My biggest mistake…Future Search heffalump trap

future-search-principlesRhizome facilitators and trainers sometimes make mistakes, if you can believe it!  On this blog, we share our learning when we fall into such heffalump traps from time-to-time. 

My biggest mistake took place at a Future Search Conference in Bristol. This method is a way for a community or organisation to create a shared vision for its future. It enrols a large group of stakeholders, selected because they have power or information on the topic at hand or are affected by the outcomes. Ideally there are 64 people, who form eight tables of eight stakeholder groups. Examples of such groups are health, young people or shopkeepers.

future-search-processThey take part in a highly structured two and a half-day process covering five stages:

  1. Review the past
  2. Explore the present
  3. Create ideal future scenarios
  4. Identify shared vision
  5. Make action plans


heffalump-trap.jpgThe event in Bristol lasted three days. On the third day, the participants informed me and my co-facilitator, very politely, that they were no longer going to stick to the theme prescribed: they were going to do their own thing for the rest of the day. That was embarrassing. I rather think that the sponsor, the Department for Education (or whatever it was then called) was present, which didn’t help. My co-facilitator was so shocked that day that she has never facilitated since.

Why did this happen? I (or we, I can’t remember) made the terrible mistake of acquiescing in a subject that was of much more interest to the sponsor than to the participants. I was trained in Future Search by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff, who developed the method. They had warned us against this. But until it happens to you, you just don’t know how deep the heffalump trap is.