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The Polak Game

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Abstract

The Polak Game (aka "Where Do You Stand?") is a classic workshop and classroom game in the futures field. It provides a user-friendly structure for facilitating far-reaching conversation among foresight students and clients, introducing "images of the future" as a basic property of both cultures and individuals, and so helping pave the way for more advanced tools and frameworks. This piece is adapted for the new edition of the Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, published Summer 2020, at the invitation of editors Richard Slaughter and Andy Hines. It first appeared in 2017 as a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Futures Studies: researchgate.net/publication/322144099
Editors
Richard Slaughter & Andy Hines
Washington, DC, USA
Brisbane, Australia
The Knowledge Base
of Futures Studies 2020
Copyright © 2020 Association of Professional Futurists and Foresight
International
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The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies 2020
i
Contents
CONTENTS
Foreword ..................................................................................................................... iii
Introduction ................................................................................................................ iv
Acknowledgements ................................................................................................... viii
Volume 1: Foundations ............................................................................................... 1
Introduction to Volume 1: Foundations .................................................................... 2
Part 1: Origins and State of Play ............................................................................... 6
Chapter 1: Yesterday’s Futures over Three Millennia .............................................. 7
Chapter 2: Mapping Fifty Years of Futures Studies Scholarship (19682017) .......24
Chapter 3: The State of Play in the Futures Field: 10 years on ................................48
Part 2: Approaches to Futures Thinking .................................................................65
Chapter 4: Seeing in Multiple Horizons: Connecting Futures to Vision and Strategy
.................................................................................................................................66
Chapter 5: Design for the Abstract Qualities of Futures Studies .............................86
Chapter 6: Presencing: The Theory U Framework as Foresight Method .................98
Chapter 7: The Manoa School’s Four Futures ....................................................... 109
Volume 2: Methods and Practices ........................................................................... 120
Introduction to Volume 2: Methods and Practices ................................................. 121
Part 1: Futures Methods and Tools ........................................................................ 124
Chapter 8: Emerging Practices in Foresight .......................................................... 125
Chapter 9: Aspirational Futures ............................................................................. 143
Chapter 10: Ethnographic Experiential Futures (EXF) .......................................... 157
Chapter 11: Wild Cards and Weak Signals ............................................................ 171
Chapter 12: An Updated Practitioners Guide to Science Fiction Prototyping ....... 185
Chapter 13: Framework Foresight: Exploring Futures the Houston Way .............. 196
Part 2: Critical Practice and Integral Futures ....................................................... 215
Chapter 14: Decolonizing Futures: Finding Voice, and Making Room for Non-
Western Ways of Knowing, Being, and Doing ...................................................... 216
Chapter 15: Surfacing the intangible: integrating the doing and thinking of strategy
............................................................................................................................... 231
Chapter 16: Integral Futures: Theory, Vision, Practice ......................................... 237
Volume 3: Synergies, Case Studies and Implementation ...................................... 258
Introduction to Volume 3: Synergies, Case Studies, and Implementation ............. 259
Part 1: Synergies and Implementation ................................................................... 263
Chapter 17: Australian Futures: The Swinburne Foresight Program ..................... 264
Chapter 18: Finnish and Nordic Futures Studies Current insights and new voices
............................................................................................................................... 280
Chapter 19: The IFR story and Futures in Africa .................................................. 295
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Contents
Chapter 20: A Foresight Journey in Education Futures, Foundation Style ............ 310
Chapter 21: The Polak Game ................................................................................ 326
Chapter 22: Foresight Maturity Model (FMM): Achieving Best Practices in the
Foresight Field ...................................................................................................... 341
Chapter 23: Foresight Capacity: Towards a Foresight Competency Model .......... 352
Part 2: Futures in Governance ................................................................................ 367
Chapter 24: Transforming Global Governance in the 21st Century: Issues and
Proposals ............................................................................................................... 368
Chapter 25: Anticipatory Governance: The Role of Futures Studies in Regaining the
Political Initiative .................................................................................................. 385
Chapter 26: Foresight as a Rigorous and Systematic Imagining Process .............. 403
Volume 4: Directions and Outlooks ........................................................................ 418
Introduction to Volume 4: Directions and Outlooks ............................................. 419
Part 1: 21st Century Outlooks and Risks ............................................................... 422
Chapter 27: Public Perceptions of Future Threats to Humanity: Why They Matter
.............................................................................................................................. 423
Chapter 28: The Three Tomorrows of Postnormal Times ..................................... 437
Chapter 29: Energy Descent Futures ..................................................................... 453
Part 2: Where Now for Futures Studies and Applied Foresight? ........................ 471
Chapter 30: Professionalizing Foresight: Why Do it, Where it Stands, and What
Needs to Be Done.................................................................................................. 472
Chapter 31: Futures Studies as a Quest for Meaning ............................................. 489
About the Editors ..................................................................................................... 508
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Chapter 21: The Polak Game
CHAPTER 21: THE POLAK GAME
by Peter Hayward, Stuart Candy
Introduction
This article describes the origins and uses of a workshop and classroom
activity called the Polak Game, or Where Do You Stand? It is an
accessible and effective approach to introducing “images of the future” as
a basic property of both cultures and individuals. Over some fifteen years
of use to date, the game has provided a user-friendly structure for
facilitating far-reaching conversations among foresight clients or students,
and as such, it has proven useful for paving the way for more advanced
tools and frameworks. The duration of the game is flexible, and partly
dependent on group size, but typically runs around forty-five minutes.
