Post-Haiyan Futures at ThinkTech Hawaii

Aloha kakahiaka!

Yesterday,  I got interviewed by John Sweeney, researcher and PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies for the Post-Haiyan futures segment of ThinkTech Hawaii, a digital media corporation based in Honolulu organized to raise public awareness on diversification, futures thinking, climate change, technology and energy.  John and I discussed a couple of plausible futures for the Philippines in a post-Haiyan scenario and explored some resilience myths that could change the way we perceive and anticipate disasters in a climate change era.

The interview  had me critically analyzing the implications of disaster risk reduction and management  manuals  and discuss national and local government dynamics and the role of political dynasties in performing disaster related activities in the aftermath of the powerful tropical cyclone that hit the Visayas region.

As of today, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reports that the death toll has reached 5,000 and counting and that there were 23,409 injured and 1, 600 missing.  The President of the Philippines, three days after the tropical cyclone impact, declared a state of calamity to fast track rescue operations and rehabilitate affected provinces. The trail of destruction was inconceivable and slew of warnings remain as the Philippines braces for Haiyan-like disasters and storm surges in the future.

New questions and insights emerged during the interview and noted some of them:

1. Do we need to move beyond the business as usual government manuals and idiot guidebooks to disaster risk and crisis management and adopt new models or develop emergent crisis capacity approaches responsive to third world contexts and low income communities?

2. We have to fix the roof while the sun is still shining and the cliche that necessity is the mother of all invention may not be appropriate for countries like the Philippines – a fragile and vulnerable island ecosystem in the Asia Pacific.

3. Cooperative and collaborative strategies is a must to withstand the physical, emotional, biological and psychological impact of disasters. If the government can’t do it, then we have to involve the private sector, the NGOs, the academics, the children, teachers and students, seek the help of the more technologically advanced countries and think labs to plan, prepare respond and respond to disasters.

4. What is resilience in a post-normal era?

5. What about grassroots innovations – Are cheap, dirt-based community prototypes effective in mitigating impact and casualties of disasters? If they are, then we need to create avenues for people to innovate, share their knowledge and network to increase safety and security in disaster prone areas.

5. Poverty amplifies the negative impact of disasters.  To counter and mitigate the impact of disasters in cash only worlds, providing jobs, sustaining local markets, keeping the prices of basic necessities accessible as possible and providing avenues for the most vulnerable to engage in real markets – local and global – can cushion the impact of disasters.

6. The role of remittances in cushioning the impact of disasters should be explored. It was noted that Haiyan relief and other responders needed cash to speed up their relief and rehabilitation efforts. Victims would ask for cash, water, food and medicine.  The government can only do so much as far as relief efforts are concerned and cash would help survivors recover faster and better in an after impact scenario. Government and international aids can only do so much. Providing opportunities for survivors to earn income should occur as possible.

7. As of today, the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub has posted a total of 414million$ dollars in pledged assistance (Rappler, 2013).

8. There is a need to increase government allocation for disaster response and strengthen local government capacity  and technology to respond to natural disasters and calamities.

9. Resilience is a long-term agenda and that there are no easy short-cuts to creating and building resilient communities against increasing incidence of tropical cyclones.

For more ThinkTech Hawaii interview here:

Scoping to Stimulate Novelty in Futures Practice and Collective Intelligence

n° 1392 colore2
Photo credit to UNESCO/Rockefeller Foundation @ the Bellagio Center, Italy

Last month the UNESCO Foresight Section in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation organized a five day global meet-up of foresight leaders to assess the feasibility of a UNESCO led global network to intensify anticipatory capacities and engagements at the global, regional and local levels. Held at the Sfondrata of the Rockefeller’s Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy, around 25 global foresight leaders participated in the global scoping exercise. The global network is expected to provide support to a broad range of communities of practices engaged in the emergent discipline of anticipation.

Foresight practitioners from the Philippines, Brazil, United Kingdom, United States, Ghana, Bulgaria, Tunisia, South Africa, Australia, India, South Korea, Egypt, Zealand, France, Poland, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium collaborated in groups to intensify efforts to advance the use of the future for decision-making.

This global foresight event was facilitated by Riel Miller, head of the UNESCO’s Foresight Section, Anthony Mckay, Illka Tuonen, Cindy Frewen and Sohail Inayatullah.

Futures Literacy, Communities-of-Practices and Knowledge Creation in a Learning Intensive Society

“Could a futures literate world better integrate the richness of novelty
and creativity into human agency, fostering agility and improvisation…?”
Riel Miller, 2013

Novelty, collective intelligence, futures literacy, the learning intensive society, our multiple selves and layers of thought, networking and experimentation, research, stories and their contexts, decision-making, resilience and socio-cultural transformation were the critical lexes that emerged in the five day Bellagio conference. With the hope of designing new approaches, tools and knowledge to strengthen anticipatory capacities at the global and local levels, the conference tackled the what, the how’s and why’s of anticipation as a new field of discipline. The event also explored how the emergent discipline of anticipation could play a key role in novelty and creative practice in the twenty first century. A variety of tangible initiatives and frameworks to advance futures literacy at the global and local levels would emerge in the week long scoping process. These initiatives would later warrant the idea of co-creating a UNESCO-led global network. The global network was designed to assist and link diverse communities-of-practices actively engaged in the discipline of anticipation.

