FAST - FAQs:
Q: What is the central goal of FAST?
A: At its core, our goal is to advance social theory to the
point where it is unarguably effective in practice. We expect the benefits to
humanity will be almost incalculable.
Q: What is theory?
A: A theory is a set of interrelated propositions. A theory
is a conceptual construct that enables and restricts our ability to understand
and enact effective change in the world around us. While we use the word
theory, we might just as well use other terms including: schema, model, mental
model, mind-set, metaphor, or policy. In short, a theory is anything that
defines the way we understand the world and ourselves.
Q: What is social theory?
A: Social theory defines how we understand psychology,
sociology, organizations, decision making, leadership, management, economics,
policy, therapy, anthropology, education, geography, history, law, linguistics,
political science, public administration, social work, international relations,
and many more. In short, anything that relates to human and organizational
Q: Why this focus on theory?
A: Theory defines the way we see and understand the world.
So, our practice is only as effective as our theory. Even when we believe our
efforts to be “successful” our sense of success is determined by our theory.
That is why some individuals and groups fail; they proceed with destructive
acts – which they mistakenly believe will make them successful. Therefore, we
must develop a new understanding of theory to gain a new understanding of our
world and ourselves.
Q: If theory has failed to advance for centuries, why
should we expect to be successful now?
A: First, because we are developing and applying new methods
for advancing theory. Second, because we have centuries of theory to draw upon
as our “building blocks” for better theory. Those conditions have not existed
previously; their combination empowers and impels us to effective action. This
project cannot be implemented much later, because global problems threaten the
entire human race. We have a small window – and we must act quickly.
Q: Why investigate the entire
spectrum of the social sciences – why not focus on a small area?
A: First, what we have seen in
academia is a movement toward smaller areas of focus. These have not yielded
better theories. Indeed, the effect has been a fragmentation of the social
sciences. Nonetheless, these tightly focused investigations have yielded more
theories. Part of our program involves the re-integration of these disparate
theories. For example, we may find a question in sociology that is answered by
theories of psychology. These cross-disciplinary efforts are expected to yield
Q: Why not just test theory in
practice and use the best one?
A: We’ve all asked this question at
one time or another. And, for centuries, we believed that this was the best way
to advance theory. However, recent insights have suggested critical limitations
to this approach. Where once we believed that “the analysis of facts” was the
one true path to better theory, we realize now that what we consider to be a
“fact” is really dependent on the theory that one uses. Therefore, we have a
“chicken and egg” problem that must be unraveled before we can move forward.
Second, the process of testing theories in practice has proved ineffective in
the history of social theory. Finally, testing theories in practice may be
difficult, prohibitively expensive, or impossible. For example, we could not
simultaneously test national policies of engagement and isolation.
Q: Are there other options aside
from advancing theory?
A: In advancing the social sciences
we have few choices. Our first option, as some scholars recommend, is to avoid
theory and use intuition. However, as any gambler will attest, intuition is a
poor tool. And, at this stage of the game, we don’t want to gamble with the
future of our planet. Our second option is to continue with the status quo.
Unfortunately, one study suggest that such a path will require centuries for
the development of effective social theory (and, possibly, centuries more for
dissemination and broad implementation) – perhaps too late to save humanity.
The third path, the one supported by this project, is seek a higher level of
abstraction and integration; to use theory to build better theory – so that we
may understand and address the problems of the world – before it is too late.
Q: Why not wait for theory to
emerge on its own – as happened in the scientific revolution?
A: The answer here is twofold. First,
analysis indicates that the theory will not emerge for centuries. And, if it
does, we are not likely to recognize it. Its “voice” will be drowned out by the
voices of all the other theories calling for attention. Second, our global
problems are such that we dare not wait that long.
Q: Why not simply convince
everyone to be on the same page?
A: That would be an exercise in
marketing. A practice based on social theories that are not well developed at
this time. This approach has been attempted repeatedly through history with
little sustainable success. Additionally, and importantly, we have no way to
effectively choosing the “one best” page for everyone to be on (or even if that
is a good idea to start with).
Q: Why go to the effort to
creating a large community – why not a small, dedicated team?
A: The small-team approach may have
some merit. However, like focusing on a small piece of theory, the resulting
advances may be too fragmented to be effective. With more people involved, we
have a wider knowledge base to draw upon, and the opportunity for more
creativity. Also, by including more participants, we will engender greater
legitimacy for the resulting technologies. Finally, when we move toward
implementation, we will have the endorsement of the academic community; and, we
will have a large number of people around the globe who can help accelerate the
process of implementation.
Q: Why wait for eleven years – if
this is such an important project, why not go faster?
A: Additional funding would certainly
accelerate the process to some extent. We are very open to exploring this
Q: What does the FAST logo represent?
A: The FAST logo evokes an old water
wheel, or the cog from a grandfather clock – symbols of effective work and
predictability. Yet, they are only partially represented – most of the wheel is
missing. When we understand what we are missing, we will be able to make social
progress on the scale of the industrial revolution – with incalculable benefits
Copyright 2011 - Foundation for the Advancement of Social Theory