relatively constant for long historical periods and represent solid base for various ways of speculations and also for forecasting methodology. The question is: how to exploit our mind, mainly its logic, imagination, memory and other mental gifts for generation of such concepts about our future, which represent adequate information for contemporary decisions in that “fluid” cultural environment? A new culture of thinking seems to become necessary for establishing of information feedback loops, which are necessary for adapting the society to the changing social and natural environment. Relevant problems, involving question of appropriate sets of values, question of an arrangement of evaluative processes in the society, question of construction of new paradigm of the growth or the development of the society, seem to become future topics of the applied futurological research.

New way of future oriented thinking calls for a new approach to the data collection, and their outworking by the exploitation of an artificial intelligence. A “virtual reality” and operations with it seems to become a basic tool for good future research, if successful solution of serious political task will be wanted.

Pentti Malaska has pointed out that main structural changes in a regime of the information exchanges between human beings and their environment, have passed during transformation of a neolith to an industrial society and that another massive transformation passes recently, when ”information” societies providing planned operations with mental artefacts have appeared in the human history. Futures studies were in a fast methodological development during the second half of the twentieth century, but it seems, that main changes are still on the horizon of today’s cultural practice and that new logical device and new tasks will be formulated in a near future by those who try to solve their uncertainties by their minds.

A serious symptom of a growing demand for changes of our thinking about the future of public affairs represent uncertainties of participants of world markets. An absence of knowledge necessary for the control of market exchange operations is often caused by their inability to get the “right” information in a “right” time and to predict what will happen if the participation will be realised. The strategic thinking became impossible under such circumstances and governments or businessmen usually under-optimise their activities and often make hazards instead of creative behaviour (9).

Recent futures studies try to find the answer by an exploitation of the scientific methodology of analyses, modelling and forecasting, mainly. It means, that we are concentrated on data gathering and their systematic outworking by mental activities well established in “nature science” practice and widely implemented also in engineering sciences, including economics. An advantage of such mental “technology” of futures studies is, that under certain stable configuration of human attitudes to things and subjects of physical treatment, one could compute some features of future events. However, fast changing “world of values” of members of innovative societies, disqualify such methodology of futures studies for becoming an only source of adequate information for the survival. Some additional methodology of inter-human communication of knowledge, which will efficiently help to coordinate the information exchanges between particular knowledge and value sets used for selection of particular cultural activities, is needed.

In 1994 the author’s research team tried to develop a strategic counselling system for deputies (10) under the presumption, that disciplinary structured knowledge about contemporary state of cultural practice will be systematically gathered and updated by teams of experts, and deputies will formulate their problems under the influence of their political experience and knowledge involved in the counselling system. In the same time deputies will help experts by dialogue to reformulate original disciplinary established interpretation of a given problem situation, in order to get more adequate information for practical political purpose. An experience with the implementation of that counselling system leads to the conclusion, that communication the knowledge between participants of the dialogue and the communication between disciplinary specialised experts, represent methodologically more complicated problem, than gathering and outworking the data about the subject of decision (11). In another words, the information benefits resulting from the futures studies are limited by existing technology of inter-human communication of empirically verified knowledge. Our ability to cope with variety of human attitudes in multicultural society and to reach consensus and common understanding the content of problem situation in a quickly changing information networks in our culture practice, need to be strengthened by some appropriate mental technology.

Are there on the horizon of our futurological activities some ideas about such “technologies” by which energetic and social disequilibria caused by failures of inter-human communication of knowledge can be reduced? It seems, that the idea of “doing by learning” can be accepted like a serious recommendation for that purpose. Let us join to establish common care about that problem, not only on the base of gathering the knowledge about outer world of human being (by building external artificial memories), but also on the base of common evaluation and common understanding subjects participating on our existence. The “technology” of such joining memory for data storing, the actualisation of decision criterions and the understanding the existential sense of the decision for the decision-maker, seems to represent the main challenge for tomorrow’s futures studies.

That problem cannot be simplified by its reduction on ecumenism, economism, scientism or on any other specific cognitive practice. “To be in” means to reside in information networks, in which the “doing things” by cultural activities is provided and consciously managed by particular people and by their particular institutions. Tomorrow’s futures studies practice look like a cultural service for creating and sharing expectations for particular cultural activities, rather than the practice of modelling the possible futures for an “universal” usage, only.

The futurology for human and humanistic expectations? Is it the right “futurosophy” for tomorrow? Anyway, futurologists can add serious information for those who try to build the regime of inter-human cognitive exchanges and who want to understand and to accept their mission like a cognitive engineering under specific cultural conditions!


(1) Skalicky, K.: A relevance of the Futurology for the Policy-making. In: Proceedings of the 4th International Colloquium “Designing the Future in Europe’97”, ed. Civic Futurological Society, Prague, 1997 (in Czech)

(2) Jantsch, E.: Technological Forecasting in Perspective, OECD, Paris, 1966

(3) Hetman, F.: Society and the Assessment of Technology, OECD, Paris, 1973

(4) Team of authors: A Complex Modelling (ed. by the Ministry for Industry), Prague, 1978 (in Czech)

(5) Petrasek, F.: Starting Points to the Strategic Outlook Methodology. In: Collection of Analytical Studies, ed. by the Council of the Czech Government for the Socio-economic Strategy, Prague, February 2000 (in Czech)

(6) Novacek, P.: An Evaluation of Main Studies on the Global Development of Human Civilization. In: see (5) (in Czech)

(7) Team of authors: Threshold 21, The Czech Republic: Model of the Sustainable Development, ed. by The University of Palacky, Olomouc, May, 1999

(8) The Conference FORUM 2000, Prague Castle, October 10-13, 1999 (contributions in English, published for participants by the Forum 2000 Foundation, editor in Chief: Jeff Lovitt)

(9) Giarini, O., Stahel, W. R.: The Limits to Certainty, ed. Kluwer, Drodrecht, 1989

(10) Project: Parliamentary Counselling by Integrative Studies of the National Economy. Report on IFSP-ICEG co-project by F. Petrasek, presented in Budapest world meeting of correspondent institutions of ICEG, June 1994, ed. by Interuniversity Futures Studies Programme Center at the University of Economics, Prague, 1994

(11) Petrasek, F.: Strategic Counselling for Deputies: a Case Study. In the collection: Centralised Political Decisions in the Czech Republic, I. part, ed. by Faculty of Social Sciences of The Charles University, ed. series: Public and Social Policy No. 8/1998 (in Czech)

(12) Team of authors: A Vision of the Czech Republic Development till 2015. In “Dialogues with the Future” No 9, April 2001

web site: http://vize-cr.fsv.cuni.cz