Dvir, R., Lettice, F., Webb, C., Schwartzberg, Y. (2007) "The Future Center as an
Empowering Ecology", in Issue 5 (2/3) of the Journal of Information,
Communication & Ethics in Society (JICES) ISSN: 1477-996X
The Future Center as an Empowering Ecology
Dr. Ron Dvir *, Dr. Fiona Lettice**, Dr. Carol Webb***, Yael Schwartzberg****
* Dr. Ron Dvir - Innovation Ecology, email@example.com
**Dr. Fiona Lettice - Norwich Business School, University of East Anglia,
***Dr. Carol Webb - School of Applied Sciences, Cranfield University, firstname.lastname@example.org
**** Yael Schwartzberg, Institute for Democratic Education, email@example.com
Purpose – to present a generic empowerment ecology framework to guide the operation
of Future Centers and to empower Future Center visitors to respond to the challenges
facing them and develop and implement innovative solutions.
Methodology/Approach – An in-depth case study was conducted in Be’er Sheva PISGA
Future Center in the educational sector in Israel. Visits to a further 20 Future Centers
around the world and a literature review helped to generalize the key findings and
develop and validate the framework further.
Findings – Although empowerment is not always explicitly discussed in Future Centers,
it is an important underlying philosophy. The framework developed in this research
helps to ensure empowerment issues are systematically addressed and contains four
perspectives: (1) operating principles; (2) resources; (3) supporters and (4) processes.
These combine to form the empowerment ecology.
Research Limitations – The empowerment ecology framework has been developed from
observation predominantly in one Future Center. It should now be more fully tested and
validated in other Future Centers.
Practical Implications – This paper provides a framework to help Future Center
practitioners and other future oriented working environments stakeholders to explicitly
address empowerment issues.
Originality/Value – This paper provides a detailed description of the operation of a
regionally focused Future Center in the educational sector. The paper presents a novel
empowerment ecology framework for use in facilitated user-centered collaborative
working environments, such as Future Centers.
Keywords: Empowerment, Future Center, Education, Innovation, Innovation Centers
Paper Type: Case study
How can an organization empower its members to address the future proactively and
systematically, to challenge basic assumptions, to come up with disruptive innovations, to
look far into the future and then translate the implications into concrete action? Some
organisations are addressing these challenges by creating Future Centers.
Professor Leif Edvinsson coined the term Future Center in the 1990s (Edvinsson, 1997).
His proposition was that there was a need for an organizational place which will "convert
human capital – what employees know – into structural capital – something that remains
within the company when they go home at night. The challenge is to turn the future into
an asset’ (Edvinsson, 2002). A Future Center is a facilitated organizational space
dedicated to support an organization in its efforts to prepare systematically for the future
and address it in a proactive way. Future Centers aim to support radical innovation whilst
complementing other functions of the organization. Future Centers have been established
by a wide range of organizations in the last decade. For example, in the commercial
sector, Skandia and Ericsson have established Future Centers. Governmental
organizations have also set up Future Centers, such as MindLab, set up by the Ministry of
Industry in Denmark and the SZW Academy set up by the Welfare Ministry in the
Netherlands. Public organizations, such as the Royal Mail’s Future Focus, and Science
Parks, such as the Oasis Center in Finland, have their own Future Centers. Finally, even
regions and cities have invested in Future Centers, such as the Future Center of Education
in Be’er Sheva City in Israel and the Momentum Future Center in Denmark.
Each Future Center is unique in structure, mode of operation and mission. However, all
of them are based on all or most of the following elements: a dedicated physical space; a
dedicated team of 3-8 employees who operate the center and facilitate future oriented
activities; a set of facilitation, brainstorming and prototyping tools and methods; a virtual
infrastructure that enables the reach and impact of the center to be extended. For
illustrative purposes, we will describe the PISGA Educational Future Center and how it
operates. A conceptual view of the process, labeled A to F, is shown in Figure 1 and
A. A multi-disciplinary group of stakeholders discusses an important challenge,
using multiple perspectives. This process is conducted through a series of
B. The results of the workshop series are translated into "future images" – showing
alternative futures and scenarios.
C. The process owners translate the future images into a set of concrete initiatives.
Typically, such initiatives involve the development of a new method or service, or
product or policy.
D. The "intelligence tower" is used to scan emerging future trends, best practices and
emerging challenges, thus providing the stakeholders with the information needed
for informed meaningful conversations.
