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This explains what the Futures Wheel method is, how it helps identify primary, secondary, and tertiary potential consequences of a future event or trend, how to use it, strengths and weaknesses, use with other futures research method, speculation about it future, and examples of futures wheels.
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The Millennium Project Futures Research MethodologyV3.0
Jerome C. Glenn
I. History of the Method
II. Description of the Method
III. How to Do It
A. Basic Futures Wheel
B. Distinguishing Between Consequences
C. Creating Forecasts within Alternative Scenarios
IV. Strengths and Weaknesses of the Method
V. Use in Combination with Other Methods
VI. Frontiers of the Method
Endnotes and References
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The paper has been enhanced by the special contributions of Martin Potucek, Director, Institute
of Sociological Studies of Charles University, Prague, The Czech; Pierre Benckendorff, James
Cook University, Australia; David Pearce Snyder, President of the futurist consulting firm
Snyder Family Enterprise, Bethesda, Md. and Dr. Joseph Coates, President of Coates & Jarratt of
Washington, D.C. and member of the Steering Committee for the Millennium Project Feasibility
Study. I wish to acknowledge helpful comments and insightful remarks provided by the peer
reviewers of the first draft report. In particular, the suggestions and insightful comments
furnished by Noriaki Funada and Hirotoshi Komoda, Densu Institute of Human Studies, Tokyo,
Japan; Bernard Cazes, Commissariat Général du Plan, Office of the Prime Minister, France;
Chris Dede, Professor, George Mason University; Terrance O'Donnell, Professor, Salem State
College; and Peter Bishop, Professor, Program for the Study of the Future, University of
Houston. And finally, special thanks to Elizabeth Florescu, Neda Zawahri, and Kawthar
Nakayima for project support, Barry Bluestein for research and computer operations, Choungkyu
Ryu for graphic support, Sheila Harty for editing, and John Young for proof reading.
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The Futures Wheel is a method for identifying and packaging primary, secondary, and tertiary
consequences of trends, events, emerging issues, and future possible decisions. It was invented
in 1971 by Jerome C. Glenn, then a student at the Antioch Graduate School of Education, now
called Antioch University New England. It was spread by workshops on futuristic curriculum
development conducted by the Program for the Study of the Future, School of Education,
University of Massachusetts1 during the early 1970s, and shortly thereafter, by futurist trainers
and consultants as a method for engaging workshop participants in thinking about future
consequences, and decisionmakers for input to their policy analysis process and forecasting. The
method first entered the literature in the Spring of 1972.2 Subsequent variations of the Futures
Wheel have been called the Implementation Wheel, Impact Wheel, Mind Mapping, and Webbing.
These variations have been used by futurists in a wide variety of situations. Although the
Futures Wheel is a simple technique, requiring only blank paper, a pen, and one or more fertile
minds, it is also an extremely powerful method of exploring the future. The Futures Wheel is
currently used by futurists, teachers of futures courses, corporate planners, and public policy
advisors throughout the world to help identify potential problems and opportunities, and new
markets, products, and services; and to assess alternative tactics and strategies.3
Figure 1. Basic Futures Wheel
Trend or Event
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The Futures Wheel is a way of organizing thinking and questioning about the future––a kind of
structured brainstorming. The name of a trend or event is written in the middle of a piece of
paper; then small spokes are drawn wheel-like from the center. Primary impacts or
consequences4 are written at the end of each spoke. Next, the secondary impacts of each primary
impact form a second ring of the wheel. This ripple effect continues until a useful picture of the
implications of the event or trend is clear.
The Futures Wheel is most commonly used to:
think through possible impacts of current trends or potential future events
organize thoughts about future events or trends
create forecasts within alternative scenarios
show complex interrelationships
display other futures research
develop multi-concepts of the initial concept of the trend or event
introduce futures thinking in a group context
engage workshop participants into thinking together about the future
nurture a futures-conscious perspective
aid in group brainstorming
help prevent being ―blindsided‖ by surprises
The original Futures Wheel is one of the most commonly used methods among futurists, because
it is an extremely easy way to engage people's thinking about the future. Futurists find it easy to
use the wheel to think through the implications of, and organize their thoughts about, possible
future events or trends. As the least expensive technique to use, its also flexible for use in
advanced situations as well as in primary school classrooms.5 After identifying trends or
possible future events, some futurists ask their clients, "If this event occurs, then what happens
next?" Or they may ask, "What necessarily goes with this event or trend?" Or, "What are the
impacts or consequences?" These impacts compose a mental map of the future, acting as a
feedback mechanism to stimulate new thinking.
