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Futures Literacy with UNESCO Bangkok for Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union (LYU) held at the LYU’s headquarters in Vientiane Capital, Lao PDR.

“If you want to change or transform world, you have to ask better questions”

UNESCO Bangkok in partnership with the Center for Engaged Foresight organized a workshop on Data Analysis and Youth Policy Development in LAO PDR. The Futures Literacy and Policy Visioning Workshop was facilitated by the Center for Engaged Foresight with UNESCO.

This briefly presents the preferred futures, visions and priorities that resulted from a two-day futures literacy/policy visioning (FL) workshop for the Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union (LYU) held at the LYU’s headquarters in Vientiane Capital, Lao PDR.

The workshop introduced and integrated futures literacy (FL) to UNESCO’s youth policy development for LAO PDR. The participants learned and used the future by employing select anticipatory tools and methods to question, explore, anticipate, imagine and design preferred youth policy visions on five thematic areas: education, health, employment, protection and participation. The methods used includes experiential questioning and shared history, futures wheel analysis, HMW (how might we) point of view statements for brainstorming, futures triangle, scenarios, designing prototypes and policy identification/prioritization tools.

The workshop concluded with five preferred future visions and prototypes including initial policy priorities complimenting LYU’s national youth development agenda, UNESCO’s Guidance Framework for Youth Policy Development and Agenda for Mainstreaming Gender Equality and Social Inclusion into Youth Policies: 1) Playground for Inclusion Aka Playground for Kids (Participation); 2) My Home: Call 1-4-5-4 (Protection); 3) Happy Health, Easy App (Health); 4) Just Click! (Employment); 5) Digital Learning for Kids and Inclusion in Laos (Education).

Context and Methodology 

What are Lao youth hopes and fears? What are they struggling with? What are their needs? What does the future mean to them? What are their images of the future? What are their future visions? How might a preferred future of employment, health, education, participation and protection look like to a Lao youth?  How might they articulate their envisioned futures? What are the steps they can take to achieve their preferred visions of the future?

These questions among others were explored during the futures literacy (FL) and policy visioning workshop organized by UNESCO Bangkok in collaboration with the Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union (LYU) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to explore, discuss and shape Lao Youth futures/policy visions in five thematic areas: education, health, employment, protection and participation.

To ensure rigor and relevance in answering these questions, anticipatory processes and tools were used: 1) experiential questioning and shared history to deconstruct and explore the present and to remember the past; 2) futures wheel analysis to anticipate the implications and impacts of the current reality or the default future, continuing; 3) questioning the default future via short HMW (how might we) point of view statements for brainstorming opportunities and solutions; 4) the futures triangle to map the drivers and trends, the barriers that resist change and Lao youth future visions; 5) scenarios, to imagine and storify the future; 6) designing a prototype via co-creating proof of concepts of the envisioned futures and 7) the identification of specific actionable steps, feasible, doable policy priorities/programs to create the preferred future.

As a segment of the four-day workshop on Data Analysis and Youth Policy Development in Lao PDR, the futures literacy/policy visioning session sought to impart knowledge of key FL concepts, application of anticipatory techniques including demonstration of anticipatory processes to agenda setting and policy formulation. The FL – policy visioning workshop had these objectives:

  1. Train young participants on key FL concepts, anticipatory processes and application of futures tools and techniques;
  2. Make use of the future to anticipate, imagine and design preferred futures;
  3. Learn the basics of policy visioning and prioritization.

To meet these objectives, the engaged foresight (EF) method was employed. The EF method is a solutions-centric and simulation driven approach to futures thinking. The aim is to provoke in participants to question the future critically and to imagine possible, probable and preferred futures. Through creative action learning via prototypes, participants are expected to create a model, storify their envisioned futures. The building of prototypes enables creators to validate their ideas potential for real world application.

Imagining the Preferred and Co-Creating Prototypes

“your home will always be the place for which you feel the deepest affection, no matter who you are and where you are” and  “home is where the heart is”

For this session, participants were asked to deliberate, to further imagine, create stories and develop prototypes of their plausible preferred futures of health, education, participation, employment and protection in Lao PDR.  Leveraging from their outputs of the previous futures literacy sessions, participants were given guide questions to facilitate conversation: what do we want the future to be like? what is your plausible preferred future to the future of their assigned topics.