E. Prototypes of the selected initiatives are developed in the innovation lab.
F. The prototypes are tested by potential users and then refined and fully deployed.
Take in Figure 1 here
Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, there has been increasing discussion about raising
the involvement and participation of employees in the workplace (Paul et al, 2000), with
the aims of improving workforce commitment and developing a more humane workplace
environment. This process has generally been termed empowerment, which can be
defined as the process of passing authority and responsibility to individuals in lower
levels of the organizational hierarchy. Empowered individuals do not wait passively for
the work environment to provide direction; but they take a proactive approach to shaping
and influencing their work environment (Spreitzer et al, 1999). Lawler (1988) cites some
of the benefits of increasing employee involvement as higher quality products and
services, less absenteeism, less turnover, better decision making and better problem
solving, or in short, greater organizational effectiveness. Lawler (1988) also recognizes
that there are different approaches to involvement that have different advantages and
disadvantages and will depend on different historical and organizational contexts and
conditions and the benefits may not be easily achieved, depending on these contexts and
Innovation is defined as “not a single action but a total process of interrelated sub-
processes. It is not just the conception of a new idea, nor the invention of a new device,
nor the development of a new market. The process is all of these things acting in an
integrated fashion” (Myers and Marquis, 1969). Trott (1998) distinguishes innovation
from invention by suggesting that innovation is concerned with “the commercial and
practical application of ideas or inventions”. Previous research suggests that
empowerment or high involvement by employees can facilitate innovation (Bessant and
Caffyn, 1997; Hamel, 2000). ‘Disruptive Innovation’, is an emerging and increasingly
prominent term that is used to describe a form of revolutionary change. Disruptive
innovation is receiving ever more academic and practitioner attention. What many
researchers share is the view that firms need to periodically engage in the process of
revolutionary change for long-term survival and this is not a new phenomenon
(Christensen, 1997; Christensen and Rosenbloom, 1995; Hamel, 2000; Tushman and
Anderson, 1986; Tushman and Nadler, 1986, Gilbert and Bower, 2002; Rigby and
Corbett, 2002; Charitou and Markides, 2003; Foster and Kaplan, 2001; Thomond and
Lettice, 2006). But, the consequences of not securing disruptive innovations are far more
devastating than simply lost opportunities or lost market share (Gilbert and Bower, 2002;
Hamel, 2000; Rice et al., 2001) - disruption signals the end of industries and established
products and services as we know them (Christensen, 1997, Foster and Kaplan, 2001).
Furthermore, historical evidence shows that a consistent pattern is the failure of leading
organizations to survive or prosper when technologies or markets change (Christensen,
1995). What makes them successful today could be their downfall tomorrow, especially
in an increasingly global, turbulent and discontinuous world. The increased degree of
complexity and the need for higher interdependence to create and respond to
revolutionary change suggests that empowerment will be even more important when
disruptive innovation is needed, rather than for incremental or sustaining innovation
(Lawler, 1988). Empowered employees provide ideas that would not otherwise be
developed (Paul et al, 2000).
This paper will first describe the research methodology used and how the data was
collected. Empowerment will then be defined so that the case study of the Be’er Sheva
PISGA Future Center can be understood from an empowerment perspective. The vision
for, and the operation of, the PISGA Future Center which operates at a regional level
within the educational sector, will be described. The operation of the Future Centre will
then be described in terms of four emerging perspectives. These will then form the
framework for a generic empowerment ecology, which can be used in any Future Center
context. Finally, the conclusions and limitations of the research will be discussed and
areas of further research identified.
This research had the aim of developing an “empowerment ecology” for Future Centers
and was based on five streams of data collection. The first was action research with a
Future Center, through an in-depth longitudinal case study, carried out by means of a
participant observation role at the Be’er Sheva PISGA Future Center. Two of the
researchers involved in the study provided one day per week of facilitation each to the
Future Center over a four year period. The second source of data was the European
Commission funded research project, OpenFutures (www.open-futures,net), This
research project has the aim to explore and better understand Future Centers and then to
create an "Operating System" that will support the creation of new Future Centers and
other future oriented working environments. In addition, the project aims to help the
managers of existing Future Centers to improve them. The research explored Future
Centers from four perspectives: organizational, methodological, physical and
technological. It involved in depth visits to about 20 Future Centers established in diverse
public and commercial domains, using systematic data collection forms and semi
structured interviews. The current empowerment research is both informed by the Open-
Futures research and will contribute to the "organizational perspective". Two of the
authors are actively engaged in this research.
The third source of data was a series of two exploration tours of the international Future
Centers community (2005 and 2006). These tours included visits to Future Centers and
during the tours, focus groups were held to discuss different aspects of Future Centers
and to gain insights from an interdisciplinary group of experts in innovation management,
intellectual capital management, organizational development and psychology (Dvir et al,
Fourthly, our understanding of the conditions which enable empowerment emerged from
a literature review on personal, organizational and community empowerment. Our active
involvement in Future Centers enabled us to examine the theoretical suggestions from the
literature within the context of Future Centers.
