The ‘Australia 2050’ project was initiated by the Australian Academy of Science in 2010 to bring together scientists from across a range of disciplines to consider how science might contribute to planning the country’s future. What is a realistic vision for an ecologically sustainable, economically prosperous and socially equitable Australia to 2050 and beyond?

How might science inform the future?

In the first phase of the project, 30-40 scientists from across Australia undertook a five-day residential workshop to explore how science, through approaches of resilience and systems thinking, social perspectives, scenarios and quantitative modelling might provide clues for pathways into futures.

This workshop and subsequent publications introduced the idea of ‘living scenarios’– shared, ongoing explorations of how the future might unfold which are plausible (consistent with natural laws), acceptable (consistent with aspirations for human wellbeing), and workable (agreed to the extent necessary for action).

The first step in devising living scenarios must be many conversations among concerned Australians, and which together add up to a national conversation. However, experience tells us that having productive conversations is difficult, especially when the participants have diverse and even incompatible outlooks. Instead, we usually default to proclaiming and defending our cherished points of view.

Further reading:

 

Offering structured conversations

Here we offer an alternative. This website and the downloadable booklet describes the methodology developed during phase 2 of ‘Australia 2050’ in which some 50 Australians from many walks of life were brought together for a one-and-a-half-day workshop where they were able to engage in productive and illuminating conversations about how a more socially equitable, economically prosperous, and environmentally sustainable future might be possible. In the process, ways were explored in which our diverse visions of what Australia should be like in 2050 could be brought together, exchanged, and possibly reconciled.

Building on decades of experience in the art of scenario planning by business and governments, the workshop built productive conversations using the framework of ‘archetype scenarios’. These are storylines about how the future might unfold that recur repeatedly whenever expert or amateur groups attempt to build future scenarios. The archetypes are growth, restraint, catastrophe, and transformation. They occur in various combinations whether we are describing the past or trying to imagine the future but, by focussing on them one by one in isolation, the participants were forced to expose each others’ ideas and points of view to examination with unusual clarity.

The second novel feature of the approach developed at the workshop was an insistence on the art of real conversations. This involves listening and understanding others’ points of view before challenging them. It is truly surprising how difficult most of us and this, yet it is essential if we are ever to arrive at shared visions of the future or even to understand points of view we might never accept.

Further reading:

 

This booklet (Australia 2050 volume 3) describes a way to have productive conversations about the future among people with widely different points of view. It includes the philosophy of our approach using ‘world-café’ style conversations, the features of the archetype scenarios in detail and the commonalities and differences of view that emerged in the Canberra workshop.