History of IFs

Founding the Frederick S. Pardee Institute for International Futures

Founded by Barry Hughes with the support of Fred Pardee, the Pardee Institute for International Futures continues developing its flagship tool, the International Futures modeling system.

History of IFs

IFs, the flagship tool of the Pardee Institute, is an open-source, integrated global modeling system that is continuously updated and maintained. In 1980, Barry Hughes developed the first generation of the IFs modeling system. Since then, the team at the Pardee Institute has overseen seven generations of IFs development.

  • Generation 1: 1980

    Written in FORTRAN & available for use on mainframe computers through the University of Iowa's CONDUIT system, this first generation of IFs was primarily an education tool used by students. However, it was also used by the U.S. Foreign Service Institute for a mid-career training program.

  • Generation 2: 1985

    The second generation of IFs moved to early microcomputers in 1985, using the DOS platform. It was a simplified version of the original IFs system without regional or country differentiation.

  • Generation 3: 1993

    The third generation became a full-scale microcomputer modeling system and improved on earlier representations of demographic, energy, and food systems, along with new environmental and socio-political content. During this generation, there were three major editions of IFs, each accompanied by a book also called International Futures (Hughes 1993, 1996, 1999). The second of these editions moved to a Visual Basic platform that allowed a much-improved menu-driven interface running under Windows. The third edition incorporated an early global mapping capability and an initial ability to do cross-sectional and longitudinal data analysis.

  • Generation 4: 2000s

    The fourth generation took shape during the early 2000s. It was heavily influenced by the usage of the modeling system for policy analysis, including its uses in the TERRA project and work on the Global Trends reports. This generation had a heavy emphasis on enhanced usability, including the creation of a new tree structure and guided use mode for scenario creation and management.

  • Generation 5: 2004–2009

    The fifth generation of IFs (from 2004-2009) had three major thrusts:

    • The continued enhancement of the model itself, including clearer and more extensive representations of the agent classes and their points of leverage, stemming from the desire to make the modeling system a more valuable scenario-testing and policy analysis tool. The further elaboration of the social accounting matrix, structure, the development of education and health sub-models, and the substantial redesign of an economic production function with endogenous multifactor productivity were among several outcomes of this thrust.
    • The project continued to enhance the model’s interface and usability. Efforts included the addition of a number of specialized displays, such as those for seeing the social accounting matrices, to display progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, to explore poverty at different income levels, and to represent the educational attainment of population cohorts. Mapping and data analysis tools were also strengthened. The ability to drill down into select countries to explore futures at the state or province-level was also added.
    • The third thrust was the further institutionalization of the IFs system via (a) increased accessibility, transparency, and openness and (b) broader and deeper connections with other modelers and model users. The first step in greatly increasing IFs accessibility was the sponsorship of the web-based version of the model by the National Intelligence Council in its Project 2020 (NIC 2004). Enhanced transparency came from adding the ability for users to access the flow charts, equations, and code underlying the model.
  • Generation 6: 2010–2013

    The sixth generation of IFs revolved around the development of the Patterns of Potential Human Progress (PPHP) series. The PPHP volumes, with their focus on major human development systems, spurred the further enhancement of the model’s major subsystems, especially population, economic (especially poverty representation), education, health, infrastructure, and governance. The supporting documentation required for the PPHP series also gave rise to efforts to create the most detailed documentation of the model to date.

  • Generation 7: 2014-2022 

    The seventh generation officially began in 2014. This generation emerged after the PPHP volumes and with the advent of a variety of new projects, including wider support for provincial and state breakdowns, new means of forecasting diplomatic and power interactions, and enhanced representations in many of the IFs modules. Central to the institute's efforts, however, are continuous improvements in the existing elements of the model and their usability. The sixth generation greatly strengthened the web-based version and it will increasingly become central to our work in the current generation.





  • Generation 8: Current Generation

    The current generation is primarily distinguished by a transition in the underlying coding language, shifting from Visual Basic 6 to Visual Basic .NET. This shift has facilitated the integration of both online and standalone user interfaces, streamlining the process of implementing interface modifications. Moreover, the adoption of this new underlying language and user interface has empowered developers to leverage a broader range of third-party applications and dynamic visualization tools, while aligning with Microsoft-supported languages. 



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