The Futures Wheel has been used in a broad variety of situations and subject. Here is a sample
available on the Internet:
Futures Wheel on European Integration
South Africa’s Western Cape of Provincial Foresight Coordinator Futures Wheel report
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published 23 November 2007 and available at:
Middle East Peace Scenarios study
Use of a Futures Wheel for Atlantic Salmon in Canada:
Sustainable Tourism
Strategic Thinking: The Futures Wheel
Futures Wheel, Global Education July 2008;jsessionid=94A795
Personal Futures Wheel
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A. Basic Futures Wheel
A group decides to brainstorm about a trend, idea, future event, or value. The subject is written
in the middle of a piece of paper, a flip chart, blackboard, on a computer with video projector, or
in software. For example, one could do a Futures Wheel on the trend: Increasingly smaller and
less expensive computer communications devices:
Figure 2. Example of primary impacts of trend
Next, the leader of the brainstorming session draws an oval around the item and asks the group
to say what necessarily goes with this item. As impacts or consequences are offered by the
group, the leader draws short wheel-like spokes out from the central oval and writes these
impacts at the end of each spoke. For example:
More people in
communications Increasing awareness of
other new technologies
Stores selling such items Increased speed and
complexity of daily living
Increasing awareness of other
cultures and ideas More business transactions
in less time
Increasingly small and less
expensive computer
communications devices
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Figure 3. Example of primary and secondary impacts of a trend
Ovals are drawn around each of the primary impacts. A ring can be drawn connecting the
primary impacts. Next, the leader asks the group to forget about the original item in the middle
of the Futures Wheel and to give the most likely impacts for each of the primary impacts of the
first ring of primary consequences. As these secondary impacts are offered by the group, the
leader draws two or three short spokes out from each of the ovals around the primary impacts to
form a second ring and writes the names of these secondary impacts at the end of each spoke and
draws ovals around them.
At first, this process goes quickly, with participants listing second, third, and fourth order
consequences with little or no evaluation. After the group feels its thinking is represented on the
wheel, they can evaluate and edit the wheel to be more "realistic." This step is similar to the
clarification part in other brainstorming processes.
Alternatively, the impacts of an event or trend can be processed more slowly and deliberately by
accepting criticism prior to entering anything on the wheel. In this approach, the group discusses
the plausibility of every impact. If an impact is judged plausible by all, then it is entered;
otherwise, not. Peter Wagschal refers to this as the "rule of unanimity." He argues that making
sure everyone agrees is one way of ensuring that the impacts are reasonable: "The Futures Wheel
process leads rapidly to unexpected consequences and, thus, requires a restriction on the group to
prevent them from arriving at conclusions that are so speculative as to be of little worth in
assessing alternative futures." 6
Sometimes people may want to pursue sequential chains of impacts radiating out in a linear
fashion from the initial trend or event. This variation is referred to as Mind Mapping. The
Futures Wheel, in contrast, completes each ring in concentric circles. Mind Mapping is good for
High-tech sales force
more complex
more complex
Exciting about
Increasing economic
More international
Increasingly small and less
expensive computer
communication devices
Stores selling
such items
Increased speed and
complexity of daily living
Increasing awareness of
other new technologies
More people in
Increasing awareness of
other cultures and ideas
More business transactions
in less time
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exploring one's thoughts, but does not necessarily make distinctions between primary, secondary,
and tertiary impacts relative to other impacts radiating out in time.
B. Distinguishing Between Consequences
The Futures Wheel can show distinctions between primary, secondary, and tertiary consequences
in another way. Instead of rings, one can draw single lines from the central oval to the primary
impacts, double lines between the primary and secondary impacts, and triple lines between the
secondary and tertiary impacts. Using this approach, the Futures Wheel shown in Figure 4
illustrates the possibility of cross-linkage of impacts. For example, "increased funds required for
software" is a primary consequence of the National Security Agency (NSA) experiencing
"growing costs for and dependence on acquisition and maintenance of software," a secondary
consequence of "increased dependency on contractors," and a tertiary consequence of "increased
costs" in general.