And finally, we found it necessary to update the traditional empowerment literature with
emerging perspectives from management theories. We adopted insights from two
emerging domains: disruptive innovation and complexity sciences. The active
participation of four of the authors in the European Commission funded research projects
Disrupt-IT and RODEO provided these insights.
Figure 2 provides a graphic description of the research process.
Take in Figure 2 here
What is Empowerment
Empowerment can be defined as the process of passing authority and responsibility to
individuals in lower levels of an organizational hierarchy (Paul et al, 2000). Sadan
(2002) relates empowerment to the process and capability of an individual or
communities to assume responsibility on their own future. Empowered individuals do not
wait passively for the work environment to provide direction; but they take a proactive
approach to shaping and influencing their work environment (Spreitzer et al, 1999).
Within the literature, three key types of empowerment can be identified: personal,
organizational and community empowerment.
Personal empowerment is defined as the capacity of an individual to control the
decisions which impact their life. It is a transformation process from a passive to an
active mode of personal or group behaviour (Sadan, 2002). Personal empowerment has
two dimensions. The first is psychological empowerment, which relates to the internal
changes in the beliefs of the individual which affects their capability to take decisions, act
and address challenges. The second is political change, which relates to the capacity to
act and implement the practical knowledge, information, skills, and other resources
acquired during the process (Parsons, 1988). Sadan (2002) suggests that the strength of
the personal empowerment concept lies in the combination of the inner and external
dimensions, i.e. the psychological and political change dimensions of empowerment.
Organizational empowerment relates to the way in which the members of a formal
organization are encouraged to make decisions in autonomous ways and to feel that they
are in control of the outcomes for which they have accepted responsibility (Heathfield,
2006). The organizational empowerment literature focuses on issues such as the role of
the leader, the organizational culture, and the organizational processes and infrastructures
that support employee empowerment (Lawler, 1988; Conger and Kanungo, 1988).
Community empowerment is defined as enhancing the control of the members of a
community on issues which are important to them (Staples, 1990). For the purpose of the
current paper, we refer to two specific types of communities: the geographic community
(e.g. a city or neighbourhood) and the Community of Practice (Wenger, 1998), which is
defined as a group of professionals, informally bound to one another through exposure to
a common class of problems, common pursuit of solutions, and thereby themselves
embodying a store of knowledge.
Personal, organizational and community empowerment are interlinked (Maton et al,
1984). The active engagement in an empowered group is an important facilitator to
personal empowerment. In turn, personal empowerment of the community members
enables a better awareness of their capabilities and helps to effectively solve problems
and find solutions to the challenges faced.
The term "empowerment" is hardly used by Future Center practitioners and researchers.
However, we suggest that a close examination of the objectives and modes of operation
of Future Centers reveals that empowerment lies in the very core of their missions and
operating principles. This suggestion refers to both the personal empowerment of the
individuals who are engaged in the Future Center activity, and to the groups of
stakeholders, communities of practice and task forces who visit the Future Center to
address a specific challenge or undergo a general learning process.
Future Centers focus on "enacting the future" (OpenFutures, 2007). This implies that
they are spaces which enable and trigger individuals and groups to assume responsibility
over their future and the future of the community or organization they are part of. They
use the Future Centers to help them to envision solutions to current and emerging
challenges and then to take concrete actions to realize these alternative futures. The
organizations or communities that start a Future Center have a basic belief in the
capabilities of the people and groups involved to challenge the status quo and make
changes, thus they focus on unleashing their intellectual capital. In the next section, we
will describe the PISGA Future Center in more detail and show how empowerment was
manifested both implicitly and explicitly in this case.
The PISGA Future Center as an Empowerment Enabling Environment
Introduction to the PISGA Future Center
The PISGA Future Center is charged with the ongoing development of teachers after
their graduation. PISGA is a Hebrew acronym for the "Development of Teaching Staff".
The Future Center is responsible for developing the teaching staff of Be’er Sheva city and
the surrounding region. It serves a population of 6,000 teachers, and offers
approximately 100 teacher development courses, as well as a wide range of supporting
services and resources.
Growing dissatisfaction by the general public and the teachers with the current education
system reinforced the criticality of renewing the system and modifying it in line with the
emerging needs of the Israeli population in general and the Be’er Sheva city and region in
particular. At 2003, the institute general manager Haya Avni decided to reframe PISGA
as a future center. The mission of the Future Center was defined as the development of
teachers who are ‘explorers, entrepreneurs and implementers’ and who are also equipped
with ‘futurizing skills’.
The challenges were numerous and complex: integration of Bedouins, integration of new
immigrants, global competition, enhancement of technological and scientific education,
and so forth.
