“May your futures always be preferred!”-
John Sweeney (his informal toast on last day’s party)
The Centre of Expertise Applied Futures Research|Open Time of the Erasmushogeschool Brussel and M HKA co-designed a 3-day Futures conference that is not only collaborative, but interactive and creative as well. Partners in the DDT are: The Association of Professional Futurists, The Centre for Postnormal Policy and Futures Studies, Teach the Future, Graduate Institute of Futures Studies and C-FAR of Tamkang University, Journal of Futures Studies and Agence Future, Etoile du Sud, and our very own, Center for Engaged Foresight. The conference, headed by Dr. Maya Van Leemput, senior researcher of Erasmus’s Applied Futures Research and creator of Agence Future, was indeed a success! As repeatedly remarked by participants during the last day’s Fishbowl Landing, “it has been the most fun conference of my life!”.
The conference was a cornucopia of panels, workshops, performances, exhibits, breakout sessions, and most importantly, both formal and personal conversations with diverse contributors and participants. The first day was started just aptly, with keynote speaker, professor em. Jim Dator of Hawaii’s Manoa School, briefly describing his 4 Generic Images of the Future. These futures are: Continued Growth, which is the most common of the alternative futures, continuously highlighting “economic growth”; Collapse, the second alternative that should not be portrayed as the “worst case scenario”, for in every disaster there are winners as well; Discipline, the future whose requisite is to orient our lives around a set of fundamental values; and lastly, Transformation, which talks about the emergence of a “dream society” as the successor to the “information society. This last future focuses on the transforming power of technology—especially Robotics and A.I. These 4 futures paved the way by serving as the looming theme of the conference. And this is seen visually via the venue of the second and third day of this foresight summit.
M HKA Museum, the main venue of this confluence of futurists, was just the perfect place. The ‘A Temporary Futures Institute’ (ATFI), composed by the museum, is the binding element of the “Design Develop Transform” event. The exhibit was truly captivating for it showcased 9 artists’ take on the future, and 4 futurists’ artistic manifestation of their researched futures. Alexander Lee, a Tahitian artist, was given the privilege to paint the museum’s walls (and paint he did for 3 months!) according to Dator’s 4 Futures.
Day 2, (UN) CONFERENCE, was nothing short of busy. Day started by the welcoming of M HKA’s ATFI curator, Anders Kreuger. After the opening remarks and morning panel, it was immediately -with gusto- followed by games. The gamification portion is an enjoyable connected learning that created incentive for sharing. Lunch was followed by more panels, and workshops such as “Prototyping for a Preferable Sustainable Future” by Christianne Heselmans & Linda Hofman, and “Cultivating Physiological Coherence with Possible Futures” by Tyler Mongan. Whole group was divided-depending on their interest that afternoon-into the Education Cluster and Story Telling & Science Fiction Cluster. One performance was presented that day by TOMI DUFva & Matti Vainio entitled “human and a robot DRAWING”; perfectly capping the day in the visual sense.
The last day served as an open space for the public. Exhibiting Futurists were: Stuart Candy, Mei-Mei Song, John Sweeney & Ziaudin Sardar, Maya Van Leemput & Bram Goots. Exhibiting artists were: Alexander Lee, Myriam Bäckström, Nina Roos, Michel Auder, Guan Xiao, Darius Žiūra, Simryn Gill, Kasper Bosmans and Jean Katambayi Mukendi. Tours in the morning was guided by curator Mr. Kreuger, and the afternoon one was guided by curator Ms. Leemput. Apart from art exhibits there were also book presentations and numerous topics (both pre-listed and bring-your-own-style) to attend to. An interesting afternoon walk was crafted by An Mertens wherein Trees were observed and studied as a Futures thinking tool. This was the perfect way to end the day since the notion of trees as our future is very much highlighted. Peachie Dioquino-Valera, a representative of Philippines’s Center for Engaged Foresight was asked by Ms. Mertens to share her culture’s beliefs when it comes to trees. She made everyone present participate in a gentle exercise which is “talking to the trees”. Here, she explained what was to be done, which was for individuals to choose a tree which they resonate with. Then, their left hand was to be put on the trunk, and with their eyes closed, send a message to the tree, or even ask a question, and hear their response. Replies came knowingly through a gentle breeze, and the first thing that pops into their mind. Ms. Valera asked everyone to not rationalize, and let things flow. The purpose of this activity is to send forth a message that these living beings are messengers from the future. They tell us their secrets, woes, and ancient knowledge. The bridging of such primeval tribal practices to access the future is what made the activity an apt ending. This is where we see the past connect with the future. The activity also brought the lesson of reflections on our environment: whatever we do to the environment, we do unto ourselves.
The third day ended with a fishbowl landing which poured forth reflections and sentiments. The last and special day was capped with a farewell dinner and party which brought the participants much closer, and contact exchanges indeed was a harbinger of future networking and awesome futures projects.
Musings and ideas run aplenty despite the short period of time that accommodated such insightful and meaty topics. One universal belief that popped all throughout the conference; and it is best exemplified by our national hero, Jose Rizal’s famous quote: “Ang taong hindi marunong lumingon sa pinangalingan, ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” And it’s true. As Dator explained about our present situation, that we are barely adapting to the new, when we have barely mastered the past. There is also the constant reminder that it’s impossible to look only at one future, and discard the others. This very thought also gives humanity a great chance and obligation to start over again. And what about conflict transformation? Unbeknownst to most, this is one of the ideal characteristics of futurology. This is embodied during our first day session with our very own Cesar Villanueva, Filipino board member of World Future Studies Federation & a peace futurist. His workshop “Creative peace futures workshop on futures of South China Sea” is the perfect living example of conflict transformation. As Einstein once said: “As long as there are men, there will be wars.” Humanity does not need wars. Futures or Foresight studies is very much essential to preventing this useless and unnecessary creation of man. This is one of the things worth fighting for…this is one of the things worth dipping our feet in futures for. This is where we connect all the dots and analyze all complications—its intricacies, nuances, and all. This experience of a conference truly demonstrated and taught us how to DESIGN our preferred futures via different thinking tools brought to the table by the contributors and partners. It also taught us how to DEVELOP our cooked-up ideal futures so eventually we can TRANSFORM them into reality. They say that Reality Check is necessary, but so is a Futures check. Else, we might end up with Utopian irresponsibility and drive us further away from a sustainable and preferred global future.
By Peachie Dioquino Valera, Climate Reality Leader Philippines