Figure 4. Variation of a Futures Wheel with Lines Indicting Sequence of Consequences
This Futures Wheel developed by Futurist David Snyder during consulting with the U.S.
National Security Agency, illustrates the use of single, double, and triple lines to represent
primary, secondary, and tertiary impacts (reprinted with permission of the author.)
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C. Creating Forecasts within Alternative Scenarios
The Futures Wheel can also be used as a method to create forecasts within alternative scenarios.
In this application, one selects a scenario and an item in that scenario to explore. For example,
one could forecast the future of the videocassette recorder (VCR) within the post-information
age scenario of "conscious technology,"7 (i.e., the Post-Information Age in which distinctions
between technology and consciousness blur). One could imagine that the VCR is a conscious
entity capable of communicating; then identify what features would be required to make this
"real." The Futures Wheel could show a different variation of how to design the product as more
"conscious" or more immediately responsive to the user. Each new product feature could have
spokes that identify what new elements need to be incorporated in the new design.
In the Futures Wheel below (Fig. 5), the new designs for the VCR would include voice
activation so that you could tell it what to do. This implies that a microphone and voice
recognition program would be added to future VCRs. The future VCR might also search TV
programs or remote visual data banks by computer communications and match your previously
computer-stored preferences. If a fee were involved, payment by computer communications and
electronic funds transfer could be accomplished. The VCR could also be equipped with a
computer program to analyze your viewing patterns and make recommendations. This Futures
Wheel shows the more "conscious" VCR of the future and what new product features are likely
to bring it to market. This variation is similar in function to decision trees and morphological
analysis (see paper by that title in this series).
Figure 5. Example of a Futures Wheel by the author in Future Mind
exploring the future of a technology within a specific scenario
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The Futures Polygon chapter in this series details other approaches to illustrating more detailed
relationships among primary, secondary, tertiary, etc., consequences of events or trends.
Strengths. The Futures Wheel is easy and enjoyable to use: no equipment or software is
necessary. It gets people thinking about the future quickly and easily. It can be used at any
point in the process of futures research to further understand events and trends. One futurist said
that whenever he gets stuck in a strategic planning exercise, he does a Futures Wheel with the
group and "everything starts flowing again." 8 It does not require advanced education or training
and is easily transferred and adapted to a variety of situations. It is an easy means of diagnosing
any group's collective thinking about the future.
The Futures Wheel can help identify positive and negative feedback loops. The higher-order
consequences occasionally cycle back to the original item (e.g., more highways produce more
drivers, produce more congestion, produce still more highways). This sequential process is a
natural way to tie the Futures Wheel into the development of a formal systems model.
The Futures Wheel also helps move the mind from linear, hierarchical, and simplistic thinking to
more network-oriented, organic, and complex thinking. As a result, it helps develop one's
prospective attitude towards things, events, and people. It stimulates complex yet systematic
thinking about a new development by emphasizing that the consequences do not happen all at
once but are often linked over time in an evolutionary, interactive sequence. It gives a relatively
clear, visual map of the potential complexity of interactions. 9
The strengths of the Futures Wheel can also be weaknesses. As the rings of associations and
implications increase, the complexity of the overview can become overwhelming, unless or until
patterns emerge. One strength of the method is its ability to reveal such patterns, but the process
may become too complex before pattern recognition occurs.
The Futures Wheel can also yield contradictory impacts. For example, in the Futures Wheel on
the National Security Agency (see Fig. 4), one secondary consequence on the left side of the
wheel is "more control" and another secondary consequence on the left side was "less control."
These two impacts come from different primary consequences and, together, identify the critical
issue of how management could react differently to the same event. Thus the ability to reveal
contradiction may actually be a strength of the method.
Weaknesses. Like Simulation Games, Delphis, or Syncons, the Futures Wheel is no better than
the collective judgments of those involved. It can make a group or individual think they
understand causal relations between the items that emerge, when it is possible that they have
only identified correlations. The Futures Wheel can be too simplistic at times, blurring the
distinctions on the timing of one identified impact relative to other impacts or consequences and
the probability of one consequence relative to others. The Futures Polygon addresses some of
these weaknesses (see the following chapter).