The generic concept of a Future Center was modified to the challenges of the education
system and the missions of the Be’er Sheva PISGA Center and a systematic model was
designed and operated. The conceptual model for addressing a challenge consists of five
main modules: Community Conversations, Future Images, a Laboratory, Implementation
Space and a Knowledge and Intelligence Center. These are described in more detail in
Figure 3. Although a sequential process is presented, in real-life situations deviations
from this generic process might frequently occur in order to address different needs,
maturity levels and the context specific situations of end users and targeted challenges.
Take in Figure 3 here
PISGA Future Center and Empowerment
Exploring the characteristics and mode of operation of the PISGA Future Center from an
empowerment perspective reveals that many aspects of empowerment are present and
explicitly or implicitly addressed. We analysed the PISGA Future Center using three
driving questions. The first was to address who was empowered. The second was to
question why they were empowered and the third was what were they being empowered
The Future Center primarily empowers teachers. This includes both new teachers, who
have recently entered the education system, and more senior teachers who have been
teaching for up to 40 years. Other stakeholders of the educational system are also
involved in the work at the Future Center, such as supervisors, who are in charge of a
specific learning discipline, such as Science education. To a lesser degree, other
stakeholders such as parents and business people may be involved so that they can take a
more active role in shaping the future of education in their city. From our observations,
we discovered that the Future Center had a critical role in the development of its own
staff members. In other words the Future Center presented opportunities for regular
teachers to find and develop their capabilities to lead different elements of the Future
Center, such as the innovation laboratory or the community conversations.
A basic assumption behind the operation of the Future Center is that teachers can take
control over their work, and can not only realize their potential to teach according to a
pre-defined program, but also to invent better approaches. As stated in the PISGA Future
Center mission, it is about supporting the development of a teacher who can be an
explorer, entrepreneur, implementer and who can master futurizing skills. In other
words, to develop teachers who have the capability to proactively address the future.
But there is a second reason for empowering teachers. As Sadan (2002) suggests,
empowering professionals has a ripple effect. In this case, empowered teachers will
positively impact the children they teach and also enhance their entrepreneurial spirit and
Through their activities at the Future Center, the teachers, supervisors and other
stakeholders are empowered to challenge the current "state of affairs" within the local
education system, envision "futuristic" solutions and directions, and then take concrete
steps to realize them in the educational field. They are honestly invited to re-invent and
disruptively innovate the way a specific discipline is handled within the education
From the observations and participation in the activities at the PISGA Future Center, we
can draw out the key operating principles, processes, roles and resources which we think
are supportive and directly related to personal, organizational and community
empowerment. These are described in the next section.
Operating Principles, Processes, Roles and Resources within PISGA
We suggest that the following aspects related to the PISGA Future Center can support
empowerment of both individuals and groups that are engaged in the center innovation
and training activities. As discussed in the next section, many of these factors were also
identified in the literature about empowerment (e.g. Sadan, 2002).
Empowerment Group I: Operating Principles
Some of the principles are explicitly manifested in the Future Center vocabulary, while
others are realized in an implicit way (see Table 1):
Take in Table 1 here
Empowerment Group II: Processes
The innovation process which is routinely operated at the Future Center typically takes
12 months and covers 8 main phases. The process was already outlined in the section
describing the PISGA Future Centre above. In Table 2, we reframe this process, using the
framework suggested by Sadan (2002).
Take in Table 2 here
Empowerment Ecology Group III: Roles
We discovered that the empowerment process of the teacher or group of teachers require
support from several functions. In Table 3, we use the terminology of Sadan (2002) to
describe these roles:
Take in Table 3 here
Empowerment Ecology Group IV: Resources
Table 4 describes the resources needed within the PISGA Future Center.
Take in Table 4 here
Empowerment Moments in Other Future Centers
In this section, we provide examples to illustrate how some of the conditions identified in
the PISGA Future Center are also seen in Future Centers around the world. Our
observations at many Future Centers, as part of the OpenFutures research project, showed
that most of the empowerment factors are present at least partially. The eight factors in
Table 5 are simply used as illustrative examples.
Take in Table 5 here
Generic Empowerment Ecology
Based on the literature about empowerment and the learning from the PISGA Future
Center case study and visits to other Future Centers, we identified a set of conditions that
are associated with and contribute to personal, organizational and community
empowerment and have termed this “empowerment ecology”. This is in line with the
terms “knowledge ecology” (Bowonder and Miyake, 2000) and “innovation ecology”
(Stefik and Stefik, 2004; Dvir and Pasher, 2004), which describe the environments which
enable, trigger and encourage knowledge management and personal and organisational
innovation respectively. The ecology metaphor is appropriate in this context as it
emphasises the complex interrelationships between all of the elements needed to enable,
trigger and encourage empowerment, akin to how living organisms interact with each
other and their environment.