Shared Visions, Valuing Compassion and Proactive Engagement

“Investing in young people is investing in the future”

The future is awesomely bright for LAO PDR as young people are expected to play a greater role in shaping the futures of health, education, participation, employment and protection in Lao. The current focus and targets to provide young friendly services, the championing and integration of inclusion and diversity in government programs and initiatives, the acceptance and recognition of LGBTI, the PWDs, the disadvantaged and the marginalized, the capability training and up-skilling of youth leaders among others will in many ways impact how the Lao youth will address these challenges in the immediate future.  As more young people are expected to engage in the years it is likely that they demand for greater participation and engagement. A critical turnaround could occur on how Lao society in general value young people’s ideas, opinions and leadership. These could be triggered by emerging digital and social technologies and network platforms that makes access to opportunities and social transformation engagements easier. The insights and output of the futures literacy and policy visioning workshop offered three critical insights crucial to the success of achieving Lao youth preferred futures and priorities in the short term:

1) A Shared Vision of the Future. What was obvious during the FL workshop and their outputs were the groups complimenting each other’s assumptions and envisioned futures. Their full protection, the observance of basic human rights, the need to recognize young people’s urgent needs and requirements, inclusion and diversity should be central to national youth policy development. Failure to recognize and realize these fundamental rights may lead to youth unhappiness, depression and suicide. If the youth is the future then all stakeholders must invest to ensure that young people issues and interests are championed at all levels. The shared vision preferred includes creating safe spaces to engage them in village and community decisions, to speak up without reservation and to listen with compassion. The awareness of the need to recognize that others have special needs and that each person is unique in terms of gender orientation, ethnicity, capacity and status, etc. must be acknowledged. Existing government services and future initiatives should recognize these differences. One of the group championed a multiple door policy or health service access to cater the needs and sensitivities of disadvantaged. Guaranteeing the access and equal opportunities for each sector are important. A shared vision energizes, it provides direction to current efforts, it is an inspiration that drives young people to work for a better and brighter future for all;

2) Valuing Compassion. Relentless compassion and relieving human suffering is key to creating alternative and preferred futures. Insight was for Lao youth, kindness and compassion is effective public policy. Compassion articulates, drives and attracts institutional buy-in.  Lao youth are motivated by empathy and love. Compassion and love drives them to civic duty, to commit for public interest sake. They feel that they will succeed and will persist if there is compassion. The home was central to one of the groups envisioned future. The inner story felt like “your home will always be the place for which you feel the deepest affection, no matter who you are and where you are” and  “home is where the heart is” was instructive. A group envisioned to establish “MyHome” centers in all the 148 districts in Lao PDR.

  1. Proactive Engagement. Where training ends, proactive engagement begins. Once the vision is set and priorities identified, LYU must develop a plan to convince end-users and policy stakeholders to opt-in. As champions, they must inspire adoption and bring in others – the rural village and communities – to the conversation. New futures require new metrics and development indicators. Building networks and sustaining partnerships will drive better outcome and sustainability is key in the long-run. Proactive engagement is an opportunity for LYU members to build stronger relationships. Timing and persistence is critical for a successful policy program.
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With Mayor Jason Almonte and the local government officials of Oroquieta City. For more about the City. Check this – http://oroquietacity.gov.ph/

What will the city of Oroquieta be like in the year 2030? What are the people’s hopes and fears? Are there alternatives to a business as usual future? What is the city’s preferred future? What is the city’s transformed future? Which future do they wish to become a reality? What steps can the city take to trigger emerging alternatives and create a transformed future for the city and its people? Is the city moving in the right direction?

Are existing platforms, policies, programs and framework flexible, adaptive? Is the economy responsive to local demands and needs? What are the drivers and factors that might influence the city’s future? How can we engage the youth to participate in the creation of alternative and transformed future?

Can it re-envision the Good Life? Is it authentic? Transformative? Meaningful? What are the indicators of a Good Life for Oroquieta City? What type of values and leadership models could kick start and sustain the vision of a Good Life? How can we legitimize the Good Life? Are there existing socio-economic-political models, best practice and local experiences that could support, expand or extend the concept of the Good Life?

These are some of the interesting and provocative questions that emerged in the 3day Futures Literacy and PROUT workshop attended by the local government officials of Oroquieta City.