The break out sessions and their outputs deepened the participants understanding of foresight practice and it challenged them to re-think and if possible re-frame foresight as a field of discipline and practice. While there were a lot of brilliant ideas that emerged in the conference, some of them are worth noting here:

• “The way we think and use the future today is a legacy that we leave our children.” Cultural traditions and indigenous stories are not just stories of the past that remembers and commemorates the trauma and transcendence of our ancestors. When heritage is reframed that is when we view (our) heritage from a futures perspective, our myths and metaphors could enrich the way we mean, narrate and use the future. The ‘spirit’ (the chi, the life-force, the essence) of their stories can help us anticipate, simulate and create the future better. When we capture the life-forces of these stories, new stories and metaphors could emerge. When we acknowledged their mythic and metaphorical narratives as essential, anticipation as field of discipline and practice becomes more grounded and responsive to people and society’s aspirations and needs – intellectual, emotional, and even spiritual levels. The stories of the future or futures practice should at least mirror or better yet reflect how ‘time’ plays out in the moment. (Cruz, Gotseva-Yordanova, Meek 2013).

• “The future is a learning journey. It is an asset, a resource and a narrative waiting to be employed.” Having a multiple perspective about the future is crucial to imagining the future differently. When we view the future interpretively and critically, we learn that ‘the truth’, ‘the real’ and ‘the future’ are created or are anchored on some social constructions – language, culture, power knowledge and episteme. Hence future practitioners must always be ‘aware’ or ‘present’ on how the real and the future is perceived and used. Thus, to create an alternative future or use the future differently, we should acknowledged the existence of other ‘real’ worlds as reality and the future are socially and linguistically constructed. Language is not transparent or value neutral. Language is opaque and it could color reality and the future in particular ways of knowing (Inayatullah, 2013; Inayatullah, 2007). Our cultural realities and worldviews inform the way we perceive and make sense of the future.

• “Our universe is “creative” in the sense that novelty happens” even before we become aware of it. The discipline of anticipation (DoA), with its various tools and methods can strengthen our capacity to locate and make sense of novelty. The nature and role of DoA while it remains patchy plays an essential role in the social sciences. As a field of knowledge, DoA undertakes an exploration and transmittal of knowledge at different levels of reality. It enriches our understanding and experience of anticipation. To Poli (2013) while anticipation is pervasive there are specific anticipatory processes that can be use to enrich our understanding and experience of change, novelty, social and policy analysis. DoA proposes for a more systematic, and specialized approach to imagining the future. The issue of disciplinarity in the field of anticipation, the exploration of some criteria, and accountability in futures practice among others are the concerns of DoA.

• Futures Literacy (FL) like language literacy involves the acquisition of knowledge and skills required to imagine and use the future differently. FL is the basic knowledge and skills on how to use the future. FL assumes familiarity to tacit and explicit anticipatory processes (i.e. optimization (privileges causal-predictive methods and actively extrapolates the future with the past; amenable future), contingency (future is perceive and use to prepare an institution from possible and expected shocks) and novelty (making sense of emergence; future is use to locate and create novel and innovative futures) (Miller, Poli and Rossel, 2013).

• Communities of practices or CoPs is an important unit of analysis and intervention in learning and knowledge creation (Tuomi, 2013). Its different interpretations and modalities could inform UNESCO’s approach to setting up regional workshops. CoP is a social unit or group whose members define themselves as members of the same community of practice (Tuomi quoting Wave here, 2013). Communities of practices is where socially important forms of learning occur. It is also where the amateurs learn from the experts. CoP’s can also be an epistemic community wherein members have a shared worldview and set of core concepts and values. Their ‘shared meaning’ is what keeps their community intact as a social unit (Tuomi, 2013).

CoP’s would evolve later on when Wenger went on to commercialize the concept. Wenger would reframe CoPs to a shared repertoire of mutual engagement and joint enterprise. Here the concept of heterogeneous community would emerge. These communities would interact and collaborate on the basis of classification systems. In a joint enterprise, communities are organized on the basis that they are mutually engaged to pursue a similar or shared objective. In project teams and project based communities, they are able to develop their own identity. People with project identities have a mission to achieve. Project identities are an emergent social structure and are organized towards change where mutual engagement and joint enterprise co-exist with social learning and shared practice. Ilkka’s recommendation is relevant: “Another possibility would be to focus on an emerging community that has a project…it would be possible to support such an emerging community, for example, by providing it with improved tools for futures literacy and new conceptual frameworks for anticipation.”