From the in-depth research conducted at the PISGA Future Center and the data collected
at the other Future Centers around the world, a generic empowerment ecology framework
has been developed. The conditions comprising the empowerment ecology are divided
into four perspectives: operating principles, resources, supporters and processes, as
shown in Figure 4. Each perspective and their associated conditions are briefly presented
Take in Figure 4 here
Group I: Operating Principles.
From a combination of data collected from the Future Centers and the literature, we have
identified 12 key operating principles within the Empowerment Ecology framework.
The first principle is respect. Respect for the people involved in the empowerment
process is critical. This principle is at the heart of the coaching process, which sees the
client as "naturally creative, resourceful and whole" (Whitworth et al, 1998). Trust is a
closely related operating principle, frequently associated with empowerment (e.g.
Whitworth et al, 1998).
The second principle is diversity. The people acting in the empowerment ecology should
represent a diversity of backgrounds, be it age, gender, experience, discipline, perspective
to encourage creativity and divergent thinking (Sutton, 2001).
The third principle is dialogue and encouraging a wide range of rich interactions between
the members of the community and other stakeholders. The structure of the community
should encourage dialogue and openness to the others. Informal, flexible and un-
hierarchical structures help to facilitate empowerment and high involvement (Handler,
1990 from Sadan p 79).
This links closely to the fourth principle of equal voices, whereby the diverse participants
can conduct dialogue on an equal basis. This can be facilitated by graphical templates
and processes to encourage all to understand the communication and share their visions
(Lettice and Brayshaw, 2007).
The fifth principle is of open ended outcomes. This describes a process which is not
based on a specific pre-planned result, but one which is tolerant of a wide range of
outcomes and will allow for ambiguity (Adams, 1990).
The sixth principle is to provide a sense of direction, as this is fundamental to
empowerment. While the individual and the community might be invited to assume
responsibility and take control over important issues, without the context and framework
of a general vision or strategy, the exercise would be meaningless (Sadan 2002).
The seventh principle is self organisation, which recognises that not everything is
planned or controlled by a senior manager or boss. It also recognises that it does not
necessarily need to be and sometimes it is better if it is not. Some activities will even
organise themselves (Webb et al, 2006).
The eighth principle is self identity, which is the uniqueness and clear self definition of
the individual and community (Sadan, 2002).
The ninth principle is work-learn-play. Sadan (2002) maintains that working should be
closely equated with learning to empower employees to keep learning, exploring and
acquiring new competencies. Edvinsson (2002) described "joy zones", where work and
joy are inseparable. Kakko & Inkinen (2005) suggest that in the workplace of the future,
working, learning and playing should converge, in order to enable employees to fully
realize their potential.
The tenth principle is to have both a dreaming and doing focus. Empowerment
researchers and practitioners suggest that the empowerment process must include both a
focus on self awareness and an understanding of the critical challenges and problems, on
the one hand, and tangible effort to change reality and take concrete actions on the other
hand (e.g. Kanter, 2001).
The eleventh principle is to consider the past to inform the present and future.
Acquaintance with the historical roots of an issue helps to provide solid foundations for
addressing present and future challenges.
The twelfth and final principle is to achieve the right scale of challenge: actions,
initiatives or programs should be small enough to provide each stakeholder with a
meaningful role, and large enough to attract enough resources and make an impact
(Sadan, 2002). In this respect, the management literature many times promotes the
notion of "focusing on small successes that energize the process and stakeholders".
Group II: Resources:
Empowerment requires more then good intentions. In order to achieve both psychological
and political empowerment, the empowered individuals or groups need access to a wide
range of resources:
Information and knowledge which enables informed identification, mapping and
analysis of problems as well as scenarios, possible solutions, and alternative
paths. Howard (1993) suggests that empowerment provides enhanced
"environmental knowledge" or a higher level of understanding and awareness of
the social situation. Kanter (2001) explored empowerment in the digital age and
suggested that "fast, open access to information and the ability to communicate
directly with nearly anyone anywhere sets e-culture apart from traditional
environments". She propose that an empowering environment is the anti-thesis of
the “mushroom” culture. According to Kanter, “'Mushroom management' is the
philosophy that it is best to keep employees in the dark, cover them with manure,
and when they ripen, can them".
Tangible resources, for example, financial capital that enables people to translate
their ideas and visions into reality. Access to physical space for meetings (or
nowadays, also virtual spaces) is also relevant to the very process of community
Political power, which enables the individual or group to enhance its influence
and promote a specific agenda and vision. For example, the management
literature is full of references to the role of the powerful sponsor in change
programs (e.g. Dawson, 1994)
The ability of the individual or group to invest time in innovation is considered as
one of the critical enabling factors in the ecology of innovation (Dvir et al, 2006).
