So What Are Future Centers??

In 2011 there the earth was shaking in many places.  Revolutions in Egypt and Libya, earthquakes in New Zealand, floods in Australia, Greeks occupying Syntagma Square, the US Occupy Movement, and of course the triple disasters of Japan.  This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it gives a view of a world shaking.  Various terms can be used to describe what’s happening.  Call it disaster or an emergency, or a revolution —  above all, call it a systems shift and call it connected.  The ways in which we’ve lived on this planet with our patterns of consumption, disregard for ecological systems, fear and greed just aren’t working out all that well.

Whenever a systems shift happens there’s a systems pull to get things back to the old normal.  Increasingly, however, more and more people see the old normal as undesirable. So the question becomes, how do we create something new when systems have started to shift?

In Japan we think that part of the answer to this question is by creating a visible Future Centers Network where people are working together to create the future they want.  This network will:

  • Connect existing as well as new work going on in all sectors — community, business, nonprofit and government.
  • Maximize diversity of perspective, opinion, approach and knowledge knowing that this leads to better possibilities
  • Share an evolving body of principles and practices as people discover better and better ways to come together to create their future, now.
  • Create a common language around the stages, steps and methodologies which support collaborative action.
  • Help people learn how to be Directors, Hosts and Harvesters from Future Centers.
  • Connect local learning from each Future Center into the network for collective learning.

It looks a little like this:

Get a sense of a lot of connections?  That’s exactly what we’re looking for.  Separate Future Centers are capable of doing extraordinary work.  When we connect these Future Centers with each other and weave them into an ecology of action, we are planting the seeds of transformation.

But you might ask, what is a Future Center, itself

In Japan we say a Future Center is a BA for collaborative action.  BA is a classical Japanese term which refers to the space between us connecting us.  Simply put, Future Centers consist of one or more Future Center Sessions called for a particular purpose with an immediate focus and held in a hospitable BA which invites trust, relationship and creativity.  They are created by a design team,  hosted by facilitators and bring together people of any community — a geographic area, a community concerned about a particular issue, the community of a particular business — to share their questions, knowledge and expertise to create collaborative action.

Actually, as human beings, we’ve been doing this for ages.  When there is a problem or an opportunity, we come together and council with each other about how to best proceed.  We’ve forgotten some of this as we’ve given over more and more of our personal authority to institutions and government.  Across the world people are remembering that we must step forward together in support of what we want to happen. When we step forward with curiosity, respect and friendship, it is possible to create new actions which grow from the collective insight and collective will of communities.   Future Center simply gives a name, form and some useful methodologies to what communities have been doing since the beginning of time.

I’ve been working closely for the last two years with KDI (Knowledge Dynamics Initiative) of Fuji/Xerox in Tokyo to understand how Future Centers can support business innovation in Japan.  With their permission I am going to share two documents I’ve written based on many hours of dialoge with KDI staff, especially Nomura Takahiko-san, as well as others in the Japan business community.  While these are written from a business perspective, we believe the ideas are equally applicable in communities, with NPO work, while addressing particular issues and other settings.

These are still in draft form, so please do not circulate.  I offer them for your own understanding of what we are coming to understand about Future Centers in Japan.

Future Center Summary (7 pages)

Future Center Guide (43 pages)


Bob Stilger

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