And so we “gamed” it, played with uncertainty and had a little bit of everything!
Creative and experiential questioning, futures thinking and landscape, Schwartz scenario archetypes and causal layered analysis.
For two days, the University Center for Research and Development (UCRD) introduced a number of futures research methods, discussed digital research, deconstructed some topics and their alternative futures. The end was to generate and reflect on some themes that emerged in the workshop and discussed in the open space some plausible options to transform Northwestern University research.
Some indigenous “futures” concepts such as “masakbayan”, “kinabukasan” , etc. were discussed and assessed researchers learning styles and research paradigms with culture, social transformation, the internationalization of local knowledge and digitization in mind.
Around 35 participants listed by the University Center for Research Development of Northwestern University (UCRD), officers and staff of UCRD and the RCEIAD attended the gaming research workshop facilitated by Shermon Cruz, Romelene Pacis and Karl Lenin Benigno.
Experiential questioning is a method that we’ve been working on recently to help researchers design self-actualizing research questions and engaged them to contribute more to their field of interests.
Groups were encouraged to reflect and share their experiences and to ask open and reflective questions like why? and how? on preferred themes and topics.
Experiential questioning aims to make research more grounded, action-oriented and responsive to cultural, local and global contexts. The workshop applied action learning foresight to facilitate a more reflective, inclusive, creative and interactive research event for Northwestern University.
We had participants share their experiences and insights to re-perceive research in a variety of context – community, cultural, local and global.
Participants suggested and discussed some Monday morning questions such as research incentives, quantity and quality of research workforce, funding, expanding the research agenda, research output, journal writing, exploring social media tools for foresight research, etc. during the open space.
We opted to test our concept and sought to make sense of EQ’s four essential elements – intuition, logic, evidence and reputation in research.
Researchers were encouraged to consider them only if they find it enriching or useful in the research process:
1. Intuition – we learn from our experiences and we have to learn how to trust the small voice, the inner wisdom inside us. Listen to your gut and our Aha! moment should guide us.
The inner journey of the researcher and his experience of research is as important as any research method, data gathering methods, etc. The self immersed in research can be transformative.
We should tap our intuition more and ask ourselves these questions:
Does this question excites us? What’s your gut feel about this question? Is there a sensation of wonderment? Amazement? Are you amazed by the question? Is there a mystical feeling in that question? Is it moving? Is it transforming?
2. Logic – we think therefore we are.
Idea and proof as well as grammar and reasoning must be crucial to our line of thinking as learning beings. We are hardwired to be logical (abductive, deductive or inductive). We infer, observe, hypothesize, gather and seek to explain relevant evidence. We have to define our problems as clearly as possible.
We might need to ask ourselves:
Can we apply systematic reasoning here? Are our assumptions valid and critical enough to generate new questions and insights? Are they rooted in the local, cultural, global, local and environmental, organizational, personal, etc.?
3. Evidence – Our evidence should be consistent with our assertion.
In our case, evidences are closely tied with epistemology especially in qualitative, normative, exploratory, philosophical or theoretical research.
Big data, trend analysis, emerging issue analysis, horizon scanning are some tools and methods used by forecasters to analyze future trajectories. New lines of thought on futuring such as evidence-based futures research developed by Aleriza Hajazi among others were recently introduced .
Hejazi (2013) asked us: “Have we ever wondered why so many “assumption-based” forecasts have been proved to be untrue? Have we considered that there could be more “evidence-based” ways of forecasting? Have we ever felt that “assumption-based” forecasting was just too much of a struggle and in many cases failed to trigger timely actions? Wait a minute—those questions have been around for about two decades, but what responses have we given to them?”
While the end of futures research is to probe by asking the question what is our preferred future? why is this our preferred future? is this really plausible? why? how can we achieve our preferred future? futures research, like quantitative research, uses and includes diverse data sets to produce a near accurate understanding of potentialities.
Hejazi (2013) also notes medical research and medical researchers can give futures researchers new insights on how evidence-based futures research could be translated or modified to foresight practice.
Big data could change the way we anticipate and/or forecast the future.
For now, it might be imperative for us to ask more relevant and related questions:
Are our assumptions verifiable? Are our questions researchable? Does it lead to innovation? Can it help us reorder or re-conceptualize knowledge? Does it have the potential to create new knowledge and reframe meanings?
4. Reputation – is a meta-belief about the integrity of a person, institution or in our case the integrity of a researcher or his/her research.
Reputation could come in the form of a recommendation or acknowledgement by or of a peer, community, other groups and institution outside our sphere of influence, etc.
Reputation could also mean as to how the “others know and perceive us” as persons, as researchers.
Reputation may be shared by a multitude of agents and it can be epistemic, pragmatic-strategic and memetic.
Questions such as do we believe in the credibility of our sources? Should we pay attention to negative reviews or to what my critics and reviewers are saying?Are our questions distinct, unique and authentic? Are our ideas offbeat or mockable? If yes, why does it matter? Are reputational concerns critical in the way we construct or perceive our questions? What is the journal’s reputation? What knowledge has value? What is natural? What is fair? (Bussey, 2013)
Questions such as are we mindful of the questions that we’ve been asking? Does the question allow us to create new spaces for learning, to grow, to be happy, to be contemplative, to be reflective, to be human and share our humanity? Does it help us cultivate our reputation? Does it help us cultivate reputational solidity, integrity, and scholarship?