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One mistake is to see the possible impacts or consequences as truly representing what will
happen. One might be tempted into believing that a single triggering fact is sufficient to
generate an avalanche of impacts. Although such events do occur (such as attractors in chaos
theory, which give rise to "butterfly effects" how a seemingly insignificant event like a
butterfly passing by can catch one's attention, changing the previously expected flow of events)
the Futures Wheel can help to identify them. However, one must guard against making
dangerously premature judgments.
The output of a Futures Wheel should be used as a basis for further thinking, for more systematic
exploration, and for the application of other techniques for probing the future. Put simply, the
Futures Wheel is a creative tool that generates input to futures thinking. 10
If one is not disciplined in using the Futures Wheel, one can end up with some messy
"intellectual spaghetti" that makes the implications of the trend or event more difficult to see
clearly. The use of primary, secondary, etc. rings is one way to help prevent the problem; another
is the use of the single, double, triple, etc., lines to organize the linkages among the impacts as in
Figure 4.
After trends or future events have been identified, a Futures Wheel can help identify the primary,
secondary, and tertiary consequences of the trend or event. It organizes information already
known, stimulates speculation, guides further exploration, and increases the understanding of the
trend or event. Thus, it can augment trend impact analysis (TIA).
In cross-impact analysis, understanding the implications of specific future events is important.
The Futures Wheel could be done on each event prior to doing cross-impact analysis. It may
also help identify more significant trends underlying the forces of change originally identified.
The Futures Wheel can be used to analyze key components of a system prior to defining the
systems model. For example, a Futures Wheel can help identify relations with other
components, feedback loops, and new components to the system.
Genius forecasting and intuitive approaches can be enhanced by the Futures Wheel by giving
some structure to seemingly random thinking and speculation. It allows the mind to think freely,
moving from one impact to the next, but leaves a trail or pattern of thought for subsequent
During a scenario construction exercise that has identified driving forces, Futures Wheels could
be used on each driving force to explore the pattern of consequences for each. This could
provide richer input for the content of the scenarios.
Causal Layered Analysis incorporates Futures Wheels into its process to help better understand
the variety of views on the future (see
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System analysis can benefit from using Futures Wheels by exploring the range of potential
consequences of components or elements of the system to check completeness of relations
among the systems elements.
The Futures Wheel can also be used in strategic planning as a way of assessing impacts. One
corporate strategic planning sequence of the Diebold Corporation uses the Futures Wheel as the
assessment method for step (3) in the following sequence: (1) scan the environment; (2) identify
major forces; (3) assess impacts; (4) develop strategies; and (5) monitor.11
Glenn became dissatisfied that the original version of the Futures Wheel did not always create a
sufficiently broad range of impacts for consideration; therefore, he developed a second version.
This "Version 2" has been used in training programs since the late 1970s, but far less so than the
original version; however, it first appeared later in Futures Research Methodology Version 2.0 in
The original version of the Futures Wheel did not force users to consider a realistically wide
range of consequences. For example, economists would naturally tend to identify economic
implications but would possibly put less stress on the technological, cultural, or environmental
consequences of the trend or event. Version 2 adds the requirement that impacts be considered
for a predetermined set of areas or domains.
If one were to do a Version 2 Futures Wheel on the possible event of African economic
integration, one would be asked to list the important areas of consequence or impact to consider.
These could be the political, cultural, environmental, psychological, technological, educational,
public welfare, and economic arenas. The specific sectors that are used would be determined by
the purposes of the analysis but should be as broad as manageably possible. This second version
helps ensure a broader analysis of this potential future event. Using this approach, a Version 2
Futures Wheel would look like:
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Figure 6. A "Version 2 Futures Wheel" on African economic integration
A "Version 3 Futures Wheel" would add the dimension of historic forces, current correlations,
and future implications in a cone-like fashion. This approach has the advantage of providing a
space for linkages or consequences that don't always fit in Versions 1 and 2. Some people want
to discuss how a trend evolved, while others want to talk about more current impacts, and still
others are more future-oriented. Version 3 is more complex, requiring more time, but can
capture much of the essential thinking about a trend or event into one graphic.
