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.








Strategic Approaches to the Future: Explorations in Institutional and Personal Development

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Strategic Approaches to the Future: Explorations in Institutional and Personal Development, February 26-27, 2013, International House-Northwestern University, Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, Philippines

Envisioning the future is something that we all regularly do.

We like to anticipate or forecast the future by creating models and scenarios rooted in the empirical and the critical. Our future outlook in most cases is shaped by our life perspectives, social contexts, and personal experiences.

In recent times, however, with the advent of technology, one has to digest vast amounts of information to be able to determine the issues that might shape our individual and collective future. While data and technology is useful, there are other issues that are beyond or outside current paradigms.

These may, if properly explored, provide new inputs and could, if applied strategically, transform how we create knowledge, strategy, plans, and budgets. In a world that is experiencing rapid shifts in culture, social patterns and mindsets, the way individuals perceive and interpret the world (worldviews) plays a significant role in strategic development.

The inner signals of change and the need to construct a sense of self are an emerging narrative and approach in institutional and personal development. The importance of authenticity, creativity and self-transformation is expected to drive growth in the 21st century.

This two day workshop will impart some of the most powerful exploratory devices, concepts, and strategies in strategic futures practice. It aims to capacitate individuals and organizations to explore many aspects of their future.

The focus is to enable participants to design their own personal and institutional pathways and enhance their foresight capacities for adaptive response and strategic renewal in their organizations.

The Center for Engaged Foresight, De La Salle University Manila, Northwestern University, Futures Evocative Australia and the Gogol Project collaborates and happy to invite everyone to join and learn from each other! For inquiries email please email us at or contact us at 0947-963-9858.

Navigating Plausible and Preferred Philippine Futures: Report on the CEF Strategic Foresight and Futures Thinking Course

Philippine Futures Circa 1999

Thirteen years ago, the 16th World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF) Global Conference the Futures of Diversity: Celebrating Life and Complexities in the Next 100 Years  was held in the Philippines. According to George Aguilar (2001), the conference revolved around two themes: the need for maintaining ecological diversity and retain cultural diversity for the survival of the human species (physical, mental and spiritual) amidst the onset of globalization.

The event inspired a number of Filipino professors, corporate executives, consultants, community organizers, social activists and cultural creatives to join the WFSF. The Philippines would host the World Futures Studies Federation Secretariat from 1999 to 2002. Cesar Villanueva would serve in the WFSF Executive Committee and was elected to the WFSF board. The year 1999 and onwards was, perhaps, the emerging years of Philippine futures studies.

The Futures of Philippine Futures Studies

Last year, I had the opportunity to catch up with Cesar as one of the course directors (the other being Jim Dator) of the futures studies course organized by the WFSF at the Right Livelihood College, Universiti of Sains Malaysia in Penang. Cesar had a lot to say about Philippines futures, “while there were some gains in the past and a resurgence of interest on futures in the Philippines,  the country remain pallid when it comes to futures. When compared to Malaysia and Singapore, the Philippines need to do more on this area.” Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia are now strategic foresight hotspots in the Asia pacific.

That day, I tried to scan the web for futures or foresight related events in the Philippines. To my surprise, Cesar was right.  I learned that there were only a few articles and events in the Philippines that were related to strategic foresight and futures thinking. There was a dearth of academic and industrial research or papers that employed foresight methods,  and, I could not find a report, document or essay published on a major or minor journal, or presented in a conference, government reports, blogs, etc. on the net. There might be some articles or presentations but these may not have not been posted or shared online.

The lack of a Philippine futures portal and a local based blog sites and websites, lack of a futures literacy and education, I assume, might have restricted Filipino access to and interest to strategic foresight. The absence of a futures community and futures discourse may have  confined “the futures” discourse to a few elite corporations, consultancies,  academics and  experts in the Philippines.

I was fortunate, however, to find a couple of articles and essays related to Philippine futures thinking.