• A learning intensive society occurs when creativity, novelty, invention, authenticity and innovation becomes a worldview and informs the way we produce, design, and share knowledge at the system and litany levels of reality. Also known as the wisdom culture, these societies are empowered and are capable of birthing new world of intelligence and realities. Here people use imagination and intuition to create alternative worlds. Learning intensive societies are societies that integrate well collective intelligence and the discipline of anticipation to build hybrid and high breed wisdoms in order for new lifestyles and creative technologies to emerge. Beyond automation, machines, nanotechnologies, and knowledge acquisition, these societies are deeply engaged in the effort to advance the wisdom culture, to recover the spiritual self, the ‘perennial tradition’ that was lost centuries ago. The higher order of imperatives reconceptualizes relations between people, technology, and nature.


The Futures Literacy UKnow-lab Local Scoping Exercises

The futures literacy UNESCO UKnow Lab Process was designed to engage local participants to a futures conversation to understand the present and anticipate the future better. It aims to take advantage of local participants’ knowledge, interests and assumptions of the future. It does this by eliciting participants’ aspirational values and explicit anticipatory assumptions to imagine the future. The project is created to raise awareness and build participants capacity to use the future and spur creativity

Implementation Roadmap

A number of organizations and countries have indicated their interest and presented their initial project designs to hold local scoping exercises. These are the Philippines, Sierra Leone, the Association of Professional Futurist, Brazil, South Africa and Tunisia.

The conference discussed the basic guidelines for LSE implementation.

Causal Layered Analysis and Macrohistory

In the first and fourth day of the conference, Sohail Inayatullah facilitated a Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) and Macrohistory game/workshop. CLA is a futures tool used by futures researchers and practitioners to explore the past and the present to create alternative futures at different levels of reality. CLA as a method allows participants to integrate logically different ways of knowing including non-textual and poetic expressions in the futures analysis process (Inayatullah, 2013; 2007).

CLA’s four layers of analysis are: litany – these are the news headlines and the soundbites; systems – these are the STEEP or INSPECT factors, it explores systems causes and enablers; worldview – it is concerned with discourse and worldview analysis, enables participants to make sense of framing to foster a shared understanding of an issue. It deconstructs the litany and systems levels; myth and metaphor – here the deep stories, individual and collective archetypes emerge. This level is more concerned with metaphors and images. It allows for a richer and deeper understanding of an issue, it provides the resilience test to strategies/discourses and enables participants to imagine and design transformative futures.

To Inayatullah (2013), a deeper understanding of the deeper plausible patterns of history is imperative to long-term thinking and futures studies. Macrohistory helps decision-makers to gain a broader picture of an issue particularly crises (Inayatullah, 2007). It focuses on the weight of history (what could not and has not change) and locates the deeper structures that define the limits of the future (Inayatullah, 2007). Inayatullah briefly immersed the group to the field of macrohistory by discussing the concepts of time and progress of a number macrohistorians such as Ibn Khaldun, PR Sarkar, Pitirim Sorokin, Nikolai Kardashev, Augustu Comte, Riane Esler. Inayatullah also facilitated the Sarkar game developed by Peter Hayward and Joseph Voros. The game further deepened the conversation on the future of foresight, the futurist ethics and role in development and progress, the value of space and time, choices, social learning and social innovation, legacy and leadership, needs and responsibilities among others.

Implementation Challenges, Making Choices and Next Steps

At the closing plenary, the group discussed the next steps and reiterated a number of concerns and challenges such as: UNESCO’s commitment to spearhead and make the global network work (the conversation on the nature, content and operational specifics of the global network should continue); funding issues (global, regional and local levels); the need to create and generate more responsive research questions and design; monitoring and evaluation; local scoping exercises proposals and concept papers; the creation of a web based tool to enhance collaboration, transparency and interaction of collaborate to assist proponents of local scoping exercise project design and implementation, etc.


Cruz, Shermon. Notes, background papers, project documents and other references on the global meeting/conference regarding “Networking to Improve Global/Local Anticipatory Capacities – A Scoping Exercise”. May 20-24, 2013. Bellagio Center, Bellagio, Italy.

Cruz, Shermon. Powerpoint on the Futures of Child Trafficking in the Philippines: A Futures Literacy UKnow Lab Local Scoping Exercises Proposal. May 2013. Bellagio Center, Bellagio, Italy.

Inayatullah, Sohail. Questioning the Future: Methods and Tools for Organizational and Societal Transformation. 2007. Tamkang University Press. Taiwan.

Miller, Riel. UNESCO Advanced Seminar: Recent Developments in Futures Thinking: Connecting Foresight to Decision-making. 2009. Xperidox Futures Consulting. France.

Watson, Richard and Freeman, Oliver. Futurevision: Scenarios for the world in 2040. 2012. Scribe Publications. Australia.

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.