Futures Thinking and PROUT Workshop

Facilitated by Shermon Cruz, Director Center for Engaged Foresight and Dada Dharmavedananda, PROUT Maharlika and monk of Ananda Marga, the City of Oroquieta organized an introductory futures thinking, strategy development and PROUT workshop to explore alternative futures for the city. The workshop and applied a variety of techniques/methodologies  in PROUT and Strategic Foresight to identify potential drivers and influencers  that may shape the city’s alternative and transformed futures.

Shermon Cruz gave a briefer on Futures Thinking and Strategy Development and facilitated foundational futures workshop to map, anticipate, question and imagine possible, probable and plausible city futures. Dada Dharmavedananda linked the participants output by questioning the alternatives and to address specific sectoral issues that may disrupt and transform Oroquieta’s future.

Videos on Futures Thinking and PROUT were shared to the participants to inform and deepen the context of the 3 day workshop.

Futures Literacy, Futures Thinking and Strategy Development

According to the OECD (2016), Futures Thinking and Strategy Development is an emerging policy and governance applied by global governance institutions, public and private institutions, the academia, non-government and people organizations, social movements among others to map, anticipate and create  alternative and preferred futures. Futures tools and workshops aims to stimulate strategic dialogue, widen understanding of possibilities, strengthens leadership and informed decision-making.

Futures Thinking in public policy and governance uses a multidisciplinary approach to pierce the veil of received opinion and identify the dynamics that are creating the future. A variety of methods – qualitative, quantitative, normative, and exploratory – can help governments illuminate the possibilities, outline policy choices, and assess the alternatives (OECD, 2016).

Futures Triangle on the other hand is a tool invented by Sohail Inatullah to to map three narratives of time – the past, present and future in context.

The PUSHED OF THE PRESENT: quantitative drivers and trends; THE WEIGHT OF HISTORY: challenges, issues, barriers and narratives prohibiting and/or restricting preferred futures and PULLS OF THE FUTURE, these are the compelling images and preferred futures (Inayatullah, 2010) .

 CAUSAL LAYERED ANALYSIS (CLA)

CLA is a technique used in strategic planning and futures studies to more effectively shape the future. Causal layered analysis works by identifying many different levels, and attempting to make synchronized changes at all levels to create a coherent new future.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causal_layered_analysis)

Inayatullah’s original paper as well as his TEDx talk[4] identifies four levels of reality: The litany: This includes quantitative trends, often exaggerated and used for political purposes. The result could be a feeling of apathy, helplessness, or projected action. Social causes, including economic, cultural, political, and historical factors. Wordlview/Discourse: Structure and the discourse that legitimizes and supports the structure. Metaphor and myth are the emotive and unconscious dimensions of the issue. The deepest layer looks at the foundational myths, metaphors and archetypes that influence the unconscious and/or emotional undertone beneath the issues.

After understanding the layered causes of an issue, the method suggests looking at alternatives – either within each layer or beginning with a new myth/metaphor and working up through the layers to create an alternative scenario. From this alternate scenario, new possibilities can be distilled and translated into solutions, policies, and other types of actions that one can begin implementing in the present. (Source: https://libarynth.org/futurist_fieldguide/causal_layered_analysis)

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Futures Workshop Output

Participants mapped the pulls, pushes and weights of the city’s future. These drivers could well influence the Oroquieta’s future:

  • Transport (public and private)
  • Traffic and Congestion
  • Investment (local and global)
  • Poverty
  • Unemployment
  • Sports, Health and Wellness
  • Climate Change Risk and Disaster Management
  • Digitization and automation of the City’s business processes
  • Inadequate Resources (financial and non-financial)
  • Land Use Plan
  • Culture and traditions
  • Life expectancy
  • In-migration
  • Integrity and Branding
  • Grants and Aids
  • Conflicting values and priorities

The pulls, pushes and weights could reframe, redefine the context of city’s plausible future: The City of Good Life.

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Influencers to the City of Oroquieta

Deepening the discussion, Shermon Cruz  asked some provocative questions to participants to facilitate the reframing process: What is the city’s definition of good life? What does it mean to experience or to have a good life in Oroquieta? What are the indicators of a good life, at the personal, organizational, city, societal levels, in Oroquieta? What are its success indicators? Is Oroquieta’s version of the Good Life authentic? Transformative? Unique? Responsive to local context, development, growth , values and culture? Using INSPECT method, what are our good life indicators and/or innovation in ideas, nature, social, political, economy, culture and technology? How do we integrate the good life in Oroquieta’s programs, policies, events and activities? How do we storify the good life (health and wealth? Well-being? Work-Life balance? Preventive health care? Employment?)? What’s the narrative of good life for Oroquieta in the now and the future – City of Good Life 2030?

