Imagination, Cultural Memory and Positive Futures

How reflective are we? Are we here to predict the future? How do we construct our future?

Are we future conscious or literate? What is the real world? What will the future of the Philippines; the future of humanity look like?

What’s your ridiculous idea about the future? How do we create and design “absurd thoughts” or explore emerging issues that could change or transform the future? What is the role of cultural memory, language and imagination in the way we imagine ourselves and interpret reality? Is there link a between imagination and cultural memory in the way we make sense of the world? What is the function of culture in reframing the present?

These are some of the questions that participants tried to explore in the second of the strategic foresight course series organized by the Center for Engaged Foresight (CEF) held at Northwestern University in Laoag City, Philippines.

The purpose of the two-day workshop was to engage participants in the exploration of emerging issues and alternative futures; navigate complexity and locate the interconnections of trends, issues and their long-term impact and outcomes.

Dr. Marcus Bussey, a historian and futurist at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore and the University of Sunshine Coast Australia and Shermon Cruz, Director of the Center for Engaged Foresight facilitated the two-day futures course. The workshop was organized in partnership with Northwestern University, De La Salle University and the Futures Evocative Australia.

Rigorous Imagination and Creating Resilient Identities

“One can’t believe impossible things,” said Alice.
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.
“When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, chapter 5

On the first day, the workshop underlined the significance of imagination in designing positive futures. Bussey argued that while the future was an unexplored terrain, the future could be opened by the self rigorously engaged in the practice of imagination. The human capacity to imagine “impossible things” was basic to the process of imagining alternative futures. The future according to Bussey can be classified as “dark” or “open”. Dark futures imply “closed presents” which means that the future is shaped by the values and habits of risk management and fortress mentality (competitive, survival is the name of the game) while  Open futures is focused on collaborative commons, risk-taking, innovation and trust.  To Bussey it is through imagination that we learn to “strategize” about the world around us. This part of the workshop emphasized f  imagination (alternative and positive futures) and our ability to succeed in designing new pathways for change.

Source: Dr. Marcus Bussey PPT, Strategic Approaches to the Future 2013, Laoag City, Philippines.
Source: Dr. Marcus Bussey PPT, Strategic Approaches to the Future 2013, Laoag City, Philippines.
Culture of Resilient Identity. Source: Dr. Marcus Bussey PPT, Strategic Approaches to the Future 2013, Laoag City, Philippines.
Culture of Resilient Identities.
Source: Dr. Marcus Bussey PPT, Strategic Approaches to the Future 2013, Laoag City, Philippines.

Unpacking the Present and some Strategic Issues for the Philippines

On the first day, the group worked on to identify and explore some themes and issues using the futures collage, futures triangle and futures wheel analysis. They sketched their images of the future, rated and ranked them from 1 to 10. 1 was the most likely and 10 as the least likely future. The goal was to get a hint of the group ‘imaginings’ and assumptions about the future. Our context was local and global. Interestingly, we were able to identify some themes that were important to the group:

• Family and Portable Homes
• Information Technology, Robotics and Agriculture
• Climate Change (Water and Food)
• Population, Poverty and Migration
• Governance and Mining
• City Futures and Sustainable Living
• Mars Colony

The group’s most likely future are:

• Mars Colony (It was surprising to learn that colonizing Mars was the most likely future (believable future) for the participants. This could mean that colonizing Mars was more probable than reversing the impact of climate change or addressing corruption in governance and mining, population growth and poverty.)
• Urbanization (Informed by the urgency to rapidly urbanize (model was influenced by continued economic growth city models) participants had urbanization as the most likely image of the future city.)
• Climate Change
• Migration
• Robotics and information technology in agriculture

Their least likely future was :

• Green cities
• Gaia Tech and Stewardship
• Sustainable lifestyle
• Food Sufficiency

(These are emerging concepts, I might say transformative futures.)

Mapping the Future and Some Alternatives

“Futurist is not the expert. You are!”

After sketching their images of the future,  the group mapped the future of their preferred strategic issue using the futures triangle and the futures wheel analysis. Here, our intention was to immerse the group on how to use futures tools and techniques to public policy, development planning and decision-making. A number of case studies were presented.

Source: Dr. Marcus Bussey PPT, Strategic Approaches to the Future 2013, Laoag City, Philippines.
Source: Dr. Marcus Bussey PPT, Strategic Approaches to the Future 2013, Laoag City, Philippines.

Below is a summary of the group output after they applied the futures triangle to an issue and explored possible alternatives.


Anticipating the Unknown knowns and Unknown unknowns

In the afternoon, we had a session on futures wheel analysis.Personal choices, policies and decision-impacts to an issue on the longer-term future were explored and analyzed.The method enabled the group to explore the consequences of their decision and policies beyond their primary impact. They were able to anticipate some emerging issues including the impacts unanticipated effects. Here the complexity and interconnections of social, political, technological, religious and economic issues including causal links were explored. Their gaps (forces resisting anticipatory change), their breaks (the blindsides) and leverages (enabling forces) became apparent when the futures wheel was applied.


Stories of the Future

“A strategy without story does not gain traction”

The second day discussed the role and function of worldviews, myths, metaphors, cultural memory and language in creating futures scenarios. The group accessed their cultural memories and used their local language to explore and communicate the future. As a result, the conversation and facilitation were more open, more intimate and more imaginative. This enabled the participants to create more plausible scenarios of the future. Lots of insights emerged in the scenario construction workshop. Presentations and feedback deepened when they used the local language to explore scenarios on: the implementation of the reproductive health law in the Philippines; the story of Juan De La Cruz (poverty and unemployment as a pendulum between the better and the worse case scenarios); local communities disengagement and engagements with the latest information and communication technologies. Scenarios of the  lazy community, sleeping community, the busy and dizzy community and waking communities emerged. Student participants where able to create some scenarios on the the future of student learning and study habits.

Understanding the Self and Opening to New Realms of Possibility

The two day future course showed how  strategic futures tools and methods can be applied to development planning, public policy formulation, institutional building, etc. Sessions were intimate and integral (we wanted it deep enough to engage the inner and outer selves in the practice of foresight) enough for the group to appreciate the necessity of ‘futures’ in building more positive futures.








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