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International Futures Help System

IFs Background

International Futures (IFs) has evolved since 1980 through three "generations," with a fourth generation now taking form.

The first generation had deep roots in the world models of the 1970s, including those of the Club of Rome. In particular, IFs drew on the Mesarovic-Pestel or World Integrated Model (Mesarovic and Pestel 1974). The author of IFs had contributed to that project, including the construction of the energy submodel. IFs consciously also drew on the Leontief World Model (Leontief et al. 1977), the Bariloche Foundation’s world model (Herrera et al. 1976), and Systems Analysis Research Unit Model (SARU 1977), following comparative analysis of those models by Hughes (1980). That generation was written in FORTRAN and available for use on main-frame computers through CONDUIT, an educational software distribution center at the University of Iowa. Although the primary use of that and subsequent generations was by students, IFs has always had some policy analysis capability that has appealed to specialists. For example, the U.S. Foreign Service Institute used the first generation of IFs in a mid-career training program.

The second generation of International Futures moved to early microcomputers in 1985, using the DOS platform. It was a very simplified version of the original IFs without regional or country differentiation.

The third generation, first available in 1993, became a full-scale microcomputer model. The third generation improved earlier representations of demographic, energy, and food systems, but added new environmental and socio-political content. It built upon the collaboration of the author with the GLOBUS project, and it adopted the economic submodel of GLOBUS (developed by the author). GLOBUS had been created with the inspiration of Karl Deutsch and under the leadership of Stuart Bremer (1987) at the Wissenschaftszentrum in Berlin.

The third generation has produced three editions/major releases of IFs, each accompanied by a book also called International Futures (Hughes 1993, 1996, 1999). The second edition moved to a Visual Basic platform that allowed a much improved menu-driven interface, running under Windows. The third edition incorporated an early global mapping capability and an initial ability to do cross-sectional and longitudinal data analysis.

The fourth generation has been taking shape since early 2000. It has been heavily influenced by the usage of the model in an increasingly policy-analysis mode by several important organizations. First, General Motors commissioned a specialized version of IFs named CoVaTrA (Consumer Values Trends Analysis) with a need for updated and extended demographic modeling and representation of value change. An alliance was established with the World Values Survey, directed by Ronald Inglehart, to create that version. Second, the Strategic Assessments Group of the Central Intelligence Agency commissioned a specialized version named IFs for SAG. The work involved in preparing that greatly extended and enhanced the socio-political representations of the model, both domestic and international. Third, the European Commission sponsored a project named TERRA which has led to a specialized version named IFs for TERRA. IFs for TERRA work led to enhancements across the model, including improved representation of economic sectors, updated IO matrices and a basic Social Accounting Matrix, GINI and Lorenz curves, and preparing for extended environmental impact representation (drawing upon the Advanced Sustainability Analysis framework of the Finland Futures Research Center).

Throughout this emergence of a fourth generation IFs (incorporating all of the above elements for additional users) there has been also a heavy emphasis on enhanced usability. Ideas from Robert Pestel in the TERRA project led to the creation of a new tree-structure for scenario creation and management. Ideas from Ronald Inglehart led to the development of the Guided Use structure and a somewhat more game-like character within that structure. Inglehart also help arrange funding to support the programming of Guided Use through the European Union Center of the University of Michigan.

The fifth version of IFs is currently in use and represents broad strides to improving the model and its usability. It is the first version of this software to be placed online due to the help of the National Intelligence Council ( Also, usability has been increased as Packaged Displays and Flex Packaged Displays were introduced that allowed for the creation of very specific lists of countries/regions, groups or Glists. A new education model has also been incorporated into the broader IFs model. New scenarios were created for UNEP (focusing on environmental change) and Pardee (focusing on poverty). Finally, one of the largest changes made was incorporating 182 countries into the Base-Case scenario used by IFs. Previous versions of IFs used broader regions to forecast global trends. This change also did away with the Student and Professional versions.