This text is in two parts, covering the experiences of the two authors.
Origin and orientation (Peter Hayward)
The Polak Game was a magical development arising from a surprising
source: The Image of the Future, a famous text in the history of futures
studies, written by the Dutch sociologist Frederik Lodewijk Polak.
1
The
author, who was Jewish, survived the Holocaust hiding out in the German-
occupied Netherlands. He went on to write this magnum opus about how
various human cultures have shaped their own destinies through their
collective images of the future.
2
The book’s lineage is even more
interesting when you discover that it was translated from Dutch by Elise
Boulding, another giant of the futures field. It is a book of its time in
which Polak takes a swing at some big post-WWII themes, including
Christianity, Marxism, Utopia, and Culture, to name a few. It’s a ripping
read.
In such a far-reaching work, over 800 pages in the original two
volumes, though less than half that in the abridged edition (an electronic
copy is available on Michel Godet’s website La Prospective:
http://en.laprospective.fr/dyn/anglais/memoire/the-image-of-the-
future.pdf). I became fascinated by a particular passage explaining the role
played by optimism and pessimism in the power of the image of the
future. I have reread this single paragraph many times:
It will be helpful to make distinctions between optimism and
pessimism along the lines of the concepts of Seinmüssen, “what
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must be,” and Seinsollen, “what ought to be.” It would then be
possible to speak of Seinoptimismus or Seinpessimismus, which
we will refer to as essence-optimism or essence-pessimism, and
Willensoptimismus or Willenspessismus, which we shall refer to
as influence-optimism or influence-pessimism. The essence
categories refer to an unchangeable course of events; the influence
categories refer to the supposed or rejected possibility of human
intervention. The first point of view sees history as a book that has
already been written; the second sees history as a process that man
can or cannot manipulate.
3
I found that this explanation led me to imagine a 2x2 matrix, with the
vertical axis describing essence-optimism and -pessimism, and influence-
optimism and -pessimism plotted on the horizontal. And so in my mind’s
eye, I saw it as shown in Figure 1.
Fig. 1. Imagined Polak orientations
These factors, Polak seemed to claim, gave every image of the future
its underlying logic, moral basis, and power to attract people and create
culture. This basic grasp of the theory gave the game its start. It seems
fitting that the first time I really began to use Polak’s idea was in response
to someone else who I thought was missing the point. Dennis Morgan
published an article on The Image of the Future, finding that it lacked for
him the essential notion of human progress.
4
My rejoinder to Dennis was
that the notion of progress was wholly dependent on where you stood in
relation to these dimensions of essence and influence.
5
On reflection, it
was this simple metaphor—“it all depends on where you are standing”—
that became the enduring motif of the game itself.
Essence-Optimism
Influence-Pessimism
Influence-Optimism
Essence-Pessimism
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Chapter 21: The Polak Game
The first time I ran the Polak Game was in the classroom with Joseph
Voros at Swinburne University around 2004. We were teaching the
concept of “the image of the future” and invoking Jim Dator’s statement
of its importance to the futures field:
Futures studies does notor should not—pretend to predict “the
future.” It studies ideas about the futurewhat I usually call
“images of the future”which each individual (and group) has
(often holding several conflicting images at one time). These
images often serve as the basis for actions in the present.