Sohail Inayatullah’s essay entitled Alternative Futures in the Philippines written in the 1990s is an excellent read. It mapped possible, plausible and preferred futures in the Philippines. Tony Stevenson’s essay entitled Courage and Resilience: Creating Filipino Futures is also a must read. Stevenson explored the past, present and democracy futures in the Philippines. The typhoon was used as a metaphor to encapsulate the Philippine experience to democracy and alternative futures.  Cesar Villanueva’s paper entitled Beyond Typhoon and Earthquakes: An Eagle’s Eyes of the Futures of Asian Development and Cultures is highly recommended. The article entitled “Futures Thinking” written by Florangel Rosario Braid urged Philippine public and private sectors to integrate futures thinking in management and decision-making.

Short-Term Orientation versus Long-Term Orientation

As I deepened my search, I was lucky to find Geert Hoffstedes’ research on long-term orientation. Hoffstede learned that Filipinos were more short-term than long-term oriented. Hoffstede, a social psychologist, had the values of persistence (perseverance), the ordering of relationship by status, thriftiness, and having a sense of shame as long-term oriented values. These values according to Hoffstede are future oriented, pragmatic and more dynamic.

Society’s that slopes towards the values of personal steadiness and stability, protecting your face, respect for tradition and reciprocation of favors, greetings and gifts were short term oriented. These values according to Hoffstede are geared towards the past and the present, hence, were more static, inert, or unchanging.

The Philippines was placed in the category of countries with high short-term orientation. China, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and South Korea were considered societies with high long term orientation.

Navigating Plausible and Preferred Philippine Futures

The deep conversations I had with Jose Ramos and constant email exchanges with Sohail Inayatullah, Cesar Villanueva, Stuart Candy, Anwar Fazal and MeiMei Song solidified my plan to establish the Center for Engaged Foresight (CEF).

This year, the CEF organized a two-day course on futures thinking, public policy and strategic foresight. Jose Ramos, a senior consulting editor at the Journal of Futures Studies and professor at the National University of Singapore and I course facilitated the workshop. The  course was able to generate new insights and we had a very intensive and interactive  strategic foresight workshop.

The course explored some plausible and preferred Philippine futures on:

a. Philippine Democracy
b. Corruption and Good Governance
c. Environment, Mining and Law Enforcement
d. Local Language, Higher Education and the Call Center Industry

Identifying Strategic Domains of Governance

These issues were known through the process of “speed dating”. In the speed dating activity, participants were requested to identify and write in a sheet of paper at least two major issues they considered “wicked problems”. Wicked problems are problems that are by nature difficult to solve due to the complexity of the problem (its multidimensional or strangulated causes makes it difficult to resolve). The participants were asked to find a partner who was interested on a similar issue or with the same wicked problem in mind.The partners worked on their issues and applied different foresight techniques and methods to unpack the causes and solutions.

Philippine Democracy Scenarios and Alternative Futures

Applying the emerging issues analysis and double-variable method to scenario building, the group explored the possible, plausible and preferred Philippine democracy futures.

The issue was political dynasty. The background was that politics in the Philippines has been under the control of few notable families. It has been regular or perhaps normal in the Philippines for a politician’s son, wife, brother, sister and relatives to run in the same office and assume other government offices (appointed or elected). This wicked problem was the day’s news headline and the news reported that civil society groups, people’s organizations and academics urged the congress to legislate an anti-political dynasty law.

Table 1 is a synopsis of the group output on Philippine democracy scenarios with political dynasty as the wicked problem. A more in-depth exploration of Philippine Democracy futures will be presented in a separate article.

Table 1. Philippine Democracy Scenarios pdf

Corruption and Governance

Corruption and weak governance was the second wicked problem explored by the participants. As a group, it employed causal layered analysis to deconstruct the causes and solutions to corruption and weak governance.

The context was the Philippines ranked as 129th out of 183 most corrupt countries in the world by the Transparency International. The corruption perception index slightly improved from 134th last year. The improve ranking was attributed to President Aquino’s Anti-Corruption agenda. The TI survey looks at factors such as enforcement against anti-corruption laws, access to information and conflicts of interests (Horacio, 2011). The table below is a summary of the group output.  The group that worked on this issue will do an in-depth exploration of causes and solutions using CLA as a method.

Table 2 is a summary of CLA workshop on Philippine corruption and alternative governance futures.

