Orientation by considerations on the future was and is often introduced in a way as if the imagination of future developments could create a reliable framework which reduces the openness of the future considerably. This framework is ten expected to make it possible (probably even quite simply) to direct pending decisions, e.g. concerning regional development or the expansion of infrastructures, in a way that they ideally fit into this framework. By experience it is now quite clear that such expectations cannot be fulfilled in complex societal issues – this diagnosis based on empirical evidence shall not be repeated here . However, there are critical questions on some premises of this mode which seem to shed light on some very basic methodological problems related with this approach – and which render the mode 1 approach extremely problematic even without regarding empirical evidence of its frequent inadequacy.
First of all, parameters for describing future developments are divided into two categorically different parts in the mode 1 approach. One part regards the future as a set of events and processes which result (more or less) causally from current knowledge and which are, therefore, basically predictable and foreseeable . Regarding this part of the future, a deterministic understanding of history is hidden behind. The problems of the realisation of this ideal programme were of course recognised, but blamed on the complexity of societal relations, the insufficient data base and the to date poor knowledge of social and economic laws compared to natural sciences. So these difficulties are often regarded as a challenge which could be met by advances and effort in futures research methodology and seldom as a strict limit to prediction. Hopes for better mode 1 orientation by methodological or epistemological progress in the field of futures studies or by more and better data are based on this optimism .
However, the question of “optimal” decisions would not make sense in a generally deterministic understanding of history. Because in that case we would not have to give thought to pending decisions since they would be determined anyhow. Therefore there must be assumptions about a second part of the future whose course depends on our today’s decisions and actions and is thus open for shaping. The mode 1 orientation by future studies is thus preceded by a fundamental distinction: the distinction between regularly running and thus predictable parts of future development on the one hand and other parts that can be influenced by intentional human action and decisions, on the other. In spite of the fact that this distinction is a necessary precondition of the mode 1 approach it is seldom a subject of discussion. This is a crucial issue because it is absolutely not clear a priori which facets of societal development fall into one or the other part, and upon which arguments this depends (cp.  for the question of social or technology determinism). Therefore, a severe lack of analysis and reflection has to be diagnosed.
A deeper look into the use of future studies in decision-making processes helps uncovering a second underlying assumption of the mode 1 approach which might become problematic. The decision-making process in the framework of a rational choice paradigm is about gathering all relevant information to get orientation for a “good”, “right” or even “optimal” decision. The use of knowledge about the future as “important information” in this sense – which is exactly what mode 1 orientation would be – includes premises especially related to the term “derive” which is used here quite often. This term and/or the argumentative context assumed with it are, loosely speaking and certainly slightly overemphasised, used in two directions:
First, particular developments or states of the future are “derived” from current knowledge in certain respects. In logical-deductive reasoning  today’s knowledge of regularities and laws is the source for “deriving” knowledge on future developments. This covers exactly that part of the future which has been classified as being predictable already today (see above);
Second, from this knowledge about the future decision-makers “derive” which decision out of a set of alternative options would be “optimal” for a specific question. This applies exactly to the other part of the future which was assumed to be influenceable (see above).
This approach follows the premise of the rational choice paradigm that, under optimal conditions for decision-making (i.e. above all with complete knowledge), there could be only one rational (and therefore optimal) decision. In this model, decisions – at least in certain respects – would be basically predictable from and determined by today’s knowledge including the detour of forming knowledge about the future. In the framework of future developments which has been “derived” from today’s knowledge “optimal” decisions can in turn be taken as “derivations”.
If we would succeed in obtaining such results from both forms of “deriving” – from today’s knowledge regarding the future and from the future regarding currently pending decisions –, which clearly and with reason claim consensus then the search for the best decision would, in principle, be automatable in form of an algorithm. Troublesome and controversial debates and difficult negotiation processes would no longer be necessary. This is the latent (and technocratic!) ideal behind the mode 1 orientation by futures studies. Its basic structure can particularly be recognised by the fact that the space for the shapeable part – which has to be assumed first in order to be able to speak of alternative options for decision – finally disappears completely in the “derivation” chain. This is because this two-step “derivation” approach reduces the shaping to an automatable act. Or, to put it in another way: the distinction made above between one part of the future which was introduced as determined and one part which is considered as shapeable disappears due to the fact that the shapeable part is “derived” from the causal knowledge extrapolated to the future. Thus the deterministic part of the future becomes “encroaching” and also determines – via the figure of “deriving optimal decisions” – that part which was at first conceived as shapeable.