Similarly, Friedman (1992) suggests that free time is critical for initiating and
conducting significant group activities, thus access to free time is a source for
Group III: Supporters:
Sadan (2002) suggests that several roles are needed to support empowerment by helping
individuals and groups to perceive themselves as powerful players that can impact their
worlds as well as other people’s worlds and create change. Here are some of the roles:
Resources consultant, who helps the empowered people to identify and effectively
use different kinds of resources.
A coach, mentor and teacher, who facilitates the empowered people through their
An "eye opener" who helps the empowered people to become self aware to their
capabilities and strengths.
Services planner, who designs the organizational settings and processes that enable
A networker, who helps the empowered people to identify and activate useful
The expert who helps the empowered people to address the challenge and find
solutions to the issue they are dealing with. It might be a subject expert, or
alternatively a process expert with expertise in triggering and facilitating different
kinds of brainstorming.
The sponsor – a person characterized by considerable political power who supports
the process and the people that are engaged in it, help them to address political
problems, remove bottle necks and gain legitimacy.
Group IV: Processes.
According to some of the empowerment literature (e.g. Sadan 2002), empowerment is
strongly related to structured, systematic and facilitated processes. The process described
below is a variation on the community empowerment processes, adapted from Parsons
(1991) and Sadan (2002):
1. The discovery phase – people discover that they are not alone in their situation,
needs and dreams. They become aware of the capabilities of other people.
2. Partnership creation – people start to relate to the Critical Common Characteristic
as a driving force to collaboration and form a partnership to address a general or
3. Self definition: the partners in the newly formed collaboration start to search for
self identity. They verbalize and define their situation.
4. Opposition to the current policy or status quo
5. Designing an independent alternative to the current situation. This phase involves
exploration of solutions used at other places, visioning and "dreaming".
6. Recruiting resources and creating coalitions with other stakeholders who might
help in realizing the alternative solution.
7. In some cases, realizing the alterative solution, many times in the form of limited
scale prototypes and experiments. In other cases, the solution is proposed to other
players and is not directly implemented by the empowered community.
8. Evaluation of the outcomes, and identification of the strengths as well as the
limits of the empowered community.
While this process is described as a linear one, in reality empowerment processes are less
structured and indeed can be described as being spiral in nature, where the scope and
scale of responsibilities and challenges grows over time (Mäkinen, 2006).
This research has identified the conditions related to empowerment, within the context of
Future Centers, and developed a comprehensive framework called an "empowerment
ecology". The framework was developed using detailed observations and data collection
within one Future Center and the findings were then tested for their generalizability in 20
further Future Centers from multiple sectors. The findings were also framed by a review
of the empowerment and related literatures. The empowerment ecology framework
provides insights for both practice and academia.
For practitioners engaged in establishing, managing or supporting Future Centers, the
framework will help them to explicitly and systematically address empowerment issues,
which have tended to be addressed only partially or implicitly until now. Because of the
broad nature and aims and scopes of Future Centers, we also believe the framework will
be of use to address empowerment issues in other types of innovation centers, such as
For academics involved in the research of innovation centers in general and Future
Centers in particular, the framework adds a new perspective and theoretical lens – the one
of empowerment – to the current perspectives and lenses used, for example
organisational, methodological, technological and physical perspectives.
Several future research directions are suggested, in order to complement, enhance and
widen the current research. First, an examination of how the empowerment perspective
interacts with the technological and physical perspectives of innovation centers in general
and Future Centers in particular would be useful. Questions like "could all of the factors
of the empowerment ecology be realized in a fully virtual future center?" have both
practical and academic interest. Second, the applicability of the empowerment ecology
framework to other settings, e.g. communities of practice, could be explored. Third, the
interactions and importance of the perspectives within the empowerment ecology should
be further analyzed to better understand the relationships between them and their relative
criticality. Finally, the impact of the empowerment ecology on the outcomes of Future
Centers should be formally evaluated. This evaluation should be done at the personal,
organizational and community levels.
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High resolution figures will be provided in a separate file. The following are low res.
Figure 1: A conceptual view of a generic process in a Future Center
conditions f or
Exp loring Future
Applying the Ecolo gy Empowerment framework to
visits to 20
engagem ent in
setting up and
Figure 2: The research process
enable citizens to:
Take active part in imaging and thinking about t he future of of
the education system or a specific educational challenge
I mpacting and shaping the city – and their own – future
Outlook into different possible futures
Multiple perspectives of: seniors citizens, children, artists,
academics, local leaders, educators, business people, ministry of
education officials, city education depart ment people
I mplementation Spaces
launching diverse programs for
developm ent of the city human and
social capital with focus on the
Promoting the vision of the Education
City in domains such as: life long
learning, career change, educational
This is w here ideas are turned into
to catalyze and
nourish local educational innovation
and ent repreneurship.
