In the last quarter of the 20th century, an awareness of the increasing pace and magnitude of change spurred the creation of a new academic discipline known as Futures Studies. While only a prophet or fortuneteller would claim the ability to foretell the future, Futures Studies aims to identify and analyze long term forces of change and their effects on society and the environment.

The field distinguishes itself from traditional forecasting and planning disciplines in four ways:

Futures researchers track technical innovations, value shifts, geopolitical tides, environmental perturbations, economic developments, demographic patterns, and other trends of change. From these data they create scenarios of possible alternative futures, which are then used as contingencies within strategic planning initiatives. Working as facilitators or consultants, futures researchers can help communities, corporations, and organizations envision their preferred futures and compare those visions with current trends and scenarios of possible futures. This process can be used to create plans and policies that bring about positive change.