Written by: Alireza Hejazi, APF Emerging Fellow
Attending an international exhibition on a marketing mission recently, I was asked to score service and product providers there and nominate my preferred candidate of that expo. After reviewing many pavilions, I made up my top ten list and scored them according to my check list. I voted for a European company that met most of my desired factors of presenting their services in a client-friendly manner. On the final day, my nominee won the cup not just because of my vote, but due to many other votes that other evaluators had given in favor of them. What looked nice in my eyes was also fine in the eyes of others. I asked myself whether such scorings and rankings could be also made for professional futurists. The idea made me write this blog post.
I think that ranking the futurists can be a challenging task due to a number of reasons. First of all, there is no universally agreed system of scoring for futurists. Secondly, futurists normally come from different fields of expertise and they cannot be ranked similarly. And thirdly, ranking the futurists may be done validly by institutions that might be authorized for such rankings. I would like to share some of my assumptions and questions about the feasibility of such a scoring system in this post. I should remind that the goal of ranking is not to drive low scores away, but to claim them as candidates of high rank through professional development.
The first question that comes into mind is this: “What is the benefit of ranking?” or “Why should the futurists be ranked?” In my view, futurists can benefit easily from their own personal branding without ranking; but if they are going to be entitled to the merits of professional recognition, they should be identified by the degree of excellence they provide with their services. In other words, ranking is a means of qualification in terms of knowledge, skill and the quality of service that professional futurists provide for their clients. In my view, professional recognition and related merits are logically belonged to those who provide high quality foresight outputs. Fortunately, the APF’s Most Significant Futures Works program has been serving this idea since 2013.
Another question that will arise concerning a ranking system is this: “Can the futurists be ranked according to their academic degrees, the number of their published or referenced works, the number of their students, the efficiency of methods and techniques they have developed or the number of their daily Tweets?” or “Should they be judged according to the values they bring to their own nations and the entire humanity?” Conventional methods of ranking may sound useful for scoring the futurists who live in societies where thinking and acting about the future is respectful, but how about futurists who live in regions where futurism is nonsense in the eyes of local decision makers who are positioned based on aristocracy, not meritocracy?
Any conceivable scoring system for futurists should recognize the fact that futurists are various in their talents and capabilities. While many of them are competent in applying qualitative methods of research, there are some who are brilliant in using quantitative methods of inquiry. Many futurists are good communicators and some of them are skillful in communicating what is ahead in innovative ways. Most of them are open-minded and lifelong learners, but what makes them valuable for themselves and the societies they serve? What are the social impacts of futurists and how can a ranking system measure them in national and international scales?
The first step that should be taken in this line is to provide a clear and detailed description of the knowledge, skills and attributes expected of a competent futurist or foresight practitioner. A competency framework like what is developed by the International Manipulative Physical Therapy Federation (Rushton, 2013) can be also made for professional futurists based on these components:
(1) Dimensions: The dimensions are the major functions for foresight performance at post graduate level. The functioning of strategic foresight and futures studies graduates should be evaluated after their graduation in practice.
(2) Competencies: The competencies are the components of each dimension stated as a performance outcome. The competencies linked to a dimension indicate the standardized requirements to enable a professional futurist to demonstrate each major function for performance at post graduate level.
Competencies can be divided into competencies related to knowledge, skills and attributes.
(a) Knowledge: Encompasses the theoretical and practical understanding, use of evidence, principles, and procedures.
(b) Skills: Encompasses the cognitive, psychomotor and social skills needed to carry out pre-determined actions.
(c) Attributes: Encompasses the personal qualities, characteristics and behavior in relation to the environment.
There are other concerns in the workplace that should be addressed. Research shows that ranking systems are often viewed negatively by people. However, many major corporations such as General Electric (GE), Intel, and Yahoo! use relative rankings and believe in their advantages. For example, Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, instituted a forced ranking system at GE in which 20% of employees would be in the top category, 70% would be in the middle, and 10% would be at the bottom rank. Employees who were repeatedly ranked at the lowest rank would be terminated (Ryan, 2007). Corporate futurists or foresight practitioners might be ranked internally within the corporations they work, but how should they be ranked externally in a larger scale within the global community of futurists?
Relative rankings may create a culture of performance at corporation level by making it clear that low performance is not tolerated, but how about rankings that might be made by scoring futurists at a professional level? Should a low scorer be expelled out of international futurist communities? Or should he/she be prohibited from practicing the foresight profession without receiving required certifications? More importantly, what are the potential downsides to such rankings? Should a ranking encourage the futurists to upgrade their academic education in foresight and develop their professional skills, or conversely discourage them and deprive them from professional recognition?
There are many other questions and assumptions like what are mentioned above that make a long list. They highlight a special attention that should be paid to all the details of any effort that would be likely made towards ranking the futurists. Until the completion of a standardized ranking system, conducting self-other rating agreement surveys can be the easiest way to capture a better understanding of futurists’ standing in companies and organizations they serve.
Rushton, A. (2013). Educational Standards in Orthopaedic Manipulative Therapy, Part A: Educational Standards. International Manipulative Physical Therapy Federation.
Ryan, L. (2007, January 17). Coping with performance-review anxiety. Business Week Online, 6.
About the author
Alireza Hejazi is a PhD candidate in Organizational Leadership at Regent University and a member of APF Emerging Fellows. His works are available at: http://regent.academia.edu/AlirezaHejazi