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 systems.
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 much fruit.
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 possibility.
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 to humanity.