6
It was of course Polak who had introduced the concept of images of
the future referred to in Dator’s remark. At that moment, however, instead
of trying to explain Polak, I said “Let’s do Polak.” I asked everyone to
stand up and gather in the middle of the classroom. I then stood at one end
of the room, and Joe stood at the other. I explained that the two of us
marked the extreme perspectives as to whether change in the world was
working its way towards optimistic futures (my “north”) or pessimistic
futures (Joe’s “south”). People were asked to arrange themselves
somewhere on that spectrum to express their expectations for the future
relative to the endpoints. The first question from the class was “What
context do I use?” I think I responded, “How you experience the world, so
you set the context.” This may not have been great direction, but it did
illustrate a key point in using the game: the context of participants is
crucial, and you need to establish its importance early on.
The whole class was now distributed along a northsouth (or upper
lower) line: the expectation axis (the vertical in Figure 1). Joe and I
moved to the sides of the room, and I instructed everyone else not to
move. Now the two of us were marking out the ends of the influence axis
(horizontal in Figure 1). Again we explained the perspectives
corresponding to the two ends: that people have influence (right), or that
people don’t (left). The participants were told to retain their present
upperlower positioning and to move sideways to indicate their own
degree of optimism or pessimism on the influence axis, and then stop.
Having moved the second time, everyone was now standing in one of
the four quadrants I had visualised. We went on to explore the nature,
logic, moral basis, culture, etc. of each quadrant. Each had its own distinct
ontological and ethical foundations.
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Chapter 21: The Polak Game
As the game developed after that, I would either show this basic set of
perspectives in a PowerPoint slide, or draw out the relevant characteristics
through discussion during the game. Figure 2 shows an attempt to capture
a sense of the quadrants, employing what I would describe as a naïve
framing.
Fig. 2. Generic responses within the quadrants
The framing shown in Figure 2 will get participants to stand
somewhere and have interesting conversation, but I came to feel that it
was also a bit limiting, as people tended to congregate on the influence-
optimism (right) side only. I soon began to modify how I would ask
people to orientate themselves. The vertical axis was still essence-
optimism and -pessimism, but I would explain it this way:
I will ask you to orientate yourself according to how you
experience the world; how you understand the way that it has
been and is. At one end of the room [the upper half], our sense
from experience in the world is this: while things go wrong from
time to time, the overall trend is that things are getting better. At
the other end [the lower half], while things go okay from time to
time, the overall trend is that it’s more of a struggle, and things
are not getting better.
I made this textual change because I did not find a binary
utopia/dystopia framing that helpful. A more realistic and complex
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Chapter 21: The Polak Game
spectrum seemed more useful for participants than a simple good-
world/bad-world dichotomy. The influence variable was tricky as people
would commonly see the optimistic right half of the matrix as “strong,”
and the pessimistic left side as weak or passive. Again, I did not consider
such simple dichotomies very useful for groups to play with, so here is
how I ended up explaining that axis.
Now we are orientating ourselves according to what caused our
experience and sense of the world. On the influence-optimism
[right] side, the driving cause was the actions of people. While
there are big processes and forces that have shaped the world, by
far the biggest cause is people. On the influence-pessimism [left]
side, while people are influential, it is the larger forcesphysical,
political, cultural, and spiritual, to mention a fewthat have
caused the world to be the way you have experienced it.
Using a script along these lines, we would see a more even spread of
people around the matrix, and the slightly different sense of the four
quadrants could be described as in Figure 3.
Fig. 3. Modified responses within the quadrants
With participants distributed more evenly around the matrix, the
facilitator can draw out a richer discussion both of where people are, and
of what they see or feel when thinking about those in the other quadrants.
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Chapter 21: The Polak Game
The attributions and conversations across quadrants are probably among
the most useful aspects of the game.
When you ask players to describe what energises their own image of
the future, you tend to get the following self-descriptions within
quadrants:
Upper Right (UR): Powerful, or Agentic
Upper Left (UL): Service-oriented
Lower Right (LR): Realistic, or Stoic
Lower Left (LL): Free, or Que Sera Sera
When asking players how they would describe the other quadrants, you
get something like this:
Table 1. How the other quadrants are viewed from each quadrant
In-quadrant view
View from
UR
View from
UL
View from
LR
View from
LL
UR - Powerful
X
Deluded
Unrealistic
Oppressors
UL Service-
oriented
Passive
X
Idealists
Lucky
LR Stoic
Battlers
Martyrs
X
Lost Cause
LL Free
Losers
Victims
Lazy
X
The UR may, for instance, think of themselves as powerful change
agents, but then hear from others (moving clockwise) that the LR regard
them as being unrealistic or just privileged; the LL describe them as
deluded or hubristic, and the UL see them as the ones who create the
world that the LL live in. You can then move people into different
quadrants to “see how things look from where others stand.”
