We’re All Futurists Now

November 12, 2009 4 Comments

If you have not yet read the LaPiana Associates report Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector, I highly recommend that you do.  If you are interested in the future of social change, it’s for you.  Skim through it over Thanksgiving break.  Share tidbits with friends and family at the dinner table.  It’s a relatively concise piece that puts into clear language what many of us are experiencing and intuiting, and it just might give you something to get through those awkward holiday moments.

The report basically makes the case that post our current economic crisis, the nonprofit sector, along with the public and private sectors, will not be going back to their pre-crisis standing.  Rather, there is a convergence of forces fundamentally reshaping the way we think and work that will make any kind of return impossible (and undesirable).  These trends include:

  • Demographic shifts that redefine participation
  • Abundant technological advances
  • Networks that enable work to be organized in new ways
  • Rising interest in civic engagement and volunteerism
  • Blurring sectoral boundaries

It is not possible in the allotted space I have here to capture everything the report highlights as propositions for us to consider.  But I will flag a few things that were deeply resonant and interesting:

  • Going forward, the driving question will be “what do we want to accomplish?”, with corporate form (whether nonprofit, for-profit, hybrid, network) following from this goal.  Younger generations are less tied to particular organizational forms (and the rush to form 501(c)3s).  They are most interested in tapping the best tools that help get the job done, including social media.  Sector-agnosticism is in!
  • Increasingly, the communication emanating from organizations and initiatives will need to be continuous, personalized, and come from multiple sources.  Anything that smacks of being overly “marketed,” or trumpeted only by an expert/celebrity, will not be well received.  Authenticity is in!
  • A new kind of ROI is on the rise, thanks in part to collaborative tools such as Twitter – not Return on Investment, but Return on Insight.  Listening and learning are in!
  • Navigating the convergence of all five trends will mean that organizations need to abandon overtly and overly hierarchical structures and become much more collaboration and network-savvy.
  • Furthermore, we are all being called upon to become futurists of sorts who acknowledge that with the existing rates of change, what is so today will not necessarily be so tomorrow.  It behooves us to tune into our surroundings and take careful note of the shifts and to adapt!

There is much more to say, and I will leave it to you now.  What do you think?  What do you see as the future of the social sector and our work?


  • Melinda says:

    Disclaimer: What follows is more of a riposte than a response…
    I can dig it, CO. Yet, I would like to focus my attention on the “now” part of your title. To be candid, I rather not think of this as “the future” so much as I believe it is the NOW of the most relevant, innovative, cutting-edge work is being done among us. Of course, I respect the facts of and role of forecasts and forecasters. Its just that, yes, thanks to Twitter, networks and my own two eyes, its clear to me that this future is now. And, only those who are not living it as their present speak of it in such terms. It tells more about the speaker than it reveals about the so-called future. But then, perhaps, that is exactly your point…to be a futurist is — as they say ’round the way — not just “to talk about it”, but rather, to “be about it”.

  • Curtis says:

    Could not agree with you more, Sister Weekes. I think that’s the power of the report – not that it is speaking to some far off future, but given its source, that this future is in full bloom. So if we are not on board at this point, we’ve got some work and explaining to do!

    I did not find the report mind-blowing so much as validating and basically a nice case for us going here forward. And the “futurist” part does raise up for me the point that what is so now, will not necessarily continue to be. So while these 5 trends have arrived, we need to be attuned to what else is ready to emerge. Ya dig?

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