Translating the future images into
concret e programs, services and
Combining ideas and resources
I nitiating proj ects and programs
Prototyping new services, tools,
Future I mages
are created, painted and visually presented.
They relates to t he city’s educational needs, possibilities and assets.
From time to time, the images are replaced – the cent er continuously
develop and update the future visions according to the changing
Provide easy access to
updated information on
programs within and
beyond the city
Support the different
and identify opportunities
for new initiatives
with other future centers
and education cities
Figure 3: A conceptual process for addressing a challenge at PISGA Future Center
Realization in PISGA Future Center
The "community conversation" session on 22 Feb 2006 was conducted with
all stakeholders. The physical setting and more so the "open space"
facilitation method encouraged open conversation and dialogue.
"Right" scale of
The teachers were invited to address the complete science education field
and offer ways to revolutionize it. At a later phase when they entered the
"innovation lab", they were supported in realizing a manageable part of
their big "future image", focused on energy issues.
Responsibility The team of supervisors and instructors involved in the process were never
officially charged with re-inventing science education – this is the
responsibility of the ministry headquarters. But they did assume this
responsibility without asking permission, and made a change.
The process started with crafting a vision for the year 2020 at the
community conversation. On June 2006, the team entered the "Innovation
Lab" in order to start to develop a group of more than 100 teachers.
Historical roots At the community conversation, before discussing future solutions, the
people involved discussed the approaches of scientists from the past, like
Marie Curie, Einstein, Dalton and so on.
Diversity Diversity is built into the PISGA innovation process. For example, at the
community conversation, teachers not only work with their peer teachers
but also with senior supervisors, artists, local business people, academics
from the local universities and so on. They also apply the "three
generation" principle – many activities involve children as well as
pensioners – who add their perspectives to the active teachers’ opinions.
Respect and trust Respect for the creative power of each teacher is practiced and well
demonstrated – teachers are invited to reinvent their professional domain.
Sense of direction In order to increase the chances that the teachers innovations will be
realized (a factor critical to ensure that they will continue their innovation
journey), a senior function e.g. a chief supervisor, is invited to participate in
some of the sessions and relate the work to the overall vision of the
ministry of education.
When teachers are invited to participate in an innovation process, the
outcome is not defined, in contrast to the processes they are used to. They
learn to discover and explore different opportunities, tolerate "future
images" which are not clear at the beginning, and grow together with the
emergence of a pattern for a possible solution.
Self Organization While there is a generic overall structure to the innovation process, the
teachers and other stakeholders are invited to define the exact process. They
learn that by enabling their group to self organize, powerful results emerge.
Table 1: Empowerment Group I: Operating Principles
Phase Realization in PISGA Future Center
Teachers or other stakeholders related to the education field discover an
urgent need to change fundamentally they way they work.
The PISGA Future Center creates a partnership between teachers, other
stakeholders (e.g supervisors, or school headmasters, or students) and the
center itself. The partners go through a formal alignment process and sign a
The partners, now working as a group, typically meet every one or two
weeks, start to get to know each other, and to develop a self identity. Many
times they explicitly search for uniqueness (of their school, program,
professional domain, identity as a teacher).
At the "community conversation" session, the group members, as well as
invited stakeholders from different disciplines, explore the current situation.
They learn to question every basic assumption – an important shift from the
usual "this is what they planned at the ministry" approach.
At the same session, the group moves promptly from criticizing the current
situation into offering alternative solutions embedded in "future images".
The teachers learn that they can not only criticize but also suggest far better
At the next phase, at the "Innovation Lab", the teachers learn that not only
can they suggest interesting options, they can also develop them into
concrete programs. They learn how to recruit resources, achieve support, and
overcome sceptical voices.
At the next phase, the teachers learn that they can and should not only
develop interesting alternative educational programs, but are responsible to
try them in real world conditions. This is done in the "Learning space"
(which might be a school, specific class or specific course, for example).
Evaluation Finally, the teachers are invited to self reflect about the innovation and
learning process that they just completed. A wide range of evaluation tools is
used by the PISGA evaluation center. The results are fed back to all
stakeholders as part of their growth processes.
Table 2: Empowerment Group II: Processes
Role Realization in PISGA Future Center
Eye opener The "external voice" helps the teachers to see other perspectives. This role is
fulfilled by the many non-education people invited to the community
conversations – business people, children, artists, scientists etc.
The person that has the skills of recruiting resources – e.g. financial support,
needed to turn the teachers dream into reality. This role is fulfilled by the
center’s general manager.
