Update from the Oxford Futures Forum, 2011

This week (April 18th) I attended the third Oxford Futures Forum at the Said Business School of Oxford University.  Among other things, the Forum aimed to:

Forge and support an international community of future-minded practices aimed at actionable knowledge.

It was a remarkable gathering of futures practitioners, young and old, with a partial list of attendees and their abstracts here (PDF). Here is a summary of some of the live-tweets I recorded during the event, organized loosely by theme.  These only partially reflect the highlights from the plenary and small group discussions I was involved in, so only capture my particular perspective of some of the ideas discussed.

On scenarios and their uses

“We live in an irrational world, which causes serious unease in rational people.”

“Most organizations don’t have a culture for managing disagreement as an asset. Scenarios are an asset for disagreement.”

“Provocation is what we do, but we must do so without sacrificing legitimacy.”

“Scenarios: to what end? Social therapy, increasing awareness, building understanding.”

“Never underestimate the utility of the ridiculous to spark important provocation.”

“Futures; gently poking you in the eye until you see the world anew.”

On risk and uncertainty

“We think of risk as ‘taming uncertainty’. This is delusional. There comes a point when risk cannot be tamed.”

“Control is the basis of credibility, which is exactly the wrong strategy for success in complex dynamic situations”

“The realpolitik of organizations means that most people would rather go down together than call it too early & take the blame.”

“Group think and suppressing disagreement is an indication that things are about to blow up.”

On complexity

“Understanding and internalizing complexity leads to a totally different set of futures tools and practices.”

“Tipping points and self organization should become sources of hope. Things can, and often do, radically change for the better.”

“Crowd sourcing platforms can be a link between complexity and scenarios”

“Social gaming is a lived scenario creation in complex, emergent contexts. This opens up a whole new epoch of possibility.”

On new challenges and opportunities for futures thinking

“The habits of scenario-making are stale and exclusive. This needs to change. It must evolve.”

“Increased participation is the mandate for the politics of the future. Futures work must respond to this demand.”

“Most scenarios are flat & boring; a mixture of history, psuedo-science & common sense (like an Economist article!) What other narrative genres and engagement techniques can we use to more effectively engage users & participants?”

“A lot of futures work these days focuses on mega-trends, at the expense of meta-narrative.”

“In the future we should expect more experiential gaming of scenarios and less written products and reports.”

“Web platforms enable a continuous, rolling foresight process.”

“Role playing & experiential sand boxing could blow away the traditional scenario processes.”

On narrative

“The basis of the literary (and futures) process is to extract people from their daily lives and assumptions and take them on a journey w/o losing them along the way.”

“Too much detail or visualization can actually work against people owning scenario outputs. Too polished and complete.”

“If we are inventing a trigger, what is the gun inside the decision-maker’s head that we want to fire?”

“We need to build preparedness for global civilisational transition, which will be global, fast & mandatory.”

“Learning is not required. Neither is survival.” Demming

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