Experiential Questioning (EQ) is a first hand experience. EQ based questions is a reflection, expression of the self or selves that is trying to create, re-create and expand itself. The impact could be cognitive, affective, spiritual, etc.
To paraphrase Richard Slaughter here it is the “very sense of self” that is responding and inquiring.
Creating Alternative Research Futures for NWU
And so we explored together and utilized the futures landscape, causal layered analysis and Schwartz scenario archetype to explore new opportunities for research development and to create alternative research agenda and futures for Northwestern University.
The focus was trans-disciplinary research and the aim was to create new insights by gaming it.
This is a part of a series of research workshops funded and supported by Northwestern University to explore new research areas and opportunities to deepen researchers knowledge, capacity and know-how.
The Futures Landscape
The knowability and governability of the future is a crucial issue to any institution or person who would want to learn, perceive or transform the future.
While the spectrum of “the future” are heterogenous, futures studies and futures research exist to empower people and communities to know the future better and to understand their implications to the present, to imagine alternative and create preferred futures.
We employed the Futures Landscape to audit who, what and where we are as researchers and as a research institution.
The futures landscape has four categories of the future: the jungle (survival of the fittest, risk-making, fortress mentality); chess-set (strategy can do wonders but the future could be on a stalemate, there are losers and winners in the game of life); the mountain tops (we have seen and experienced the vista of the way forward) and the star (the vision is actually reachable, it now has a detail and it is neither near nor too far).
Majority of the participants had university research in the “chess set” category. However, the preferred was the mountain top. Participants envisions to see and experience research as expanding, growing and always moving forward.
This gave us a conceptual or cognitive map on how researchers perceive themselves as researchers and the institution in the context of research in the future landscape.
Schwartz Scenario Archetypes
What do we really want to know? What research themes or topics can we fund or do? What decisions or issues will be helpful to us as persons, as a community, as human beings?
What factors – important and uncertain – could influence us and our decision-makers today to create the preferred research future? What are the possibilities? What are the what ifs? What are our scenarios? Which scenario do we prefer most? Afraid? Good? Bad scenarios?
Scenarios are not strategies nor they are predictions of the future. They are more like assumptions of alternative futures designed to champion possible risks and opportunities about specific strategic concerns (Schwartz, Ogilvy 2004). Scenarios are like movie scripts.
At a meta-level, they are a synthesis of different paths that lead to possible and plausible futures. They are a set of events or variables which helps in minimizing surprises and helps decision-makers expand thinking of diverse possibilities (Godet and Roubelat, 1996).
Using Schwartz Scenario Archetypes – best case, worst case, outlier, and business as usual – participants explored the futures of and tried imagining alternative futures:
1. Ilocano food – Oh My Gulay! (Worst Case), The Way We Were (Business as usual), Sulit.com/Sarap (Outlier), Wow! Pagkain (Best Case)
2. The future of Northwestern University enrollment and graduates – Most Wanted Avatar, Freedom University / IronMan (Best Case); Adopted U / I am a parasite (Outlier); Most Unwanted / No Choice (Worst Case); Today is Tomorrow / Juan Tamad (Business as Usual)
3. The future of the City Laoag and incidence of flooding – Noah’s Flood (Worst Case); Waterworld (Business as usual); City Resort (Outlier); Flood Free Laoag (Best Case)
4. The future of ship vessels in the Philippines (the incidence of ship crashing and collision was alarming) – Cruising on Seas (Best Case); Cap Net (Outlier); Titanic (Worst Case); In the Navy (Business as usual)
5. The future of academic learning.
Causal Layered Analysis
On the second day, the groups were introduced to causal layered analysis, one of several futures techniques used to inquire into the causes of phenomena – litany (the news headline, pop futures), systems (social and structural causes, systems), worldview (ideology, philosophy, epistemic) and myth/metaphor ( concerned with images, arts, the emotive dimensions of an issue).
The CLA incast expanded the range and meanings of the scenarios.
Different ways of knowing the futures of their preferred topics were explored. The vertical aspect of the scenarios were analyzed and a number of policy actions to create alternative and transformative research futures emerged.
The groups particularly the food futures group and the sea vessel group were serious about pursuing the research and to write an article like building a literature review and/or conceptual paper, a case study on the future of Ilocano food and ship safety in the Philippines.
The future of the city group contemplated on the possibility collaborating with the City of Laoag in particular the City Engineers and the City Environment Office to explore Laoag City alternative and preferred futures with flooding in mind.
The University Center for Research and Development will sponsor an institution-based research to explore alternative research futures for Northwestern University.
Some images from the two day workshop here:
Bussey, Marcus. Strategic Foresight Workshop Course Presentation. De La Salle University. 2012.
Cruz, Shermon. Personal notes on the two-day Gaming Research: Digital and Futures Research Basics at Northwestern University, 201 3.
Inayatullah, Sohail. Casual Layered Analysis: A Reader. Tamkang University Press. Taiwan. 2004.
International Foundation for Action Learning. Managing the Unknown through Questioning. Retrieved December 22 from http://ifal.org.uk/ . 2013
Slaughter, Richard. The Biggest Wake Up Call in History. Foresight International. Australia. 2010.
Aleriza, Hejazi.The Future of Evidence-based Futures Research. Retrieved on December 26 from http://www.wfs.org.blogs/alireza-hejazi/future-evidence-based-futures-research. 2013.
Schultz, Wendy. Infinite Futures. The Schwartz / GBN Approach Maximizing Focus. Retrieved on December 26 from http://www.infinitefutures.com/tools/sbschwartz.shtml. 1996.