Now of course we have to ask if and to what extent scientifically generated knowledge about the future can meet such rational choice expectations at all. A closer look at practical usage creates doubt. The “double derivation” often does not work for the simple reason that knowledge about the future itself is often controversial and contested  and reveals deep ambivalence . Instead of achieving “optimal” decisions we end up in controversy on different levels: about today’s knowledge and its extrapolability to the future, about the introduced futures themselves and then also about the question if and with which argumentative force we can “derive” decisions thereof. Such controversies often express conflicts of a pluralistic society since debates about the future also include values, ideas of man, hopes and fears as well as concepts of a future society which of course reflect the different ideological and political positions. We may just think of the field of energy policy and the debates about when which share of the energy supply could be provided by renewables and what this may mean for the stability of the grids and the electricity price.
New methods of foresight, new algorithms and supercomputers or new ways of networking complex data bases currently spark hopes for at least a future realisation of mode 1 orientation by future studies. However, in principle we should be sceptical about this. The epistemological analysis of futures studies shows that the adoption of assumptions which are not backed by causal knowledge is inevitable for the construction of statements about the future [15, 16]. Statements about the future are social constructs that arise from actions taken by agents. Ingredients like knowledge components, values, assumptions of different quality and many others are used to create futures which are as consistent as possible. All this happens within the “immanence of the present” which can be left neither by logic nor by empiricism . Futures studies do not provide information on the future as such but on how it presents itself in the context of specific constructions by certain actors. And there is a large difference between this boundedness to certain actors in societal fields and in scientific ones. While in the latter scientific communities, e.g. astronomers, can agree on knowledge about the future based on accepted rules, this does not work out in societal fields. Because futures can be constructed in very different ways here since only the currently relevant aspects can be taken into consideration for their construction and these aspects do not only include knowledge but also interests, values, assessments and considerations of relevance and priorities. These are normative and evaluative and can therefore always be denied. The inevitable result of this variety of today’s assessments, especially in a pluralistic society, is the reflection of this variety in scientific futures and that it thus also necessarily entails its diversity . The diversity of futures reflects the pluralism of the present – and renders mode 1 orientation impossible in many cases. This explains the many disappointments with regard to the predictive capacity of futures studies.
A second argument for scepticism about the hopes that the above-mentioned problem could be overcome by more research originates from a well-known epistemological consideration. The communication of societal futures is an intervention into further development and changes the constellation for which it was created. Thinking about the future is not possible from a contemplative observer’s perspective; the producers of knowledge about the future are part of the system for which they construct futures. Here the familiar problem of “self-fulfilling” and “self-destroying prophecy” ties in .
So the diversity of futures studies might be reducible in particular areas, in particular when reliable causal or statistical knowledge is available which, of course, varies from field to field. However, diversity cannot be eliminated in general. The diversity of futures is a necessary aspect of many of the fields of futures studies; of course the degree varies in the different fields. So we come to the conclusion that mode 1 orientation often will not be possible. And I would like to add: it is very probable that mode 1 orientation will not work for the particularly interesting topics, those fields with the largest openness and uncertainty, with the biggest need for scientific orientation, reduction of uncertainties and clear orientations. To put it in a paradox way: right there where futures studies are most needed they are most unable to help in the framework of first-order orientation. To compare it with the weather forecast: if weather conditions are stable, the advice of the weather forecast is reliable, but also superfluous. It is most difficult when the weather conditions are unstable and unclear – and this is exactly when we would need it most. In the following I would like to ask which sort of orientation by futures studies would be possible for those “difficult cases” in the absence of mode 1 orientation.