Osmo Kuusi

Critical Argumentation Concerning Possible, Probable and Relevant Futures Basic Principles

Academic argumentation is one of the key researcher talents. Arguing about futures possibilities, probable and relevant futures, is even more challenging. In addition to critical academic argumentation, futures research perspectives and the generation of future-oriented knowledge need to be understood and notified. There are some basic principles that are seen useful in learning critical futures argumentation. These principles are modified by Dr. Osmo Kuusi on the basis of those insufficiencies that have been recognised in futures argumentation. You can use these guidelining principles as a “short introduction” to futures argumentation. Yet, they might not be exhaustive. You can also use them as a checking list for your final academic work/paper. Having basic statistical knowledge is desirable.

Basic principles in futures argumentation

1. Continuation principle

Are there reasons to believe that there is a trend that will continue? Is the past direction of the trend going to continue in the future?

Critical questions:

  • How to measure/describe the trend? Is the measure reliable?  What are the indicators of the development? Do the occasions/person behaviours/phenomena appoint to the same direction? Are the conclusions coherent and logical enough?  For example, if the amount of countries accepting the use of genetic engineered plants is adopted as a measure, could e.g. Luxemburg and China seen as equally-weighted?
  • How many times should the measurement be conducted? As an example, if the same occasion is measured e.g. at different times and there are only three measurements all together, how to make conclusions about the future development of the occasion? Without critical and analytical thinking, we tend to draw conclusions that are far too straightforward/evident. With three measurements at three deviating times, the trend can still be anticipated either as linear or non-linear. With several (more than three) measurements there is a possibility of applying statistical methods with more reliable results/conclusions. But this only if you could consider that drivers of the trend have remained same (see next question).
  • How long is the trend? Often long historical trends are more reliable than short ones. All depends, however, on processes which define the trend. It is highly important to identify the most important basic driver(s). For example, think about the trend of the maximum speed of airplanes in 1930-1950.  In the beginning of the period the speed increase was based on more and more efficient propeller planes. In the last years of the period the increase was based on jet planes.  Only measurements from the last years were relevant for the anticipation of the 1950s.

2. Futures oriented controversial evidence/weak signals in media

There are happenings/ideas/expert statements/news in media that challenge trends or present practices/understanding

Critical questions:

  • Is the challenging evidence available in a trustworthy source? Is it published in a reliable magazine/media? Is it taken from a direct or an indirect source? Is there other information in other sources that challenge the evidence? For example, there is a lot of single happenings/news that tell against the global green-house effect but there is considerable more evidence in favour of it.
  • What is the risk of not taking the evidence into account even if the evidence is taken from some questionable source? Sometimes, there is an urgent need of making a decision based on the (imperfect) evidence that is currently available. Furthermore, there are consequences of making a wrong decision either in favour of the evidence or against the evidence. For example, gene-manipulated food has some potential risks, but what are the risks of risk avoidance? Are people e.g. going to die out of hunger just because there is a high level of risk avoidance in the society?

3. Direct expert information

In general, the continuation principle is no guarantee that something will happen in the future. If the development depends on the decisions of actors, actors’ beliefs (learning), human willpower and resources have an impact. All important trends/evidence concerning the futures cannot be found explicit. That information is tacit and becomes visible in the judgments and decisions of experts.

Critical questions:

  • Why somebody is expert concerning futures?  Does he/she know futures oriented trends/scientific knowledge (“invariances”)?  Is he/she/organisation/stakeholder able to do important decisions or to have impacts on important decisions concerning the future? Even if he/she does not have decision-making power, is his or her life affected by the relevant developments. Consequently, is she/ he notified as an expert?
  • What kind of contribution an expert is able/ready to give in a futures oriented study? Does his/her expertise/interests concerning the futures differ from other stakeholders? What is his or her information policy: Is he/she ready/empowered to give relevant information? Is it possible to get trustworthy information from him or her? How the expertise and information policy of an expert complement others’ expertise and information policies in an expert panel? For example, in a Delphi study concerning new materials, the research director of a leading firm told very little about an important development project of the firm. Instead, a university professor told about the project and “catalysed” the research director to give further information.

4. Are there enough arguments for future oriented judgments?

In order to generate good decisions, there is need for understanding potential futures development paths.

Critical questions:

  • Do the collected judgments or arguments cover all relevant futures possibilities concerning the field of action?
  • How continuation based, media-based and direct expert information based arguments complement each others?
  • Is there need e.g. for further interview/surveys in order to get a more exhaustive picture of the futures?