Causal Layered Analysis

Issue #1: 37% Poverty Incidence (2017)         Issue  #2: 20% Unemployment Rate (2017)

The Causal Layered Analyis gave the participants the space to deconstruct two interlinked sectoral challenges that may prohibit Oroquieta’s vision of the good life: poverty and unemployment.

Using CLA, participants deconstructed and reconstructed poverty and unemployment in Oroquieta 2023. Causal layered analysis works by identifying many different levels, and attempting to make synchronized changes at all levels to create a coherent new future.

Below are the workshops CLA output.

CLACity of Good Life: Negotiation as a Way Forward

The Sarkar Game is used to help individuals and organisations better understand macrohistory and the structured shape of the future(s) as well as to audit the leadership style of their own organisations or institutions (Inayatullah, 2013). Participants were divided into four social groups namely the laborers/workers, warriors, intellectuals and merchants/capitalist class. The game was facilitated by Shermon Cruz. Groups were given a script, tools and were asked to play their role according to the script.

In this game, the workers with the help the intellectuals emerged as winners given that they were able to establish and legitimize the call for fair wages. The merchants failed to bribe their way in as they failed to influence the intellectuals and warriors to threaten and/or shoot the workers. Merchants would give in to the workers’ demands when intellectuals acknowledged worker rights for fair wages and the military to keep the peace. All of the groups were willing to negotiate to keep the peace, the vision alive and achieve justice for all.

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Sarkar Game for the LGU officials. “We will protect the city no matter what. Key is negotiation to for us to move forward” said Mayor Almonte

 

Is the future colonized? Are Asian leadership, management systems and innovation informed by patriarchal worldviews? What would governance and Asian leadership look like beyond the rule of big men? Can gender or women narratives disrupt how Asians perceive the future? What are the ties that binds, that unites Asia in the 21st century? Can Asia innovate or would it remain, despite technological growth and economic advances, a copy cat? Can Asia disrupt the factory model and create a socio-politic-economic model that champions a non-linear, emergent model of society (i.e philosophy, values, diversity, community, heterogeneity, culture, women, children and family that drives social transformation)? How do Asian futurist imagine the futures of Asia? What are the alternative, plausible futures of Asia?  Can Asia create a new story for Asia?

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The 3rd Asia Pacific Futures Network International Conference, Seoul, South Korea. Photo source: Science and Technology Policy Institute, South Korea.  (Note: The little kid in the middle, surrounded by futurist around the world is my son Sanjeev Cruz. Its his first international conference and happy that it was with the APFN) All smiles here 🙂

These among others the participants of the 3rd Asia Pacific Futures Network explored through lectures, paper presentations, workshops and games, keynotes for three days. The conference dubbed as “Creating New Stories for Asia: Beyond the Factory and Rule of Big Men” deconstructed and explored alternative and plausible discourses and worldviews that might disrupt or challenge the so-called factories and rule of big men. The big men concept could might as well be a product of a belief or society subscribing to the Chinese narrative “Let the father act like a father and the son act like a son” , “Great One”, “The Great Leader”, “The Chosen One” types of societal, political, economic, leadership and organizational models. This created a tradition some sort of closed elitism in Asia.

Organized and sponsored by the Science and Technology Policy Institute of South Korea, the Asia Pacific Futures Network and the Korean Association of Futures Studies, the 3rd APFN conference was participated in by futurists and development managers from Iran, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Philippines, South Korea, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Dubai to Thailand, Japan, the United States and Singapore to name a few. The conference was held at the National information Society Agency in Seoul South Korea.

The conference was opened by a welcome and keynote speech from Jong-kuk Song, President STEPI and Sohail Inayatullah, UNESCO Chair in Futures Studies.

The conference kickstarted with a plenary on why we got together in South Korea and politics for Asia? Jeanne Hoffman, Tamkang University presented her paper on Taiwan Trap: Rethinking Taiwan and China Futures, our very own Shermon Cruz, Center for Engaged Foresight, on the Futures of the South China Sea and Data-Driven Future Strategy: Korean Approach by Jong Sung Hwang, National Information Society Agency, South Korea.

