International Futures (IFs) is a tool for thinking about long-term country-specific, regional and global futures. Although it is increasingly used in policy analysis, it began as an educational tool. Even in analysis applications the primary strengths of the system are in framing investigation and analysis. Users of computer simulations should always treat the forecasts as highly contingent scenarios, not as predictions.
A number of assumptions underlie the development of IFs. First, issues touching human development systems are growing in scope and scale as human interaction and human impact on the broader environment grow. This does not mean the issues are necessarily becoming more threatening or fundamentally insurmountable than in past eras. But it does mean that attention to the issues must have a global perspective, as well as local and regional ones.
Second, goals and priorities for human systems are becoming clearer and are more frequently and consistently enunciated. For instance, the UN Millennium Summit and the 2002 conference in Johannesburg (UNDP 2001: 21-24; UNDP 2002: 13-33) set specific goals for 2015 that include many focusing on the human condition, including:
Such goals are increasingly guiding a sense of collective human opportunity and responsibility. Also, our ability to measure the human condition relative to these and other goals has improved enormously in recent years with advances in data and measurement.
Third, understanding of the dynamics of human systems is growing rapidly. As discussed later, IFs development has roots that go back to the 1970s. Understandings of the systems included in the IFs model are remarkably more sophisticated now than they were then.
Fourth, and derivatively, the domain of human choice and action is broadening. As the scope and scale of interaction increase, goals become clearer, and understanding of underlying systems grows, the potential for useful human intervention increases. The law of unanticipated consequences has by no means been repealed, but the ability of human intervention to achieve human goals has increased. The reason for the creation of IFs is to help in thinking about such intervention and its consequences.