Event: Open State Workshop, Adelaide 2016

‘Foresight 2050’ was held in Adelaide over 3 days in October 2016 where 50 Australians from diverse backgrounds were invited to imagine scenarios that explored the range of possible challenges for Australians in the future.

Foresight 2050 was guided by expert facilitators:

  • José Ramos, Action Foresight and Victoria University (VIC),
  • designer Bridgette Engeler of Swinburne University (VIC),
  • social-ecological systems researcher Dr Nicky Grigg from CSIRO (ACT)
  • Dr Steve Cork from the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU (ACT), and
  • Dr Kristin Alford, futurist and director of SciCEd, UniSA.

Foresight 2050 provided an opportunity deepen the conversations about Australia’s future to develop a national conversation on how science can inform the future and how we can take action to enable an economically prosperous, environmentally stable and socially equitable future.

To begin, Kristin Alford introduced the idea of ‘living scenarios’ and the four archetypes under discussion: growth, restraint, catastrophe and transformation. Previous experience tells us that having productive conversations is difficult, especially when the participants have diverse and even incompatible outlooks. To address this, the workshop was based on structured conversations and adopted the world café’ style, with 20 minute conversations, to keep discussion dynamic and fresh. Participants were encouraged to be as open and creative in their thinking around the archetypes, whilst keeping the living scenarios concepts of ‘plausible’, ‘acceptable’ and ‘workable’ in mind. They were also encouraged to try and not view their own or others perceptions as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, nor to try to solve problems; rather they should let ideas bubble to the surface and exist independently of moral judgment. Participants were encouraged to participate, to listen; making the process of the conversation the outcome.

Growth – Restraint – Catastrophe – Transformation

Scenario discussions began with the ‘growth’ archetype. Participants found discussions of growth generally easy but not quite as productive as some of the other archetypes. Participants found it was hard to extend the conversation beyond a short timeframe. Conversations of restraint were more difficult for participants; they could see the benefits of living within limits, but perceived it as counter to human nature and difficult to achieve without compromising individual freedoms. In both Growth and Restraint scenarios, roving facilitators found themselves reminding people to take themselves out of 2016 and into 2050. The following day’s discussions were based on the catastrophe and transformation archetypes. Conversations of catastrophe were found to be quite easy, and often made light by shared memories of popular Sci-Fi films. Transformation discussions followed and these were rich and animated discussions which reflected humanistic, values-based aspirations that had emerged over the past two days.


Moving to Action

The final day’s discussions were an opportunity for the facilitators to reflect on how the conversations have developed compared with those conducted in 2013. Participants were also asked to reflect on the workshop and conduct unstructured, small group discussions on thoughts and ideas that they would like to act on or adapt for the future. Participants expressed an overwhelmingly positive response to the workshop experience; citing diversity of participants, and the fact that professional agendas were set aside. Some participants drew attention to the fact that all discussions of our future seemed to be human-centric and value led, leaving discussions of the rights and needs of other species, and the role of technology and artificial intelligence mostly aside. Discussions of education and the language of education elicited a strong response, some suggesting that we need to change the focus and way we deliver education so that future generations have more skills in empathy, and act in the service of wider passions and concerns than those reflected in current economic assessments. Though people found it difficult to truly immerse themselves in futures thinking, all saw that the seeds of 2050 are here in 2016 and further national conversations will deepen and enrich our futures.

To compliment the experience of the workshop, snacks and refreshments were prepared by Post Dining and were themed to fit with the four archetypes: growth-themed cakes with abundant icing; drinks and nibbles provided with tokens encouraging restrained decision making; a catastrophe morning tea consisting of weeds and seeds; and a transformative rocky road chocolate topped with crunchy edible insects all made the experience more memorable. Again, to heighten impact, the foresight conversations were also recorded and interpreted by visual artists Thom BuchananChristian Lock and Greg Donovan, working with a small team of UniSA students to create a street mural that will be installed on the CityWest campus after the event. Registered participants were given first option at purchasing one of the 16 panels that comprise this work.

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