Project Anticipation


The Project

The Project

The UNESCO Chair in Anticipatory Systems

The purpose of the Chair in Anticipatory Systems is to both develop and promote the Discipline of Anticipation, thereby bringing a critical idea to life. To this end, we have a two pronged strategy consisting of knowledge development and communication. The two are equally important. While many academic projects naturally emphasize knowledge development, we must also reach a large and disparate audience, and open minds locked within the longstanding legacy of reactive science. Thus, from a practical standpoint, how we conceptualize and communicate the Discipline of Anticipation is as important as the Discipline of Anticipation itself.

While anticipation has been widely studied within a number of different disciplines – including biology, anthropology, cognitive and social sciences – to date nobody has collected and systematically compared the results. For a preliminary survey see, however, R. Poli, The Many Aspects of AnticipationForesight, 2010, 12, p. 7-17, and the bibliography M. Nadin, Annotated Bibliography: AnticipationInternational Journal of General Systems, 2010, 39(1), p. 35-133. Two figures stand as central contributors to the discipline of anticipation: the mathematical biologist Robert Rosen (see his Anticipatory Systems. Philosophical, Mathematical and Methodological Foundations, New York, Springer, 2nd ed. 2012, and Life Itself. A Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life, New York, Columbia University Press, 1991) and the anthropologist John W. Bennett (see his Human Ecology as Human Behavior: Essays in Environmental and Development Anthropology, New Brunswick and London, Transaction Publishers, 2nd ed. 2002). The former established the theory of anticipatory systems; the latter the connection between anticipation and resilience. 

We propose to centralize the study of anticipation for the first time, and to define the Discipline of Anticipation as a cohesive body of knowledge. To this end, the chair will address a number of key questions, such as:

  • What is anticipation? Are anticipations imposed by the mind, or are they aspects of reality, or does anticipation involves a relation with both?
  • Are there different kinds of anticipation? What distinguishes them?
  • Which are the connections between the Discipline of Anticipation and Futures Studies?
  • What are the qualitative and quantitative aspects of anticipations? Can anticipation be described mathematically?
  • Are there hierarchies of anticipations? How do they define their hierarchy?
  • What visual phenomena are associated with anticipations, including magnification, scaling, zooming, expansion, detail, depth, and apparent size?
  • How do anticipations relate to emergence and the budding science of qualities?
  • What are the social applications of the Discipline of Anticipation?
  • Can we relate anticipation to current interests in sustainability and resilience?


The project’s main objective is the development of the Discipline of Anticipation, including the development of a system of anticipatory strategies and techniques. The more the culture of anticipation spreads, the easier it will be to develop socially acceptable anticipatory strategies. It will then be possible to accumulate relevant experience on how to think about the future and to use anticipatory methods. It will also be possible to try and develop a language and a body of practices that are more adapted for thinking about the future and for developing new ways to address threads and opportunities. 

The following outcomes are envisaged:

  • Futures Literacy: Development of a set of protocols for the appropriate implementation on the ground of the different kinds of anticipation (under the rubric of futures literacy), together with syllabi and teaching materials on the Discipline of Anticipation.
  • Anticipatory Capability Profile: Development of a Anticipatory Capability Profile for communities and institutions, together with a set of recommendations on how a community, organization or institution may raise its anticipatory performance.
  • Resilience Profile: Setting of a resilience index and analysis of the resilience level of selected communities and regions, including a set of recommendations on how to raise their resilience level.

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The Project