Teaching Foresight in Singapore

I recently had the pleasure of co-teaching a one week scenario planning course to a group of students at the University Scholars Programme (USP) of the National University of Singapore.

I co-taught the course with three of my favourite friends and foresight practitioners; Aaron Maniam, Stuart Candy and Teddy Zmrhal.  These are some of the most talented practitioners I know, each in their own domain, and it was a real joy to be together.  We also met a large slice of Singapore’s talented foresight community, ranging from my peers in the PM’s Office and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, to academics at the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS and the Civil Service College.

The video above summarizes the whole week (click through to Vimeo to view it in HD).  One of the best parts was the student presentations at the end.  Instead of a traditional scenario report, we asked them to present their thinking in the form of an experiential exercise.  Students chose a variety of topics, but in the end focused on the following four themes:

  • The Future of Intimacy
  • The Future of Education
  • The Future of Spiritual Experience
  • The Future of South East Asian Cities

Although they had less than 48 hours to prepare their presentations, the students surprised us with their inventiveness and creativity. The Future of Spiritual Experience group, for example, created a scenario in which neurochemical technology could act as a plausible mimic for the spiritual experience, but where the  government outlawed such practices.  The result was a criminal underground of “Pilgrimage Pill” takers clustered around a spiritual leader / mob-boss responsible for the production and import of the pills.

Instead of telling us about this in PowerPoint, the group presented their research in the form a courtroom trial.  We, the audience, were the jury and bore the responsibility of deciding the fate of the captured “Pope Father”; the leader of the criminal insurgency of chemical spiritualists.

The group presented details of their scenario in the form of evidence against him.  It was fascinating and, just as we were about to cast our vote of guilty or not, his followers burst into the room to liberate him in a running gunfight.  It was a brilliant and thoroughly immersive.

Other groups had equally compelling presentations, ranging from a visit to a new government-sponsored school, to a dialogue between the residents and staff of a gated community in the Philippines, and a visit to the Museum of Intimacy Past; which traced the evolution of intimacy in a highly regulated state environment.

The course covered:

  • Systemic change and the history of scenario planning
  • The role of social and cognitive bias in decision-making
  • Horizon scanning and trend analysis
  • Interpretation and synthesis of emerging issues
  • Basics of scenario creation and analysis
  • Implications assessment and stakeholder analysis
  • Experiential futures to communicate scenario products
  • Introduction to service, product and policy design in a futures context

I thoroughly enjoyed teaching with Aaron, Stuart and Teddy.  I think we learned as much from each other as I hope the students did from us.

Although we didn’t get the chance to cover some of the more advanced aspects I had hoped for (such as systems thinking, crowdsourcing and other things), we all look forward to teaching together again soon.

Thank you to all the students and guests who helped to make this happen.

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