The World Tree Model forms our foundational research tool, from which we can venture out in more case-specific scenarios, simulations, speculations and renderings of pasts, presents and futures. We developed the World Tree Model as a qualitative historic-futuristic model.

The name of the model can be understood in two ways. It is metaphor that describes how our relation with time is shaped like tree. A wide variety of historical developments—the roots—lead up the a narrow range of maneuverability of the now—the trunk— and branches out in a range of possible futures—the crown. The name is also an ode to the famous World3 model, a system dynamics model that simulated the interactions between population, industrial growth, food production and limits in the ecosystems of the Earth. The Limits of Growth, a 1972 book that was commissioned by the Club of Rome, was based on its findings.

The World3 model. A Stock and Flow model of the world.
The World3 model. A Stock and Flow model of the world.

There are two important differences between the World3 Model and the World Tree Model, and these differences may help explain our methodology. First of all, the World Tree Model is a qualitative historic-futuristic model, a so-called soft model, and the World3 model is a quantitative model; a so-called hard model. The World Tree model deals mainly with social and historic data, which is more open to interpretation, while the World3 model deals with more physical and factual data. The second important difference, which derives from the first, is that while the World3 Model researches the limits to growth, the World Tree model is able to map and imagine possible post-growth societies.

The central premise of the World Tree Model is that societal dynamics are both emergent and subjective phenomenon. What we experience as our society is more then the sum its physical, biological, social, psychological and neurological subsystems. That makes social reality untraceable, since most properties, patterns and regularities of these subsystems are non-linear and unapproachable and unknowable for modern science.

Because modern science cannot oversee the whole of the forces that shape our society, a ‘hard’ model is not very helpful if one wants to generate workable assumptions about the near future. In an environment that is objectively unknowable, we have thus no choice but to rely on more qualitative and subjective interpretations. Because what we do not know, we can still make our own. And this certainly applies to our future.

Want to dive deeper into the model itself? You can explore a rendering of the World Tree Model in print (PDF, A1) and/or online.

The World Tree Model
The World Tree Model. Graphic design by Roosje Klap.