When deployed in an organisation the dynamics of the game can get
very interesting. Once I worked with an executive group who all huddled
in the UR, almost competing to be furthest into that optimistic-influential
quadrant. As if channelling the UL’s critique, I asked: “How do you know
you are not deluded?” When a group of decision-makers cluster in the UR,
you can ask, “Where are your staff standing?” “Where are your
customers?” The realisation may start to dawn that others are not
necessarily energized by the same image of the future.
On another occasion, I ran the game with an executive group where,
again, most were in the UR. Later on, however, while developing their
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Chapter 21: The Polak Game
strategic plan, I heard them listing all the things that they “could not do”
until someone else acted first. I asked, “So why were you standing in the
UR earlier?” The group quickly dropped the “We need others to act first”
comment and got on with planning the actions they could take.
It is when I have used it with groups trying to create a vision of a
shared future that I think the power of the Polak Game has become most
apparent. Humans construct narratives from their own experience and
sense of the world. You could say that we stand on our individual
ontology. What the game can reveal to players is that we each need to
meet others where they are, and listen to their ontologies, before we have
any chance of creating a shared one. During the game, it often becomes
obvious who in a group feels that they have power and opportunity, and
who does not; who has been treated fairly in the past, and who has not. By
bringing these hidden dimensions to light, those with power may feel
humbled by their privilege, and those with disadvantage can feel
acknowledged and heard. And from there, an enduring sense of what
“our” future could be starts to emerge.
Exploration and evolution (Stuart Candy)
Peter and I met for the first time at the World Future Society Conference
in Chicago in 2005. Early the next year he managed to visit the “Manoa
School” for a few short days, where Jake Dunagan and I were graduate
students at the time; a group of us spent a highly memorable afternoon
during which Peter facilitated and we hosted at the Hawaii Research
Center for Futures Studies. As I have consistently found to be the case
with Peter, even this all-too-brief interaction left a lasting impression.
Somehow it did not register with me at the time that this activity he
had introduced to us as the Polak Game was such a recent invention; it
already had the hallmarks of a classic, tried-and-tested pedagogy. It had a
robust rationale, and an intriguing backstory in Polak’s own life
experience, and it offered a striking way to call forth participants’
assumptions to be examined by themselves and others. This key aspect of
futures workuncovering hidden assumptionsis not always simple to
pull off. Yet this game was easy to play, and endlessly generative.
In our very first conversation in Chicago, I recall Peter describing his
notion that a thorough understanding of a subject, coupled with a
willingness to experiment, could yield an endless stream of innovations in
pedagogy and practice—an “infinite toolkit.” Sometimes, in the course of
experimentation, you hit on a key pattern that crystallises into a tool worth
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keeping, revisiting, and iterating. Such was the case with his invention of
the Polak Game.
Flashing forward to a 2016 retreat held in Silicon Valley to explore
futures and imagination, the Institute for the Future’s Jane McGonigal
(herself a renowned game designer) led our assembled group through an
activity called “the Future Orientation Game.” Although neither Polak nor
Hayward were mentioned at first, the family resemblance was
unmistakeable. The game had made its way to IFTF via Dunagan, who
had worked there for many years after leaving Hawaii. I was glad to be
able to add something about its origins and underlying thinking.
7
Now, any useful and thought-provoking futures activity deserves to
spread, and this second- or third-generation descendant reminds us of an
important fact about how futures practice and tools are actually
disseminatedevolving from hand to hand, like any folk knowledge or
craft. We might recognise that the evolution of our tools and tricks of the
tradethese foresight craft genealogiesoften escape not only
documentation, but even our explicit notice.
In this context then I want to share a few lessons I’ve gleaned as an
avid facilitator of the Polak Game during its first decade and a half, as a
resource for those who may wish to build on it during the next phase.
Until we wrote this article together, I was not aware of changes to the
game that Peter had made later, so the game I’ve developed over the
years, both in its intellectual framing and in its more theatrical aspects, is
probably more a cousin of the original than a clone.
A few months after his visit in 2006, I contacted Peter to ask
permission to use the game with a group from the East-West Center’s
Asia-Pacific Leadership Program, in a session that I would be running at
the end of the year in Sapa, Vietnam. In that event, out of thirty or forty
participants from perhaps two dozen countries across Asia and the Pacific,
all but one stood in the influence-optimism square of the matrix.
