Here’s a response from Rohit Talwar of Fast Future, to criticisms of their recent “Shape of Jobs to Come” report outlined in this blog, EvidenceMatters, HolfordWatch and Gimpy’s Blog. I have included the entire response unedited.
Personally, I don’t feel the main criticisms are adequately addressed. For example, he talks of “weak signals”, where there are few primary sources from which to draw information. However this is not the case for the 20 jobs listed, where there is a huge amount of relevant information. Also, whether sources are referenced or not, copying and pasting text from websites is not “acceptable practice” in any field. Saying “we cannot accept responsibility for whether others have chosen to reprint material from the report without citing the original sources”, is not good enough, especially when these exerpts are used in the press release where no references are included.
Basing horizon scans on other horizon scans seems like a closed loop approach to me, cross referencing to give a mutual semblance of credibility. Anyway, I’ve made my case, over to Mr. Talwar.
Thank you for your note outlining your concerns regarding ‘The shape of jobs to come’ report. I think the best thing to do is to explain the methodology we used – which is common for horizon scanning projects of this nature. The methodology is also outlined in the report, which I believe you have. For convenience, I have also pasted the relevant methodology section of the report below.
First off thank you for pointing out the error in the description of nanotechnology – this was a clear mistake on our part and we are correcting it in the list of twenty jobs and in the main report.
The nature of horizon scanning is that it is forward looking and deals with possible developments and emerging signals of change, rather than focusing on clearly evidenced historical trends. You mention the lack of use of primary sources. However, a common and accepted horizon scanning approach is to scan other well respected horizon scans rather than to always go to primary sources, which is one of the techniques we used on the project.
Another key approach in futures research is to look for ‘weak signals’. Citing websites, news reports and blogs is an accepted best practice in horizon scanning where you are looking for these weak signals of what’s coming next. These weak signals often pre-date any hard academic literature, which is why futures work deliberately draws on a range of sources not just published academic literature. In many cases there may only be one source or opinion from which you are working. Furthermore, the nature of futures work is that we actively seek to combine research, opinion and creative description of future possibilities. We did use sources like Wikipedia where we felt it provided good explanations of emerging science and technology developments. You will see from the report that all of our external sources (over 400 of them) have been referenced.
Specifically, the 110 jobs identified in the report were identified using three approaches:
1. The first was a wide scan of what had already been written on science and technology enabled / based jobs of the future. In the report we cited the sources of each job we mentioned so it is clear to see where we have used the text of the original source. We cannot take responsibility for whether others have chosen to reprint material from the report without citing the original sources.
2. The second was that we asked for suggestions on possible jobs of the future from (i) members of the Association of Professional Futurists, (ii) a variety of other social networks and (iii) our own global network of future thinkers who have an interest in the trends and factors shaping our future. Again we referenced everyone who suggested a job title.
3. Finally we did a wide ranging scan of science and technology trends drawing on authoritative sources which cite examples of science and technology developments on the horizon (e.g. TechCast and the UK Government Horizon Scanning Centre). Based on these trends and developments we suggested additional possible jobs of the future. All of the trends and possible developments we mention in the report were referenced.
You mention that some of the jobs already exist. We make clear in the report that it is covering jobs that will emerge and current jobs that will become more prominent.
You question whether certain jobs will materialise. You are entitled to your opinion. We are talking about what might happen over the next 10-20 years, so I’m not sure how one can be so certain that a particular job will or will not materialise. Think back twenty years – how many people then were talking about jobs such as Chief Listening Officer, Nano Science Researcher, Director of Customer Experience or Blogger. Google any one of these terms and you will find people performing these roles today.
Regarding the survey – we went out to a variety of networks to ask them to take part and 486 people responded. We made very clear how many people responded in the report and shared what those respondents had told us. The aim was to get their views on a sample of 20 representative jobs of the future. We did not say that these would be the biggest or most important jobs of the future. They are just a representative sample of the kinds of jobs that will be created by advances in science and technology or become more prominent – as many of these already exist in some form. The survey very clearly asked people to rate the jobs against each other and we make that clear in the presentation of the findings. The survey simply provides a relative feel of how the respondents ranked the jobs e.g. which of the twenty would be the most aspirational, which would bring the most environmental benefits and which would create the most employment.
Methodology (Section 1.3 p8) from The shape of jobs to come report
The project was conducted between mid-August and early October 2009. The first phase involved horizon scanning to identify potentially key science and technology trends and developments for the next two decades. The aim was to draw on a wide range of authoritative sources citing well referenced examples of science and technology developments on the horizon. As such, extensive use was made of the UK Government Horizon Scanning Centre (HSC) outputs – most notably the Delta and Sigma horizon scans of emerging trends and developments. Other key sources used extensively included MIT‘s Technology Review, the BT Technology Timeline and TechCast – an acknowledged resource pooling expert knowledge on science and technology forecasts.
This scan resulted in the list of trends and the timeline presented in appendices 2 and 3. In addition, an initial long list of 110 future jobs was identified and profiled in brief. A short list of ten jobs were then selected and shared for review with colleagues in the Association of Professional Futurists. The list was also presented to Fast Future‘s own global network. This comprises over 20,000 people from a variety of professions and sectors who have an interest in the trends and factors shaping our future. Both groups were asked to provide their comments on the list of ten jobs and identify additional jobs that might be created in future as a result of advances in science and technology.
The long list of future jobs was refined and expanded with the feedback received. A list of twenty jobs were then selected as being representative of the breadth, scope and impact of the jobs that would be created or become more prominent in the future. An online survey was then run from August 12th-21st 2009. The survey attracted 486 responses from 58 countries on 6 continents. Of these 65% were male and 35% female.
Survey respondents were asked to evaluate the attractiveness and impact in a variety of fields from human health to the environment. Survey participants were also asked to provide their views on what a day in the life of these roles might involve and to suggest additional roles they could see emerging in the coming two decades. The invitation to take part in the survey was distributed to Fast Future‘s global network, promoted via various social networks and distributed via the mailing lists of a number of fellow futurists.