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Figure 7. Version 3 Futures Wheel
A Version 3 Futures Wheel could be carried out by three different teams. One team could
identify the key historical trends or events leading to the item to be studied; the second team the
key contemporary impacts or correlations; and the third, the key future impacts or consequences.
The results of the teams can be put into one Version 3 Futures Wheel. Unfortunately, it may be
difficult to graph if confined to a two-dimensional piece of paper. If done with computer
software that allows for rotation (such as computer-assisted design software) and or in hypertext
software (imbedding information under terms that are not seen until requested by the user), the
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Version 3 Futures Wheel becomes more visually manageable.
Variations of Versions 2 and 3 could well be as diverse as those that grew from the original
Future Wheel. Software variations as sub-routines within strategic planning and futures research
packages seem inevitable. One version is available from the Futurelab in Bristol, UK, at:
The first application of Version 3 was for the future of European Integration led by Professor
Martin Potucek of Charles University, Prague, the Czech Republic, and published as an article
―The Futures Wheel on European Integration‖ available at: http://www.uni-
Another future variation of the Futures Wheel could use a Delphi via the Internet. An
international panel could assemble asynchronously to systematically construct a Futures Wheel:
Round 1: Ask an international panel to rate a list of events or trends for use with a Futures
Wheel and or ask for additional suggestions;
Round 2: Feed back the panel's responses for further refinement, clarification, and ranking;
Round 3: Request respondents to list primary consequences of the trends or events of
highest ranking;
Round 4: Display results as a Futures Wheel with just the primary ring of impacts; the size
of the oval around each primary impact could represent the frequency with which
the panel identified it; then ask for the secondary impacts;
Round 5: Display primary impacts as first ring, and secondary impacts as a second ring;
again, the size of the ovals (or some other graphic device) could represent the
frequency of responses.
This approach could also use the ideas in the Futures Polygon for expressing consequences.
These versions of the Futures Wheel could be assisted by collaborative software or groupware,
which would collect and display the panel's views on the impacts in the graphic of a Futures
Futures Wheel Wikis could be created by letting geographically dispersed people add to and/or
edit the consequences via the Internet.
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1 The School of Education at the University of Massachusetts is believed to have been the first
doctoral program in future studies in the world. The program no longer exists but its co-founder
Professor Christopher Dede created the Masters program for the study of the future at the
University of Houston that exists today.
2 Glenn, Jerome C. "Futurizing Teaching vs Futures Course," Social Science Record, Syracuse
University, Volume IX, No. 3 Spring 1972.
3 Snyder, David Pearce. Monograph: "The Futures Wheel: A Strategic Thinking Exercise," The
Snyder Family Enterprise, Bethesda, Maryland 1993.
4 Philosophically, one cannot claim certainty of causality. One situation may appear to be
caused by another situation, when in fact they may both be caused by a third situation not visible
to the observer. This point in a futures context is well explained by Bertrand de Jouvenel in The
Art of Conjecture. The philosopher David Hume in On Human Nature demonstrated that what
we call causality is a habit of the mind formed by seeing one thing vary with another. It is the
variation and correlation that we can know, but not the truth of causality. Impacts and
consequences imply causality. Originally, one would do a Futures Wheel by answering the
question, "What are the necessary correlations (not in the mathematical sense) with the event or
trend?" However, since the method is designed to help thinking rather than determine truth
(since "truth" does not apply to the future anyway), the normal use of the method today asks
what are the likely impacts or consequences, as if we can really ascertain the causal relations.
This paper reflects how the method is used in common practice and, hence, will only refer to
impacts and consequences rather than correlations.
5 Coates, Joseph. The Futures Wheel - a background paper prepared for Phase II of the United
Nations University Millennium Project Feasibility Study, September 1993.
6 Wagschal, Peter. "Futuring: A Process for Exploring Detailed Alternative Futures," World
Future Society Bulletin (now the Futures Research Quarterly), September/October 1981, pp.