Unusually diverse in terms of disciplinary and cultural background, an
invisible dimension of the cohort was suddenly apparent; one on which
they turned out not to vary so much. These aspiring leaders had a distinct,
robust sense of personal influence.
This first deployment highlighted one of the key learning
opportunities that the game presents: a playful but meaningful way to talk
about “who is in the room” and who is not. Leaders (and as a design
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Chapter 21: The Polak Game
professor, I would add designers) of various kinds are often well-
represented in the UR quadrant (essence-optimism and influence-
optimism). Rarely is a group of players statistically representative of
attitudes to the future found in a random sample outside, there being a
level of privilege built into educational and organisational contexts, which
we can recognise and use to underline the critical value of considering
other perspectives. Indeed, depending on group size, one or other of the
influence-pessimism quadrants sometimes stays empty.
In the end, whatever their configuration, people are challenged and
encouraged to explore and empathise with each other’s views, and
especially with marginal or absent perspectives on possible futures: how
do, and how should, each of us relate to our peers or constituents who
happen not to have the same attitudes to change and agency? These moves
exercise the perspective-taking muscles that foresight practice asks us to
develop. The lesson that contrasting ways of thinking about futures may
be present in a society or organization, but that these are not necessarily
all represented at the top table where the loudest voices are heard and the
biggest decisions taken, is important for those with positional authority to
grasp.
The Asia-Pacific group in Vietnam was the first of dozens of
deployments I have facilitated in a range of contexts.
8
Generally, as in the
first run of the game in Hawaii, I ask players to start by standing in a line,
all in a single row, facing me. I open with something like this:
I have a question for you, and I will ask you to answer by moving.
The question is about your expectations for the future. When you
cast your imagination one generation forward, say 20 years from
today, do you expect the world to be better than the one we live
inbetter as defined by youor do you imagine it as being
worse? If you feel optimistic in your expectations for how the
world will look in 2040 [as of 2020], then when I say “go,” you
should step forward, and the stronger that feeling is, the further
forward you should step. If on the other hand, you feel pessimistic
or doubtful in your expectations about the state of the world in
2040, then when I say “go,” step backward; and again, the more
strongly you feel that way the further you should move. There is a
subjective judgment at play here, which is fine—that’s what we
want. Go! Move as far forward or as far back as you like.
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In this approach, the vertical axis is described in terms of
“expectation” rather than “essence” optimism and pessimism; a semantic
shift that might help players acknowledge their particular perspectives as
being just that, as opposed to coming from some future “essence” entirely
outside themselves.
Having stepped forward or back from the starting line, however
clustered or spread out they are, I double check that folks are comfortable
that where they stand reflects their answer. This is of course a far cry from
the kind of tidy, replicable responses prized by many social scientists, and
there is a significant element of tacit social positioning and interpersonal
negotiation at play in any given Polak Game. Some individuals for
example take it upon themselves to push to the edges of their group, while
others may hold back. However, this is all grist to the mill, because the
process itself is in large part about the complex interplay between
individual and emergent group/cultural perspectives.
Next, having them take care not to move forward or back, but to step
sideways and, still facing forward, gather along the imaginary
vertical/upper-lower axis through the centre of the space, I might say the
following:
Now I have another question for you, and it is about your
agencyyour personal capacity to influence change at the global
level over the next 20 years, in directions you personally consider
to be positive. If you feel that you do have agency and can shape
the world, then when I say “go” please step to the right, and the
more strongly you feel that way, the further you are invited to
move. If on the other hand, you have your doubts, if you are
skeptical or pessimistic about your capacity to shape things on
that scale, over that time period, then when I say “go” move to the
left, commensurate with your level of doubt. Go!
These specific parametersthe whole world, one generation from
now, your own personal capacity to affect global level changerepresent
shared reference points, variables we hold in place so that the
conversation can then push off and pivot around these in considering the
multiple other issues in play. In this approach, as Peter noted, we are
aiming to avoid a simplistic good world/bad world dichotomy, using
instead a more dimensional better/worse (than today) spectrum and
associated confidence levels to surface a range of responses. More open-
ended language in the prompt is certainly possible (e.g., leaving out a time
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Chapter 21: The Polak Game
horizon, or leaving out a scope of influence), but the ensuing conversation
could take a lot of time unearthing predictable differences of interpretation
of a vaguer prompt (“oh, I was thinking about a decade from now,
whereas she was thinking more like a century”). Being specific helps
factor certain differences out, and focus instead on some of the many other
issues at play behind people’s responses, such as the different kinds of
evidence that players attend to, or ignore, when explaining their
expectations.
