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Netherlands-Archived Story

The Netherlands, march 8, 2004
Annemieke Stoppelenburg & Mario Verweijen

A short impression of a week's stay

From February 15th till 21st Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff stayed in the Netherlands. The invitation to come over came from FS-procesbegeleiding, a new small firm established with the sole purpose to explore and promote Future Search in the Netherlands and to perform future searches regarding all kinds of possible issues.

In order to give the Dutch network a swift start, they invited Marvin an Sandra. In this week two major events were scheduled: On Tuesday 17th a "lecture"  was organized in cooperation with a top 5 Dutch consultancy firm. Marvin and Sandra spoke of past, present and future of Future Search, both the methodology and the (international) network. The meeting was attended by some 40 people: consultants, managers and policymakers.

 First Marvin put the theoretical basis in a historical setting, going back to the forties, the time Lewin and Lippit did their research on democratic and autocratic forms of leadership. It appeared that democratic managed teams performed better than both autocratic lead teams and those teams that were managed according to the "laissez faire"  principle.

Marvin and Sandra explained  the 4 basic principles of a Future Search (all in the room, explore the whole, common ground and self-management).

The lecture was illustrated with a great number of vivid descriptions of self-experienced cases. Two really eloquent people showed us the real power of storytelling. Our favorite one-liners: "I used to understand organizations without having any understanding of communities, now I understand communities and don’t understand organizations anymore."  And "Sometimes something works, nothing never works."
To us this showed a deep shift in mind-set, and a great talent for proportion.
After this 3 hour "lecture" Marvin and Sandra went to Woudschoten, a beautifully located conference center in Zeist.  There the learning workshop was to be experienced.

It appeared that the learning workshop is actually a simulation of a real Future Search, accept differences in time lines.   For starting up, all 23 participants were asked to tell what expectations they brought with them, what specific things they would like to learn or discover.  Marvin and Sandra just gave a brief reply: "we have found out that Future Search is learnable. The real big question is whether it is teachable". At that specific time, we didn’t know the answer. Now we can say: 'yes, the principles and process are teachable". But, it is like training for your drivers license: only the actual doing will show whether or not one has grasped and internalized all things learned.

Theoretical and practical background

As quit a few consultants were participating in this workshop, Marvin and Sandra paid special attention to the theoretical and practical background of future search.  We were guided through the work of Lewin, Lippit, McGreggor, Schindler-Rainman, Bion, Trist, Emery and Asch in a rollercoaster speed.


Marvin and Sandra  paid some attention to the process of learning. Every person has his own way and his on speed of learning. In a group, people will learn different things from the same origin. "We are all going to the same different meeting", as Marvin put it.  From a facilitator point of view, it was really remarkable that Marvin and Sandra did not intervene in the process of the group.
We learned and experienced that a group is very capable of making the decisions that are necessary: "the facilitator is working hard doing nothing" in order to keep the group whole. Feelings, emotions are there, let them be, as long as they don't overwhelm a participant. That is one of the main tasks for the facilitators in keeping the group whole.

A group, e.g. a well selected group, has all resources needed to make a grand design of the future. There is knowledge, creativity, interaction. The only thing the group hasn't got is time. "Time is the only resource". Another main task for the facilitators is keeping track of time. "Keeping the group whole in the time available". That is what we have learned.


We experienced being in a Future Search. A case was selected: Middletown, a city with a great plan for redesigning the centre of the city. The mall, the train station, the trade fair, the public, the local government, all were involved in this redesign.   Playing a role with not all the information available, it still was an experience to all of us. True emotions were felt, resistance found it’s place while time, the only resource, was cut just a little bit more then in a real Future Search.  Common ground was found, the group was whole, an action plan was made, it really was some experience being there.

 A fun part: cultural differences

From the beginning Marvin and Sandra told us that Future Search can be used through different cultures. The experience we had, proved them right.  Nevertheless, we had our bit of fun, because of the cultural differences between two Americans and an room full of Dutchies.   Every time someone gave a short presentation, Marvin and Sandra started clapping. That is not the way we are used to show our appreciation, so we were amazed and amused.   During the workshop, Marvin and Sandra adapted and stopped clapping themselves, while the Dutch adapted the other way around and started clapping

Some reactions of the participants

"It was a great workshop and I was impressed by the tutors. I have already informed the network for urban innovation about this method. I expect that a Future Search with all parties involved could make a miracle happen working on the revitalization of the old neighbourhoods."

"We had a meeting trying to find out what ways we can use Future Search in our local government, perhaps developing our policy on education, or setting up a schedule for city-oriented activities."

"the process of Future Search is great! By using the common history and searching for the common ground in stead of looking for the differences as we are used to do an future search has dynamics other working  conferences lack".

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