Research Institute for Future Design

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Matt Lerner

The Research Institute for Future Design (RIFD), based at the Kochi University of Technology in Japan, is a transdisciplinary research group that aims to find ways to encourage people to think more about the needs of future generations. They conduct and publish both theoretical and experimental work to this end.

What problem are they trying to solve?

In order to make decisions that benefit the long-term future, current generations must first take that future into account. That is a tall order: future people are hard to conceptualize for those living in the present, and even harder to factor in when writing legislation, designing regulation, or making policy. RIFD’s work is focused on figuring out how to make future people real to those living in the present so that current institutions can make decisions with the future in mind.

What do they do?

RIFD’s work consists of two major workstreams focused on ensuring that the perspectives of future generations are incorporated into contemporary decision-making. First, they offer an institutional home for transdisciplinary research in this area and support researchers who publish on related topics. Second, they conduct surveys, experiments, and original research on “Future Design,” a framework developed at RIFD for encouraging people to care about future generations.

Why do we recommend them?

Our decision to recommend RIFD is based on its status as the only research group dedicated to finding ways to encourage the inclusion of future generations in contemporary decision-making. In this way, RIFD’s research is an enabler or force multiplier for all other work focused on future generations. Policy changes, legislation, funding streams, and meaningfully positive cultural shifts will all have a much greater impact, and a better chance of occurring, if advocates for the long-term future have a good grasp of what causes individuals, institutions, and governments to take that future into account. There are three related reasons we recommend granting to RIFD:

Novel, important research

RIFD’s research into what causes individuals to care about the long-term future can be repurposed for other efforts. Few organizations are conducting research along these lines, so RIFD’s work has potentially very large marginal value. Any usable insights from RIFD’s research into “Future Design”—even if the specific methodology proves impractical— would be unlikely to be achieved in the absence of the institute, as it is the only group of its kind.

In this sense, RIFD is a “big bet”: it takes only one novel, widely generalizable insight in its core area of interest in order to produce useful leverage for other organizations focused on the long-term future. Such an insight would on its own justify RIFD’s existence by facilitating the work of others who hope to guide institutions to decisions that improve humanity’s future prospects.

Geographic additivity

Organizations focused on improving the long-term future are currently concentrated in the English-speaking world. Japan is the third-largest economy in the world and home to more than 120 million people. RIFD’s work to encourage decision-making with regard for the future in Japan is therefore of high marginal value, in the sense that it has the potential to “seed” concern for the long-term future in the Japanese research landscape.

Track record of relevant, high-quality research

RIFD affiliates have published relevant research in academic journals. Researchers have, for instance, addressed intergenerational applications of voting and the causes of prosocial attitudes toward future others. RIFD’s approach of Future Design (FD), though perhaps “quirky”, has resulted in concrete outcomes. In one experiment, an FD exercise conducted in the town of Yahaba resulted in a concrete policy change and the introduction of a “Future Strategy Office.”

What would they do with more funding?

With more funding, RIFD hopes to be able to hire two additional full-time researchers and continue to conduct surveys and experiments on Future Design and other topics. This would enable more rapid testing of the Future Design framework and a greater variety of transdisciplinary research on related topics.

Message from the organisation

"Future Design,” a new movement among Japanese researchers and stakeholders, asks the following question: What types of social systems are necessary if we are to leave future generations sustainable environments and societies? We aim to design social systems that encourage people to act for the benefit of future generations, and have started to explore several new systems for doing so. These new systems have worked well in trials, including field experiments in real municipalities, companies, and many other institutions.

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Matt Lerner

Matt joined Founders Pledge as Research Director in July 2021. He is a social scientist by training and inclination, but his career has been pretty varied so far. He has led surveys of entrepreneurs in Egypt, written software to evaluate returns to education in the US, and given an interview in (broken) Spanish on drive-time radio in Medellín. He received his BA from NYU and his MA in quantitative social science from Columbia.

Outside of work, Matt likes to play guitar, draw cartoons, and learn languages.