The personalities, experiences, and imaginations of those assembled
are the always interesting and potentially revealing raw materials of the
Polak Game. It presents a wealth of opportunities to surface and sift
countless factors that might lie beneath people’s varying responses on that
day and in that moment: cultural, disciplinary, developmental,
dispositional, contextual, and so on. I may invite players to move in case
they find their view has changed; they rarely take you up on it, but the fact
that people’s current positions are fluid, and partly arbitrary, is good to
acknowledge. I’ve run the game indoors and outdoors, in gardens and
courtyards, hotels, classrooms, boardrooms, and hallways. If lacking
access to a suitable space for bodily staging the conversation (which
usually lasts around forty-five minutes), on a few occasions we have
resorted to people writing their names on index cards and moving those
around on a tabletop. This can work well too.
While not, strictly speaking, a game of experiential futures (“the
design of situations and stuff from the future to catalyse insight and
change”
9
), it is certainly an experiential game about futures. What is
remarkably effective about the game is that, not unlike the Sarkar Game,
10
it beds down a new vocabulary, or dimension of awareness, through
embodiment. It makes immediate and memorable some useful abstract
and analytical categories that can be referenced and built upon in later
futures work, both inwardly (as in our invitation to players to keep paying
attention to these factors) and outwardly (as in Peter’s example of the
buck-passing execs from the Upper-Right quadrant). The game works
well with classes or professional groups brand new to foresight. As a way
to structure introductory conversation it can be highly effective: you can
incorporate learning people’s names, departments, and the like just as
readily into the game as any standalone icebreaker or introductory circle,
and it often goes a lot deeper than those. At the end of a futures course or
program, days, months, or even years later, people regularly remark on
how this first conversation stayed with them.
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Chapter 21: The Polak Game
Sometimes, quite moving personal stories arise in answer to the
simple question posed of people in each quadrant, “Why do you stand
where you are?” I always thank participants for generously sharing of
themselves in this way. I also like to encourage direct dialogue between
players. (“Peter, what do you think you’re seeing that Stuart might be
missing? Tell him.”) In a successful game, the facilitator finds ways to
move out of the conversational spotlight as the group gathers its own
momentum, and members assume more responsibility for negotiating
understandings across multiple dimensions of difference.
On the whole, I don’t see major differences between workplace and
educational deployments. Whatever the occasion convening a group,
discussion usually gravitates to the themes that matter most to them.
Where a shared mission unifies participants, as in a recent session at Red
Cross / Red Crescent headquarters, they may join the dots spontaneously
between insights from the game and their organisational functions. If they
don’t, you can invite them to. One practical difference between contexts
may show up in the takeaways that bear emphasis as the game concludes
(although these distinctions are not hard and fast). For groups from a
single organisation, considerations of inclusivity and personal
responsibility may have a sharper operational upshot; for example, “How
can you bring in, honour, and learn from the perspectives of those not in
the room?” For disparate participants in the classroom, the closing
moments may turn to broader philosophical questions: “What images of
the future do you personally carry? Where do they come from? How do
they fit, or not, into wider cultural patterns?” You might add: “Whose
interests do they appear to advance, and whose do they marginalise? What
might these themes, and the variety of such images, or lack thereof,
portend for the culture?”
As part of a feature documentary film shoot engaging the South
Sudanese community in Australia, we ran the game twice, back-to-back.
The first time, my questions used the standard parameters concerning
participants’ expectations and influence around global-scale change over
the next generation. The second time, however, we focused on the future
of South Sudan, which at that moment was highly uncertain. Several
participants stood in completely different places from one round to the
next, and both similarities and contrasts between iterations were
instructive: having heard about and seen each other’s dispositions at the
world level gave people a deeper context for their own and others’
viewsoptimistic, pessimistic, or mixedat the scale of their country of
birth.
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Chapter 21: The Polak Game
The parameters of the game may be adjusted for valuable
conversation in all sorts of settings. For example, a generation before
Polak identified the dimensions of “essence” and “influence,” physicist
J.D. Bernal observed, “There are two futures, the future of desire and the
future of fate, and man’s reason has never learnt to separate them.”