The person that provides personal and group coaching of the PISGA staff. This
role is fulfilled by two innovation experts that work regularly with PISGA
(two of the paper authors)
Networker The person that helps the teacher attract partners, political support,
relationships with other programs etc., in order to help the teachers turn their
idea into reality. This role is fulfilled by the center’s general manager.
The person that plans the overall innovation process, methodologies and tools.
This role is fulfilled jointly by the external consultants mentioned above and
the center staff.
In order to get at non-trivial solutions, it is useful sometimes to enhance the
teacher’s team group with subject experts. For example, in the case of the
teaching students who developed a program for sustainable education, several
national experts in sustainable developments joined the group for a few
The facilitator of the innovation process – this role was initially carried out by
professional facilitators, but over time the center staff members assumed
responsibility for this activity and now facilitate most of the innovation
Sponsor The sponsor helps the teachers in overcoming bottlenecks and resistance to
change. The sponsor also contributes to the self confidence of the teachers.
Usually it is the national or regional supervisor, but in other cases it was
people outside the education field e.g. the parliament commissioner for future
Table 3: Empowerment Group III: Roles
Resource Realization in PISGA Future Center
The Future Center "knowledge center" was established to provide the
innovation projects with state of art information on advanced solutions,
emerging trends and current challenges. Actually, while some of this
information is provided by the center's education intelligence expert, a
considerable part of it is achieved by the teachers themselves through
active exploration, field visits, interviews and web searches.
Skills: The teachers are explicitly invited to acquire futurizing skills e.g.
workshops on Systematic Inventive Thinking. However, "action learning"
is one of the fundamentals principles of the center, and it is mostly
through the innovation projects that the teachers learn how to challenge
the current situation, develop future solutions and develop them into
As was mentioned above, political power is a critical resource in order to
provide legitimacy and attention to the teachers’ innovation efforts. This
is provided through the sponsor, as well as through the center efforts to
position itself as an important change engine in the education domain.
Tangible resources are important in order to fully develop and realize the
teachers’ ideas. The earlier phases of the innovation processes also
require resources for facilitation. For example, once the center was
recognized as an official educational experiment by the ministry of
education, special resources are allocated to it. As a matter of principle,
the center tries to match resources with its partners/clients (e.g. a school
that starts an innovation process), when possible
Time: Teachers are overloaded with routine work. How can they find time to
challenge the status quo and revolutionize their filed? The "trick" in the
case of PISGA is that they redesign a regular teachers training course as
an innovation process. Thus, teachers can use their regular training time
to reinvent their field, rather then just study the available pedagogical
Table 4: Empowerment Group IV: Resources
Factor Example Photo
Mobillion – future center for transport
and water management, the Netherlands
- individuals and the group are continuously
exposed to and literally work on a room
size electronic floor map of the current
national water and transport resources.
Digital information kiosks provide updated
information on the country's water
management issues. Workshop at Mobillion FC.
by the FC
FC of Bat Yam personal education
program, Israel – the people engaged in
the center work are charged with the
mission to revolutionize the city’s
education system, and profoundly impact
the future of each of the city’s 17,000
students. At the same time, many of the
activities focus on the small steps needed to
realize the vision. Brainstorming at Bat Yam FC
Ericsson Foresight, Sweden – the founder
and head of the center was the company
R&D vice president. This, together with
strong links with the top management and a
network of 30 "ambassadors" at each of the
company strategic units, strengthened the
center’s political power. Innovision FC founder
Be'er Sheva FC, Israel – each project
starts with an envisioning phase (called
"future images") which is followed by a
down-to-earth development of some of the
image ideas, and eventually testing at real
A future image in Be'er Sheva
Skandia (insurance company) Future
Center, Sweden – while the FC space and
processes trigger in depth discussions on
fundamental questions, the hosts and the
design of the physical space create an
ambience to enable and encourage visitors
to "have fun", relax, and play. A moment at the Disrupt-IT project
workshop at Skandia
The Leonardo FC summit, Vinci village,
Tuscany – a joint workshop with 15 of the
village children and 15 innovation, business
and intellectual capital experts resulted in
interesting suggestions regarding the
Professors and children converse,
Vinci village kindergarten
Sydkraft Innovision, southern Sweden
energy company – the center runs a
structured innovation process, which is
facilitated by subject and business experts.
The idea pipeline process flowchart
SZW academy– each visit to the academy
starts with watching a 40 minute film,
which describes the history of social
progress in the past 1000 years in Europe,
followed by a related interactive game.
Only then are the visitors invited to
brainstorm current challenges and future
possibilities. The social affairs history interactive
Table 5: Empowerment factors in other Future Centers
Big vision, Small successes
Open ended outcomes
Sense of direction
Trust and respect
Figure 4: Empowerment ecology - conditions