Future Search The Method

Printer FriendlySpeaking with the Ancients

A Radical Integration

The Foundation proposed an ambitious healthy communities plan for Ko'olau Loa, based on a conceptual model that renewed ancient values in a modern context. In the traditional culture, families and communities supported each other and turned to institutions only when the other options had been exhausted. In the modern culture, institutions, government, and professionals had taken over and depersonalized human services.

The Foundation suggested that the community explore ways to actualize the older model in the context of modern services in order to create a radical integration of services. In the proposed model, people would find support at every level. When a family (hale) and extended family ('ohana) were unable to cope, there would be a pu'uhonua to go to for care - short-term care, daycare, outpatient services, counseling, respite, or some combination thereof. This modern place of refuge would look more like a community center than a government agency or medical facility.

Support System LevelThe figure shows a cultural support chain based on levels of access. All these levels were conceived as bound together in an interdependent union (lokahi) of body, mind and spirit. The Foundation imagined it would take at least two years to develop a networking plan and to find concrete projects that people could do together. But where and how to begin?

"The communities wanted more than a medical facility," explained Hideo Murakami, senior vice president of the Foundation. "They wanted an infrastructure that made for a better quality of life. We knew how to put up a clinic. But empowerment? Values? We had great difficulty translating these abstractions into concrete projects."

Having revived the concept of lokahi, or unity, in its proposed model, the Foundation decided to make a radical shift in its approach to the community. To help Ko'olau Loa devise forms of cooperation and substantive projects true to its ancient traditions, they decided to explore the possibility of a future search conference. This involves four basic principles:

  1. Get the "whole system" in the room.
  2.  Put local issues in a global context.
  3. Make future action the goal, treating problems and conflicts as information rather than action items.
  4. Self-manage and organize to do whatever participants cleciclc.

The future search agenda includes: a joint exploration of the past, present, and future; an acknowledgment of common ground and differences; action planning. No training. conceptual models, or expert inputs are required. People meet on a level playing field where everybody's views, languages, experience, and values count. (For a more detailed description of this approach, see "Future Search: A Power Tool for Building Healthy Communities," in the May/June 1995 issue of this journal.)

Several months before the conference was scheduled, one of us met with a steering group of ten residents and other stakeholders, many from families who went back generations. They talked about the struggles facing Ko'olau Loa: The seven villages were scattered along a 24-mile road. For many people, schools, clinics, daycare, and shopping were long distances away. The local hospital's obstetrics department and a preschool program had closed for lack of funding. The sewage treatment plant conflict upset many people. While they shared concerns for the future, wary residents displayed little communal spirit. They were skeptical of their own capacity for cooperative action.

Nonetheless, the planners identified future search as an appropriate way of framing ancient practices—sharing food and rituals, storytelling, honoring the whole person, involving everyone in making things right, and building a safe world for the children.

Early on, the planning committee made two critical decisions: (1) to bring together people on opposing sides of the most divisive issues (land developers and community activists, for example), and (2) to ensure that the event would embody traditional Hawaiian culture and heritage.

A wise elder, Auntie (a title of respect) Malia Craver, was named conference kupuna to share her wisdom and spirit when needed. Throughout the planning, she was the calm at the storm center of questions, excitement, and skepticism about this "method from the mainland.''





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