Morning parallel sessions tackled Alternative Futures to Technology-driven Asia and Doing Different Asia. Varied topics on Artificial Intelligence, Mobile Gaming, Ethereum and Singapore Ready projects were presented in the afternoon session by Michael Jackson, Naohiro Shichijo,  Keke Hsian Mei Quei, Cheryl Chung, Shubangi Gokhale and Patricia Kelly.

Afternoon sessions. Shermon Cruz chaired the panel Young Foresight in Asia and featured the works of Nur Anisah Abdullah, Dennis Morgan and Shakil Ahmed on futures studies in UAE and South Korea. Shakil work delved on questioning the factory model in Bangladesh and envisioning  alternative education futures.

The parallel afternoon session was moderated by Meimei Song. Ivana Milojevic, Yuzilawati Abdullah, Puruesh Chaudary presented their works on on Brunei and Pakistan Futures Initiatives.

Lesson learned on the first day. To thrive and make futures as a discipline, a profession and as an art, to make it relevant and significant to various sectors and industries in Asia requires constant effort, communication and campaign to demonstrate that futures and foresight enables people and organizations, nations and actors to imagine alternatives, recognize blind spots, to design new opportunities for organization and social transformation. Futures thinking like design while playful and iterative is prototype-driven, anticipatory and collaborative.

These are some of the questions, insights and keywords that came up at the end of the first day sessions that may require further study/discussion:

  1. Ethical Authoritarianism – “father knows best”, “confucian worldview”, “the tao perspective of leadership”, “datu”
  2. Peer to peer platform in Asia – is it possible?
  3. International day of failure – overcoming the fear of failure can inspire creative work
  4. Refresh and invigorate – as futurist how can we refresh and invigorate the work of others?
  5. Are we futurist learning, perceiving in a better way?
  6. Can we leave up to the expectation?

The 2nd day begun with the welcome and congratulatory remarks from Kwang Hyung Lee, President of the Korea Futures Studies Association and Byung-jo Suh, President of the National Information Agency of South Korea. Their remarks focused on the critical role of futurist and futures studies to an emerging Asia; that new discourses and imaginings are crucial to creating a better or perhaps an Asia that drives global peace, human-centered or driven robotic, AI technologies and progress.

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3rd Asia Pacific Futures Network International Conference. Photo by STEPI 2017. Seoul, South Korea.

Parallel sessions were held to discuss city futures, the 4th industrial revolution, futures and foresight at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies including hands on workshops on the integrated visioning methods, civic education and community building and game futures.

To conclude, this conference sought to bring about a greater clarity  and understanding on the different phases of development, worldviews, priorities and leadership futures in the Asia Pacific. As all Asian nations aspire to reinvent the wheel, new futures and new possibilities also emerge.

Below are the conference acton photos courtesy of STEPI –

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Shermon Cruz, Center for Engaged Foresight, courtesy of STEPI. 2017.

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Michael Jackson, Shaping Tomorrow Network, courtesy of STEPI 2017

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Nur Anissah Abduallah, Strathclyde Business School, courtesy of STEPI

 

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Naohiro Shichijo, Tokyo University of Technology, Photo courtesy of STEPI

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How can Futures studies in Asia be different from Western offerings? How can it be localized in native languages, ways of knowing, and experiences? Can Asian futures, if such a thing exists, address emerging challenges, raise new questions, and disrupt systems of knowledge and power as they currently exist? What capacities exist to create and enhance futures thinking? How can Asian philosophies, cultures, and experiences shape alternative flavors of Futures Studies and practices? What ought to be the thrusts of an Asia Pacific Futures Network (hereafter APFN)? What types of educational models and researches should it pursue? How can the APFN make itself relevant to an emerging field and respond to an increasing demand of futures and foresight in Asia and the world? What changes within the field and practice of futures and foresight can occur and might ensue by creating the APFN? What ought to be APFN’s priorities, goals and measures of success? How can Asia innovate and take the lead in Futures Studies?

Flavors of Practice: Developing the Asia Pacific Futures Network Conference Report by Shermon Cruz, John Sweeney and Mohammadali Baradaran out on the Journal of Futures Studies. Report link http://jfsdigital.org/2016-2/vol-21-no-1-sep-2016/report/flavors-of-practice-developing-the-asia-pacific-futures-network/