International Futures Forum

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The International Futures Forum is a think tank and PR agency funded by big business and with links to the Futures Forum of the Scottish Parliament and to the California-based Global Business Network, with which they have several members in common.


In 2001, the Scottish Council Foundation (SCF), a New Labour-esque think-tank based in Edinburgh, undertook an interesting move by founding a new organisation they called the International Futures Forum (IFF).

Its purpose was 'to bring international thinking to bear on our [the SCF's] work', with a 'generous grant' from British Petroleum (BP). Today, the IFF is independent from the SCF and tries to bring together so-called 'deep thinkers' in order to 'examine[s] deep structures in the modern global system in its search for a second enlightenment'.

Still supported by BP, it 'explore[s] new ways of operating effectively and responsibly in a world of boundless complexity, a world we no longer fully understand and cannot control' [1]

This world is seen as a challenge for business, government and society and confronts them with the task of 'restor[ing] the capacity to act effectively and responsibly and thereby revive and foster a culture of human aspiration'. Based on this view of today's world, the IFF seeks to create a new 'paradigm' by renouncing 'traditional' ways of making sense of the world.

How does the IFF view its role in the spread of the Second Enlightenment? A diagram in one its first reports shows a "dialogue" between a variety of actors[2]:

'Core dialogue thinkers' disseminate knowledge, specialist information and support to a 'tier of converters', who 'convert the insights from the dialogue into practical form and who disseminate it to a wider audience'.

This group is composed of a broad variety of organisations and actors, such as the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI), business corporations, artists and writers, the BBC, unspecified 'social entrepreneurs', policy makers, the OECD and also BP.

Finally, a further group of agents, who will 'make things happen on the ground', should use the information provided through the dialogue.

In spite of the emphasis on 'dialogue', the IFF appears to see its role almost in a Hayekian tradition of 'original thinkers' who inform policy entrepreneurs or 'second hand dealers in ideas'[3] with their theoretical knowledge so that they can utilise it to influence the wider society, including policy-makers. And, in fact, the IFF makes 'no apology for taking seriously Margaret Mead's conviction that a small group of individuals can change the world'[4]

This small group convening for the IFF's first meeting in April 2001 included among others former Director of the OECD International Futures Programme and 'futurist' Wolfgang Michalski; Kees van der Heijden (director of the scenario and strategy consultancy Global Business Network, Emeritus Professor of General and Strategic Management at Strathclyde University, former head of the Business Environment Division in Group Planning at Royal Dutch/Shell, London), Arun Mairo from Boston Consulting Group India, Biologist Brian Goodwin, Pat Kane from the Sunday Herald, and Mark Woodhouse, a philosopher interested in 'scientific, spiritual, and healing communities.'[5]

Downsizing or The Second Enlightenment?

Rather than being a permanent think-tank, the IFF is an attempt to facilitate an international network of thinkers, businesspeople and policy makers. During a case study trip to BP's Grangemouth refinery - the IFF group also conducted case studies on the 'learning society in Dundee' ('IFF Learning in Dundee. A Second Enlightenment View') [6] and on health provision for 'deprived individuals and communities in Fife' (IFF Entreprise in Falkirk)[7] - the IFF came up with a "vision" for the future of BP and Falkirk/Grangemouth.

When BP asked the IFF how it could combine the challenge of adjusting the plant to global competition bearing on mind the responsibility of BP to all local stakeholders [8] The IFF responded by proposing to understand the downsizing of the plant, which culminated in the lay off of about 1000 employees, as a creative act. As BP is a 'different kind of energy company, radiating energy of all kinds - intellectual, physical, creative - into the community', the sacking of workers equals 'releasing high quality resources into the community' [9]

This rather interesting take on unemployment and economical restructuring is part of the IFF's attempt to act as a kind of 'spiritual management consultancy'. However, behind these superficially laughable analyses and proposals, behind the language of challenge and creativity, we find policy statements with stark consequences if put into practice. The IFF, for example, demands that the NHS-generated 'entitlement culture' should be transformed into a 'gift culture', which would effectively generate a group of deserving and undeserving people and would even further the discourse on "rights and responsibilities". [10]

Why is BP so interested in the IFF? BP is preparing to pull out of Scotland's oil industry in the long term as it is "a mature industry"[11], it is trying to present itself as a responsible corporate citizen. The Pathfinder Plan, meant to help the more than 1000 laid off employees in orienting themselves on the job market, and the My Future's in Falkirk [12] (formerly known as the Falkirk Action Plan) - 'a multi-faceted project involving a wide range of stakeholders and designed to help the local area build on its strengths and diversify and broaden its economic base' [13] - are meant to demonstrate a CSR approach 'away from an approach characterised by donations to charitable projects and causes, to one more closely focused on outcomes and strongly allied to the BP brand values (green, innovation, progressive, performance)'.

The role of culture

According to its website the IFF applies Futures Thinking, a body of philosophy and ideas which aims to help make sense of the world in difficult times.[14] One of the problems that IFF foresees is that people will not be able to keep up with the pace of change and that they are increasingly fearful for what the future holds. The IFF solution is we need to “embrace the greater complexity and not knowing.”[15] We need to “welcome crisis as a growth opportunity.”[16] IFF says it is up to artists and other cultural leaders to help create a climate where this is possible. Although of course “there will be those who rise to the occasion and those who fail".”[17]


In 2004/05, IFF / Praxis was paid £32,000 by Nirex "to provide corporate communications advice in relation to the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely (MRWS) consultation programme". [18]


According to the IFF website it enjoys "a variety of productive and mutually beneficial relationships with sponsors, clients, subscribers, research funders and others". What they label "core support" comes from BP and BT. Other organisations the IFF has worked with include

The IFF has a number of subscribers to their research output, among which are

Research funding has come from


Source: [1]


International Futures Forum PO Box 29207 St Andrews Fife KY16 8YU UK T: +44 1334470090 E:



  1. International Futures Forum website, (Accessed 17 February, 2005).
  2. 'Project Prospectus', International Futures Forum website, (Accessed 17 February, 2005).
  3. Friedrich A.Hayek; Edwin J.Feulner and John Blundell. 'The Intellectuals and Socialism', London : Institute of Economic Affairs, 1998
  4. 'Project Prospectus' December, 2000, p. 5. International Futures Forum website (Accessed 2 March, 2005).
  5. Mark B. Woodhouse website
  6. International Futures Forum website, (Accessed 4 March 2005)
  7. International Futures Forum website, (Accessed 4 March, 2005).
  8. 'Health in Fife' International Futures Forum website, p. 2, (Accessed 4 March, 2005).
  9. 'Health in Fife', International Futures Forum website, p. 3, (Accessed 4 March, 2005).
  10. International Futures Forum website, p. 19, (Accessed 4 March, 2005).
  11. BP website (Accessed 14 March, 2006)
  12. My Future's in Falkirk website
  13. BP website
  14. "What We Do", International Futures Forum website, (Accessed February, 2009).
  15. "Rising to the occasion - cultural leadership is powerful times", Provocation Paper for the IFF, p.3, (Accessed February, 2009).
  16. "Rising to the occasion - cultural leadership is powerful times", Provocation Paper for the IFF, p.8, (Accessed February 2009).
  17. "Rising to the occasion - cultural leadership is powerful times", Provocation Paper for the IFF, p.21, (Accessed February, 2009).
  18. David Wild, Freedom of Information Request, Letter to Jean McSorley, Senior Advisor to Greenpeace UK, July 15, 2005.