The Futures Sandbox is an initiative for transformative action learning and youth development. Developed by Dr Nur Anisah Abdullah and John A Sweeney(PhDc) in an effort to advance futures thinking, the Sandbox aims to develop critical and reflective modes of awareness and inquiry. The Futures Sandbox is a collaborative and open platform for workshops, seminars, and hands-on projects to educate and inspire youth toward imagining and creating a more preferred future.
Before we get any further… in the context of Futures Studies - the future is fundamentally plural - i.e. futures; rather than a single “THE future”. There are possibly many alternative futures, depending on how we imagine them to our preference and how we plan actions today in shaping those preferred futures.
Futures studies is often misunderstood to be some kind of predictive science that strives to foretell with reasonable accuracy of what THE future WILL BE. The future states of society is too complex to be precisely predetermined. BUT we can anticipate things to come. And this is where Futures Studies play its role. Researchers in this field, usually referred to as Futurists, have developed, tested and applied theories and methods useful in helping us anticipate and imagine the future more usefully and to shape it (our futures) to our preferences.
On Sept 28, 2016 HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the launch of an integrated strategy to forecast UAE nation's future, aiming to anticipate challenges & seize opportunities.
It is timely that higher education in the UAE takes the lead in advancing Futures Studies as part of a broader youth development objective.
Futures Studies respond to a need that is especially felt in our time of great rapid and interrelated change ( McHale, 1969). The faster the pace of change, the further forward we have to look. If McHale felt change was rapid and interrelated in 1969... what has it been for us in the last year or 5 years?
We saw how a quickly the spread of a virus such as Ebola outbreak in 2014 that almost crippled West Africa within 6 months. Or how Pokemon Go has become a favorite pastime for millions around the world since its released July 6, 2016!
Futures thinking and Futures Studies are a choice which each person or society has to make in the present: whether to think about the future or not; whether to think about the consequences of our actions in the future, and the impact that our view of the future might have on our present action (Godet, 1979); or whether simply to think about the present.
Futures Studies is a way of thinking, a way of constructing our minds, a way of conceptualizing life, our everyday actions, our every decision. This way of thinking leads to the possibility of educating ourselves and others towards the future, towards the fact that the future is part of our whole life as a sort of anticipation of the future itself (Botkin, 1979).
Futures Studies ought to be an important component of education as it:
- helps us move beyond 'crisis management' to proactive thinking;
- helps us visualize the images of the future and that visualization affect our decisions in the present;
- helps us exerts our will and intentionality on the future;
- helps us realize that there are strategic consequences of our actions and decisions;
- helps us realize that education (which is strongly rooted in the past) requires credible futures alternatives to establish appropriate strategies and directions.
The Three Laws of the Future by Jim Dator, Professor and Director, Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies.
Law IB: The future can not be predicted but 'preferred futures' can and should be envisioned, invented, implemented, continuously evaluated, revised and re-envisioned. Thus the major tasks of futures studies is to facilitate individuals and groups in formulation, implementing and re-envisioning their preferred futures.
Law IC: To be useful, futures studies needs to precede and then be linked to strategic planning and hence to administration.
The identification of the major alternative futures and the envisioning and creation of preferred futures then guides subsequent strategic planning activities, which in turn determine day-to-day decision-making by an organization's administrators.
The process of alternative futures forecasting and preferred futures envisioning is continuously ongoing and changing. The purpose of any futures exercise is to create a guiding vision, not a "final solution" or a limiting blueprint. It is proper, especially in an environment of rapid technological, and hence social and environmental, change for visions of the futures change as new opportunities and problems present themselves.
Law II: Any useful idea about the futures should appear to be ridiculous.
IIA. Because new technologies permit new behaviors and values, challenging old beliefs and values which are based on prior technologies, much that will be characteristic of the futures is initially novel and challenging. It typically seems at first obscene, impossible, stupid, "science fiction", ridiculous. And then it becomes familiar and eventually "normal."
IIB. Thus, what is popularly, or even professionally, considered to be "the most likely future" is often one of the least likely futures.
IIC. If futurists expect to be useful, they should expect to be ridiculed and for their ideas initially to be rejected. Some of their ideas may deserve ridicule and rejection, but even their useful ideas about the futures may also be ridiculed.
IID. Thus, decision-makers, and the general public, if they wish useful information about the future, should expect it to be unconventional and often shocking, offensive, and seemingly ridiculous. Futurists, however, have the additional burden of making the initially-ridiculous idea plausible and actionable by marshaling appropriate evidence and weaving alternative scenarios of its possible developments.
A Primer on Futures Studies, Foresight and the Use of Scenarios, in prospect, Voros, 2001. Foresight Bulletin, No 6, December 2001, Swinburne University of Technology.
Possible futures include all the kinds of futures we can possibly imagine - those which "might happen" - no matter how far-fetched, unlikely or "way out". Might involve knowledge which we do not yet possess or might also involve transgressions of currently-accepted physical laws or principles.
Plausible futures: those futures which "could happen" (ie they are not excluded) according to our current knowledge (as opposed to future knowledge) of how things work. They stem from our current understanding of physical laws, processes, causation, systems of human interaction, etc. This is clearly a smaller subset of futures than the possible.
Probable futures: futures that are "likely to happen", and stem in part from the continuance of current trends. Some probably futures are considered more likely than others; the one considered most likely is often called "business-as-usual". It is a simple linear extension of the present. However, trends are not necessarily continuous over long periods of time, and discontinuities in the trends may occur. Some trends may fade out suddenly, while new ones may emerge unexpectedly. Some people think that studying or "reading" trends is the whole game of foresight or futures work, but it is clear from this description that merely reading trends gives rise to a much smaller class of futures than the previous two.
Preferable futures is, by contrast, concerned with what we "want to" happen; They derive from value judgements, and are more overtly subjective than the previous three classes. Because values differ so markedly between people, this class of futures is quite varied. Preferable (or preferred) futures can lie in any of the previous three classes.
In today’s constantly changing, interconnected, digitally disrupted, politically challenging, post-Brexit and highly uncertain world, is it a good idea to make a single strategic plan and stick to it regardless? How do you ensure that your business grows and thrives when you know that the future is uncertain at best?
The film Back to the Future II is a great example of how you can’t predict the future. Twenty six years later we can see how many things it got right, like video calls, big flat screen televisions, wearable tech, and smart glasses. There were also many things it got wrong (faxes anyone?) or missed entirely. The biggest thing it missed was something huge: our ubiquitous smartphones. But then 1989 was the year Tim Berners-Lee invented the worldwide web, so the film went out before the start of our current, always on-line world emerged.
No one can accurately predict the future. But you can use strategic foresight - the practice of anticipatory thinking and leadership - to get an idea close enough to what is likely to happen. Developing plans in response to these different possible, probable futures will ensure that your organisation is amply agile and resilient; quickly able to adapt and succeed.
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