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Keywords:

  • large-group interventions;
  • communicative action;
  • Future Search;
  • case study;
  • process analysis

Abstract

Future Search has emerged as a widely used large-group process for building common ground and stimulating multi-stakeholder action on complex issues in a collaborative and participatory way. Yet there are few careful evaluations of the approach. Through a detailed qualitative analysis, this paper critically assesses a Future Search conference on repetitive strain injuries (RSI) held in 1998. The paper draws on Jürgen Habermas' standards of communicative action to explore the extent to which the process was inclusive, non-coercive and reflective. The Future Search process encouraged participants to introduce a variety of observations, beliefs and experiences. Two fundamentally opposed analyses of RSI arose: a ‘consensus–knowledge’ model and a ‘conflict–power’ model. However, the process fell short of communicative action because its structure privileged—and thus led to the uncritical adoption of—the former model without allowing adequate participant reflection on the questionable and contested assumptions upon which the model is based. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.