7 Glenn, Jerome C. Future Mind: Artificial Intelligence: Merging the Mystical and the
Technological (Washington, D.C.: Acropolis Books, 1989 and Tokyo, Japan: TBS-Britannica,
8 Interview by the author with futurist David Snyder.
9 Coates, Op. Cit.
10 Ibid.
11 "Integrating Socio-Political Developments into the Management Process: New York
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Telephone's Experience," The Diebold Corporate Issues Forum, March 4, 1980. (New York: The
Diebold Corporation).
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Work has been continuously changing throughout history. The most severe changes to work occurred because of the industrial revolutions, and we are living in one of these moments. To allow us to address these changes as early as possible, mitigating important problems before they occur, we need to explore the future of work. As such, our purpose in this paper is to discuss the main global trends and provide a likely scenario for work in 2050 that takes into consideration the recent changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The study was performed by thirteen researchers with different backgrounds divided into five topics that were analyzed individually using four future studies methods: Bibliometrics, Brainstorming, Futures Wheel, and Scenarios. As the study was done before COVID-19, seven researchers of the original group later updated the most likely scenario with new Bibliometrics and Brainstorming. Our findings include that computerization advances will further reduce the demand for low-skill and low-wage jobs; non-standard employment tends to be better regulated; new technologies will allow a transition to a personalized education process; workers will receive knowledge-intensive training, making them more adaptable to new types of jobs; self-employment and entrepreneurship will grow in the global labor market; and universal basic income would not reach its full potential, but income transfer programs will be implemented for the most vulnerable population. Finally, we highlight that this study explores the future of work in 2050 while considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Global trends influence the approaches and mindset for using natural resources and technological capacities. Participatory scenario methods have proven useful in long-term foresight. However, country-level foresight studies often ignore the broader trends affecting international markets and setting frames for economic development. This study envisions which global trends could occur and how the resulting European policies might affect the Finnish forest sector’s development in 2040. We applied a Futures Wheel approach, where stakeholder groups consisting of policy-, economic- and social sustainability-, technology-, and climate sustainability -experts in the field of forestry and interlinking industries created three future scenarios in a workshop: (1) biodiversity and regulated economy, (2) circular economy, and (3) era of social connection. The scenarios assumed growing resource scarcity as a result of climate change, as well as over-consumption and increasing inequality problems globally. Thus, European-level policies focused on the circular economy and resource-use restrictions. Finnish industries should invest in wood-based side stream and waste utilization to increase added value and decrease virgin wood uses to succeed in these scenarios. However, this would require investments in non-wood energy sources to release these secondary wood flows from energy uses.
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The proliferation of digital technologies has received considerable attention in the business landscape. Artificial intelligence (AI) is proclaimed as a transformative technological resource to human experiences, while concrete future scenarios of AI application within contemporary service ecosystems are only little understood. Through the theoretical lens of the service-dominant (S-D) logic and a futures methods approach, this study zooms-in on AI as a resource and sheds light on its bright and dark sides. The theoretical and practical contributions of this paper lie in bridging the S-D logic, AI and tourist experience literature. The developed theoretical model, The Realms of AI Tourist Experiences, holistically shows the positive and negative valences of value formation through AI in tourist experiences, and helps organisations prepare and design for the future of AI-facilitated experiences in tourism destinations and wider service contexts.
Futurizing Teaching vs Futures Course
  • Jerome C Glenn
Glenn, Jerome C. "Futurizing Teaching vs Futures Course," Social Science Record, Syracuse University, Volume IX, No. 3 Spring 1972.
The Futures Wheel: A Strategic Thinking Exercise
  • David Snyder
  • Pearce
Snyder, David Pearce. Monograph: "The Futures Wheel: A Strategic Thinking Exercise," The Snyder Family Enterprise, Bethesda, Maryland 1993.
The Futures Wheel -a background paper prepared for Phase II of the United Nations University Millennium Project Feasibility Study
  • Joseph Coates
Coates, Joseph. The Futures Wheel -a background paper prepared for Phase II of the United Nations University Millennium Project Feasibility Study, September 1993.
Futuring: A Process for Exploring Detailed Alternative Futures
  • Peter Wagschal
Wagschal, Peter. "Futuring: A Process for Exploring Detailed Alternative Futures," World Future Society Bulletin (now the Futures Research Quarterly), September/October 1981, pp. 25-31.