Future Protocol

a.k.a. Back to the Future

Developed by Scott Murphy and revised 8/7/02.

A good time to use this protocol is in the early stages of creating a plan or project that ultimately will have an endpoint. Ideas should be formulated, but not completely finalized. If finalized, it might be used to consider improvements almost like a “tuning” protocol.

Purpose of protocol

To vision into the future and tell what it would look like in the very best-case scenario. Also to initiate discussion into the steps, players, actions, and time lines it will take to be successful.


• To expand and clarify the vision of what a group or individual is really trying to accomplish
• To identify opportunities and avenues for focused improvement
• To guide purposeful actions and reduce wasted efforts


• May be presented by an individual or an entire group
• Members of groups should have similar investment in and context to that which is presented
• Uses our ability to tell stories as a way to imagine the best-case scenario
• Does not focus on the obstacles, but rather the opportunities…stays very positive


Approximately 1 hour.


1. Present what you are trying to accomplish: (5 minutes)

Presenter: shares what he/she is trying to do and how it might look when it is all done.

2. Clarifying Questions: (5 or 10 minutes)

Group: asks clarifying questions.

3. Probing Questions: (10 minutes)

Group asks probing questions to further the presenter’s thinking. The presenter may choose to answer, think aloud or quietly consider it.

— presenter steps out of the process—

4. Project into the future (whatever time line seems appropriate) and thoroughly describe what it looks like, sounds like and feels like having accomplished this endeavor. (10-15 minutes)

• Must talk in present tense.
• Describe what is in this best case scenario. Do not yet describe how.
• Focus on the sights, sounds, behaviors and feelings surrounding this accomplishment.

• 5 years later in a school’s reform efforts
• The end of a team’s project with students
• Results from a group of new teachers that focused on classroom management for one year

It is really helpful to chart steps 4, 5, and 6 so that each can see publicly what is being said.

5. Look “back” from your projected present and describe how it looked when it started. (5-10 minutes)

• Must talk in past tense
• Think about issues, culture, conversations, teacher’s work, student achievement, etc.
• Try to remain as tangible as possible

Continue to chart this conversation. It is helpful to put dates at the top of the chart to identify the time period to which the group is referring. (5-10 minutes)

6. Continue looking back from the “projected present” and discuss how you addressed the starting place and how you moved from that to the projected present. (5-10 minutes)

• Must talk in past tense.
• Directly relate the previous description of how it looked when it started.
• Consider discussing how, when, with what resources and by whom.— presenter returns to conversation —

7. Return to “projected present” and discuss if it can get any better than it is or is this as good as it could possibly be? Again, think about how it will look, sound and feel if it can get even better. (5 minutes)

8. Presenter shares with group thoughts about the future and info s/he has gathered. (5 minutes)

9. Debrief the process. (10 minutes)

National School Reform Faculty, Harmony Education Center