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People have tried to make projections about the future ever since the dawn of civilization. Many consider H. G. Wells (1866–1946) to be the first futurist of the modern era. The author of 20 science fiction books foresaw such developments as wireless telephones, voice mail, sliding doors, audio books, genetic engineering, lasers and directed energy weapons, and the atomic bomb.

The field of strategic planning (another name for futures studies) began emerging near the end of World War II. Technological research and development—often provided by scientists and academics in the private sector—played a major role in the Allies’ success in the war. Individuals in the War Department, the Office of Scientific Research and Development, and industry identified the need to create a private organization that would connect military planning with research and development decisions. In 1945, these entities created Project RAND, which was headquartered in a Douglas Aircraft Company production facility. In May 1946, Project RAND, which can be considered one of the first strategic planning organizations, released its first report, Preliminary Design of an Experimental World-Circling Spaceship, which discussed the design, construction, and sociopolitical effects of creating man-made satellites (11 years before the first man-made satellite was launched by Russia). In 1948, RAND was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation. Today, it has 1,950 staff members in 50 countries.

In the 1960s, a number of strategic planning think tanks and organizations were founded, including Futuribles International (1960), the Hudson Institute (1961), Center for Strategic and International Studies (1962), and Institute for the Future (1968).

The World Future Society was founded in 1967 to represent the interests of professional futurists. Other noteworthy organizations include the World Future Studies Federation (which was founded in 1973), Association for Strategic Planning (1999), and Association of Professional Futurists (2002). 

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