TAble 2. CLA Layers Corruption and Governance pdf

Environment, Mining and Law Enforcement

The third group consisting of academics, pollution control officers and environmentalists identified environmental protection and management as the third wicked challenge.

They employed a variety of futures tools to explore its futures.

But in this article I will present only the group’s initial output using the cross impact analysis to scenario development as a method. A more thorough exploration will be presented in a separate article.

The group identified at least five key variables that drives the future of environmental protection and management in the Philippines at the local government level.

These are: (1) political will; (2) LGU Leadership; (3) Enforcement of Law; (4) Monitoring; (5) Financing. The cross impact analysis was selected by the group to explore and unpack a better scenario considering the uncertainty or wickedness of environmental degradation in the Philippines at the local government level. The figure below is an example of scenario making using cross-impact analysis as a method.

The group assumed that law enforcement has a strong correlation to political will, LGU leadership, monitoring and financing. The law enforcement variable appeared as the most significant variable in all the variables identified. In fact, the intensity of law enforcement at the local government level defines the nature of political will and LGU leadership and the efficiency and effectiveness of monitoring and financing in environmental protection and management at the local government level.

Moreover, monitoring is strongly correlated to LGU leadership and enforcement of law and financing is strongly related to enforcement of law. On the other hand, financing has a weak correlation to political will and LGU leadership as far the groups’ experiences (as academics, chairman and members of mining boards, as engineers of a mining firm, as a local government official, as an NGO participant) were concerned.

The outputs, however, require further examination and the scenarios emerging from these relationships will be presented in a separate article.

Local Language, the English Only Policy and the Call Center Industry

The fourth wicked problem that participants identified was the tension between the need to preserve and strengthen the Ilocano language, the English only language policy and the demand of the call center industry. Using cross-impact analysis as a method, different scenarios emerged.

These are: Danger mode – the Ilocano language is under threat and so is the Ilocano heritage.

While the government supports the use of the Ilocano inside the classroom (primary and secondary schools), most higher education institutions, however, implement an English language only policy. The view was that English was all about global competitiveness and that call center industries demand a more English proficient work force in the Philippines.

In short, the economic value of the English language informs tertiary education policies, Philippine industry and labor policies. More scenarios were unpacked by participants when foresight methods were applied on the issue. The underlying core message or question was  how might we respond to the transformation of local language, education and labor demands for a better tomorrow (language, policy, industry) was the aim of the investigation.

Conclusion: Deep Change Needed

The strategic foresight workshop was, I think, intensive and engaged participants to explore plausible and preferred Philippine futures. Issues like the family affair democracy system, corruption, environment and language were the wicked problems and traumas of the present. These traumas needed an antidote, they said. The participants sincerity to explore alternatives and transformative futures were indicative of their hard-wearing optimism.  The option to act and engaged at different levels (personal, community, government, corporate, etc.) of “people power” was needed they argued.

The ‘slingshot of David’ (symbolizes digital activism, peer to peer weird and provocative actions and ideas, etc.) was required to overcome the might of Goliath (corruption, political dynasties, status quo, the crack pot realism of the present) was the preferred image or metaphor for action. The participants insights and reflections were similar to Friedrich Nietzsche who said “the future influences the present just as much as the past.”

The foresight workshop enabled us to think beyond the weight of history and the options for actions became clearer (the backcasting workshop had us strategically outlined preferable actions to overcome the wicked problems).  We felt we were able to create a number of  generative  and game-changing ideas, programs and projects. As one participant noted “we have move from implications to alternative and transformative futures. There was a heightened awareness on what’s real, and the real was a call to action! The present is now even more remarkable. What we need in this country is deep change and a hell lot of creativity, social innovation and If I may, daring imagination.”


Shermon Cruz. 2012. Workshop notes on Strategic Foresight and Futures Thinking Workshop, October 26-27, 2012, Palacio De Laoag, Ilocos Norte Philippines.

George Aguilar. 2001. Insights and Reflections on Selected Papers Presented During the 16th World Conference, Retrieved on November 25, 2012 from

Past Activities WFSF Conference. Retrieved on November 25, 2012 from

Random action-learning photos here.