Scoping to Stimulate Novelty in Futures Practice and Collective Intelligence

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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.


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