11
Bernal’s framing suggests an alternative “Where do you stand?” matrix,
exploring participants’ attitudes to a certain scenario. At its heart,
however, the Polak Game introduces the central concept of images of the
future and invites players to put up antennae; to pay closer attention to the
ideas and sentiments circulating in their personal, organisational, and
cultural imaginaries. Everyone tends to have a view on these questions
even if they may not have thought much about them before.
In theoretical terms, of course, tuning in to these often unsuspected
but ever-present interior (individual and collective) dimensions of futures
discourse is among the core suggestions of integral futures.
12
However,
the reasons to do so are equally practical, and in playing the Polak Game,
those new to the field quickly grasp why this is a literacy with extensive
ethical and practical implications. Cultivating awareness of the landscape
of images of the future goes directly to the cultural, political, and
interpersonal challenges of implementing change in multiple settings. In
this sense, the game can be a very effective gateway to more technical
tools and frameworks. (Incidentally, it also provides a foundational or
baseline conversation to refer back to, as people reflect on their own
learning and shifts of perspective while developing futures literacy.) For
practitioners, it is not a replacement for but a handy prelude and
companion to more focused, pragmatic tasks.
Although foresight is currently a luxury for many in the world,
normatively we could consider it a right.
13
I believe, with Robert Jungk
another important figure in European futures, a contemporary of Polak,
and like him, a Jewish Holocaust survivor—that “The future belongs to
everybody.”
14
For those who share an impulse to democratise foresight,
wherever they may be operating, having ways for “everybody” to
contribute matters. The fundamental question, “Where do you stand?” in
relation to futures, as inspired by Fred Polak and crystallised by Peter
Hayward, is one we should all consider. To approach it playfully, with
good humour, curiosity, and compassion, is a great way to start.
This article is based on Hayward, P. and Candy, S. (2017). “The Polak
game, or: Where do you stand?Journal of Futures Studies, 22(2), 514.
The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies 2020
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Chapter 21: The Polak Game
Peter Hayward
Dr. Peter Hayward is a foresight practitioner specialising in helping
organisations and communities act creatively with the future in mind
learning to see the world differently and find hopeful and inspiring
futures. Peter was the Program Director of the Masters of Strategic
Foresight at Swinburne University in Melbourne. He began his career as
an accountant and economist and increasingly became interested in how
change happens and then in how people create change. Peter has written
on the topics of psychology, systems thinking, and foresight. He has
published “Resolving the Moral Impediments to Foresight Action,”
“Facilitating Foresight,” “Foresight in Everyday Life,” and “Futures
Thinking as a Catalyst for Change.” His PhD was “From Individual to
Social Foresight” and studied how foresight develops in individuals. He
can be contacted at captainforesight@protonmail.com.
Stuart Candy
Dr. Stuart Candy (@futuryst) is Director of Situation Lab and Associate
Professor of Design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA. A
pioneer of experiential futures in the service of social foresight, he works
across strategy, consulting, policy, and art/activism contexts, with
contributions appearing in boardrooms and city streets, at museums and
festivals, at events from South by Southwest to Skoll World Forum, on the
Discovery Channel, and in the pages of publications like The Economist,
Wired, and VICE. An alumnus of the University of Hawaii at Manoa
futures program, he has helped propel the dialogue between futures and
design, media and the arts through appointments and visiting engagements
at institutions including the Royal College of Art, National University of
Singapore, California College of the Arts, OCAD University, and
Stanford d.School. He is co-creator of the acclaimed imagination game
The Thing from the Future and co-editor of the book Design and Futures.
He can be reached at scandy@cmu.edu.
References
1
Polak, F.L. (1961). The Image of the Future; Enlightening the Past, Orientating
the Present, Forecasting the Future (2 vols.) (Elise Boulding, trans.). Leyden,
Netherlands: A.W. Sythoff.
2
Van der Helm, R. (2005). “The future according to Frederik Lodewijk Polak:
Finding the roots of contemporary futures studies,” Futures, 37(6), 505519.
3
Polak, F.L. (1973). The Image of the Future (Elise Boulding, trans. and abr.).
Amsterdam: Elsevier, 17.
The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies 2020
340
Chapter 21: The Polak Game
4
Morgan, D. (2002). “Images of the future: A historical perspective,” Futures,
34(910), 883893.
5
Hayward, P. (2003). “Re-reading Polak: A reply to Morgan,” Futures, 35(7),
807810.
6
Dator, J. (1996). “What futures studies is, and is not,” in Dator, J. (2019). Jim
Dator: A Noticer in Time. Selected Work, 19672018. Cham, Switzerland:
Springer. (original emphasis)
7
McGonigal, J. and Frauenfelder, M. (2016). Futurist Imagination Retreat
Report. Imagination Institute, http://imagination-
institute.org/assets/documents/Futurist_Imagination_Retreat_Report.pdf.
