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Minnesota Futurists

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An Association for the Study of Alternative Futures

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Brian K Toren
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The Four Ps: Possible, Plausible Probable and Preferable

When researching futures there are the four steps that should be followed: Look at Possible Plausible, Probable and Preferable futures

Possible Futures

The first steps to list all possible futures. This will be a very large list. The further out in time you look the larger the list becomes. So the next P, Plausibility must be filtered out of the possible futures

Plausible Futures

These are the futures that are most plausible in a reasonable time frame with today's technology and in today's political and social environment. This filtering reduces the list considerably.

Probable Futures

In this exercise the goal is to reduce the number of plausible futures to a more manageable list of probable futures. This list of probable futures should be no more than 10 futures. Sort them into an order based on which you believe are most likely to happen down to those that are least likely to happen. Assign a probability score to each of these. The sum of these probabilities must total up to 1.0. This set of probabilities is now ready for Bayesian analysis should you care to do so and have the time. A Bayesian analysis is a process by which you can refine the probabilities as you gather more information on each of he probable futures. You can look at the Bayesian analysis procedure in the section on tools.

Preferable Futures

The final step is to take this list of probable futures and determined which two or three are preferable. They may not be the ones most likely as determined in step three. Your set of preferable futures is investigated further to determine which is the most logical to attain when viewing them with implementation, cost and unintended consequences in mind.

The theory is that once there is a list of preferable futures, approaches can be taken to determine which future can be attained within the present political, social and technological environment. One can then be proactive and pursue activities that will facilitate the likelihood of that future occurring. Things like: writing congress, writing letters to the editor, writing a book, starting a blog, joining like minded advocacy groups (or starting one), things of that nature. More than one of the preferable futures can be explored further, it could change your mind when the environment in which you exist is considered.

A Bayesian analysis can take place at this points as well by assigning probabilities to each of he preferable futures and as more information is gathered these the likelihood of of each preferable occurring changes. Bayesian analysis provides a more objective method of determining these new probabilities.

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