Big Questions About the Future – Futurists Twitter Chat Thursday 4:00-5:00 EST #apf #futrchat

The Association of Professional Futurists (APF) is hosting its fifth twitter chat   on Thursday, 22 February, 2011 from 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. EST. hashtag: #futrchat. You can find information about the first four here  . (education, money, work, transportation)  

  • The topic is: What big  questions  do we need to ask about the future?

Do we need to wonder about Big Questions?

Initially, I was not a fan of this question for a twitter chat; it’s too unruly, too vague, too, well, BIG, to be addressed in a twitter chat. I discounted its 140 character potential.

Then I read Australian futurist Maree Conway’sblog post. “We need to go to a sort of future space, where we move beyond our knowledge of what’s happened and what’s happening now to explore what’s possible.”

Maree calls this future space the realm of “what if.” Those possibilities, instead of problems which assume something is missing or wrong. “What if’s” imagine alternative futures and open our minds to transformational change. By inquiring about the future in a curious and exploratory way, we see beyond today’s realities.

That’s an exciting proposition that promises to expand my futures images. Count me in.

Jugular Questions About the Future

Arno Penzias, Nobel prize winning physicist, says, “I went for the jugular question.”


What is a jugular question? Those are the most powerful questions, the why’s and what if’s, not the litanies of everyday life. For example, it’s not what you had for breakfast but


  • in 1930, you had bacon and eggs
  • in 2000 you had whole wheat toast and a banana
  • in 2040 you may eat hydroponic oranges; bananas for breakfast are a distance memory.

The Big Question would be: What values and conditions will shape food in 2040?

Big Questions address how things change, the meaning and purpose, the sweep of social change manifested in our lives. Jugular questions matter; they are systems and values, strategic questions about ethics, choices, and consequences that expose biases and assumptions. Who cares and why? Rather than who’s to blame or what’s wrong.


Big Questions create ripples.

Marilee Goldberg says it’s “when a question is asked inside the current paradigm that can only be answered from outside it.” Big Questions break open our assumptions, and create new sets of ideas, ripples in the water.

Maree details avery clear list of characteristics. Big Questions make us think differently about the future. They stir things up. And they are memorable; they stick with us and haunt us.

We’re not talking about today or even this year. What Big Questions should we ask about 2020, 2030 or 2050? What questions open our minds to future possibilities? Try to imagine you live in 2075, looking back to those years.

  • What Big Questions would we need to ask?
  • What is your jugular question about the future?

Please Join Us – an open tweet chat

You are welcome to join the APF #futrchat and voice your views about Big Questions. We’ve hosted chats on the future of education, the future of money, the future of work, and the future of transportation. These chats are fast and intense. I always learn enormously, like scanning futurists’ brains.

Maree Conway and I will co-host, asking the formal questions and follow ups. Please ask questions that come to you, add links (if they pertain and are not promotional ads), and teach, inform, persuade, thrill, or terrify us.



What do you think are the Big Questions about the future?

Join us on Twitter by searching for #futrchat. Please use #futrchat in your tweets, and the Question #, as Q1, Q2, Q3 etc. 

As alternative to, you can use tweetdeck and search for #futrchat (as I do). Or here are two sites where you join the chat.

Architects, Designers, Planners, Are You Change Agents? Lessons from KCMO School District


Perhaps you’ve heard of the Kansas City Missouri School District’s decades of struggles? This spring, the district leadership shocked the nation when they announced the closure of twenty-one schools. Despite dozens of desperate public school districts in America, none ever closed 21 schools at once. The last students walked out this week.

Eight of the closed schools are mine. Around twenty years ago, my architecture firm designed, renovated, or added to eight schools now closing (8 others are still in use). A sad day indeed.

Where Architects Messed Up
In the 1980s under a deseg order, KCMSD adopted a theory of magnet schools to curb the tide of white flight. Create buildings that match the suburbs with unique programs to attract white students. Does that make sense? The district spent one billion dollars in capital improvements.

They didn’t ask architects to think strategically. We were technical experts and designers, not experts at learning environments in the broader sense. Not offering was our fault; not being asked reveals the limits of our siloed profession.

Human-Centered Design Process
We shape buildings and then they shape us, right? It’s Churchill’s famous quote.

When we design, build, and use an environment, we participate in an ongoing interactive process. Imagine a constant state of design; we change the place, it changes us, and so on. So long as we engage with a place, it remains relevant and vital. When we stop, it dies, becomes a relic, an historic artifact.

Buildings are relatively straightforward to construct; difficult but we know exactly what it takes. Communities are not; they’re dependent upon the right mix of people sharing enough commonalities to cohere. Building excellent cities means we know how to develop both synchronically. If we want to be consulted on comprehensive decisions, then we must think beyond technical and design issues. We have to think full spectrum in terms of integrated holistic systems, cultivate our beliefs, and articulate persuasive narratives.

Are You A Change Agent?
To create human-centered solutions, the most important questions you have to ask are not “What to build?” but “Why build?”

1. Who is being served? Who should be?
2. Are you trying to build a legacy or serve an immediate need? Which dominates?
3. How will your work transform the community? The neighborhood? The city?
4. Are you building a completed project or will it grow with the students and community?
5. Are you leading the process or performing a duty as requested?
6. Does this solution figure into larger learning systems? And larger community needs and beliefs?
7. Is the solution student-centered, community-centered, building-centered?
8. How will you define excellence and failure? How long will you wait to claim victory or defeat?
9. How risky is the solution? Does it meet, stretch expectations, or redefine ideas?
10. Are you willing to make mistakes? Does the community allow mistakes?
11. Will you challenge their beliefs and assumptions?
12. Are you prepared to share your beliefs about learning, education, city and community building? Can you articulate excellence?
13. Do you care about the long-term future of the community? And the building?
14. What does the solution say about the students? The community? You?
15. How will the story of the project be told?
16. Who cares about what? Who cares about whom? How does your solution address, extend ideas of, cater to or engage these constituents and their affiliations?
17. How do you imagine the future in five years? In twenty years? Does that match, stretch, or diverge from the community’s?
18. How will your solution change the students’ lives? How will you know?
19. Are you prepared to grow and change with the project? What ideas are you willing to shed? Are any absolute?

Why Build?
Frequently architects move directly into programming using a linear process, missing out on the overall question of “Why Are We Building?”

Have you been asked to imagine ideas before there’s a defined building project? Have you developed knowledge and articulated philosophies beyond technical and design domains? Are you considered a trusted advisor regarding social systems, cultural beliefs, political alliances? Or the larger issues of learning and education? (Fill in the project type.)

Are you engaged in the community and/or project type so that others will seek your advice early? What do you and your team bring to the table?

In short, what questions are you asking?

So Long, Old Friends
Goodbye to: Moore Elementary 1916, Pinkerton Elementary 1931, Woodland Elementary 1923, Franklin Elementary 1961, Longan Elementary 1955, Kansas City Middle School of the Arts 1993, Douglass Early Childhood Center 1952, and Fairview Alternate School 1957. Best wishes in your next life.

Kansas City and its most beleaguered neighborhoods inherit a gaggle of empty buildings. If folks focus on vitality and communities, then these buildings again become relevant.