8
Others include: futures students from Singapore to Mexico (often with Dunagan
as co-instructor); leaders of the United Nations Development Programme in New
York; the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in
Geneva; mental health experts at Yale University; the Board of Directors of the
Sydney Opera House; designers in the Netherlands, Russia, and Brazil; high
school kids in North Carolina; biomedical engineers in Toronto, and members of
the South Sudanese community in Melbourne.
9
Candy, S. and Dunagan, J. (2017). “Designing an experiential scenario: The
people who vanished,” Futures, 86, 136153.
10
Inayatullah, S. (2013). “Using gaming to understand the patterns of the future:
The Sarkar game in action,” Journal of Futures Studies, 18(1), 112.
11
Bernal, J.D. (1929). The World, the Flesh and the Devil: An Enquiry into the
Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul. London: Kegan Paul, Trench,
Trubner & Co, 7.
12
See for example, Slaughter, R. (2008). “What difference does ‘integral’ make?”
Futures, 40(2), 120137.
13
Candy, S. (2016). “Foresight is a right.” The Sceptical Futuryst, April 30,
https://futuryst.blogspot.com/2016/04/foresight-is-right.html.
14
Jungk, R. and Müllert, N. (1987). Future Workshops: How to Create Desirable
Futures. London: Institute for Social Inventions.
The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies 2020
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About the Editors
The Knowledge Base
of Futures Studies 2020
Edited by Richard Slaughter and Andy Hines
Since 1993 thousands of practitioners have encountered the pathway of foresight
through The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies. Now an entirely new 2020
edition has been created by the Association of Professional Futurists. It is
organized in four volumes, across 31 chapters, by 37 authors. Early and mid-
career professionals, educators, policymakers, managers, and college students, as
well as instructors, trainers and consultants will find something of value in this
edition.
Volume 1: FOUNDATIONS
Origins and Current State
Approaches to Futures Thinking
Volume 2: METHODS AND PRACTICES
Futures Methods and Tools
Critical Practice and Integral Futures
Volume 3: SYNERGIES, CASE STUDIES AND IMPLEMENTATION
Synergies and Implementation
Futures in Organizations and Governance
Volume 4: DIRECTIONS AND OUTLOOKS
21st Century Outlooks and Risks
The Futures of Futures Studies
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In an attempt to create a futures philosophy, this paper analyzes and critiques Fredrich Polak’s Image of the future, a philosophy of history that contends that the image of the future of a society or culture defines a particular era and is the key to understanding of the rise and fall of civilizations. Polak’s view is compared with J.B. Bury’s ideas expressed in The idea of progress. The paper also illustrates how Max Weber’s The protestant ethic and the Spirit of capitalism contributes to an understanding of the progressive image of the future which, along with utopian images of the future, composes the dialectic of futures images. It shows how progressive and utopian images of the future have been expressed in dialectical world history and how they are still relevant today to serve as an insight for prognosis. Finally, it examines and answers Polak’s charge that existentialism is the cause for the destruction of the modern image of the future.
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Among the founders of the futures studies field, the Dutch sociologist Fred Polak is one of the least known. Although he is still mentioned by several renowned futurists, very little has been written about the evolution of Polak's ideas and as far as we have been able to trace back, no retrospective work has been published. Today, Polak is mostly known for his opus magnum ‘The Image of the Future’, an impressive cultural-historic study of the relation between images of the future and the dynamics of culture. He was an original thinker, but his work was remarkably uneven: his encyclopaedic and erudite style has led to both very deep and very shallow analyses. Especially his earlier contributions in the 1950s and 1960s still prove a very valuable resource, although many of his ideas should be handled with care. However, his later works in the 1970s are out of tune with the rise of a more critical approach to the study of the future. This contribution fills in the need for a retrospective view. It describes the evolution of Fred Polak through several evolutionary steps from a normative sociology to a science of the future. With the aim to offer a reliable overview, we use a descriptive-analytical approach. In later work, this should be succeeded by a more synthetic approach in order to evaluate and assess the value of his thoughts.
The Image of the Future (Elise Boulding, trans. and abr.)
  • F L Polak
Polak, F.L. (1973). The Image of the Future (Elise Boulding, trans. and abr.). Amsterdam: Elsevier, 17. Chapter 21: The Polak Game