Grappling with the day after tomorrow

The above is the title of an article by Catherine Armitage that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday 27th May, 2013. The sub-heading read ‘futurists are struggling with mixed fortunes in their field of commerce.’ While I was glad to note that a number of people had been interviewed I felt that, overall, the piece had missed the mark and conveyed a less than credible impression of this vital area. Rather than contest every point I chose to focus on a few key items. My response is reproduced here. Also see a more detailed ‘hands on’ practitioner response by Paul Higgins below.

Hi Catherine,

I was interested in your take on ‘Futurism’ in Australia in today’s SMH and glad to see that you’ve spoken with more people.

In my own view ‘Futurism’ is a term that really refers back to the early iterations of the discipline as they took shape in the US. But being part of an ‘ism’ neither appealed greatly to me and nor do I think it appeals to the new generation. I was happier using terms such as Futures Studies or, better, foresight practice / practitioner. The latter links back to what we all do in daily life and is therefore not at all esoteric. It’s also possible that the numbers of those earning some sort of living may be understated in your article.

‘Obscure’ is too harsh a term to use to describe ‘Integral’ and ‘CLA’. If you consider for a moment the vast range of disciplines, fields, paradigms, methods of enquiry etc. etc. that foresight people have to be able to cover then you might concede that some of their own working methods need to reflect that depth and diversity. I’d simply say that if FS / foresight is indeed a highly skilled profession far, far removed from crystal balls, tea leaf reading etc., then those who want to practice it need to be as well trained as for any other modern information and knowledge-based profession (think lawyer, ethicist, molecular biologist).

Re: your concluding point (on the uncertain outlook for futures practitioners) a different ‘take’ or narrative is possible if one goes back to the very first issue of the UK journal Futures (published back in 1968). There one can find a paper by Robert Jungk – whom I knew well – on the need for what he called ‘look-out institutions’ or what I later called Institutions of Foresight (IOFs). One key reason why there are still relatively few practitioners is that there are so few IOFs within which they would work. My take on our own late, largely unlamented, Commission For the Future (CFF) is that it operated in a sea of hostility that made things very difficult. My conclusion was, and is, not ‘we’ve done that so forget it’ but, rather, ‘how can it be done better?’ Some of those learnings went into the design of the AFI. Few realise how essential such look-out entities are for social – not merely commercial – purposes.

It is unfortunate that while the peak of ‘economic rationalism’ is arguably past, the damage it did to this profession continues. We really do need to collectively wake up and create our own foresight / horizon scanning infrastructure here in Australia. Currently, we’re put to shame in this respect by nations such as Singapore. Given the challenges and structural instabilities before us, this lack of support for disciplined futures enquiry is not only short-sighted but profoundly unwise.

All the best,

Richard Slaughter.

Text of original article:

Retrieved 27th May, 2013

Paul Higgins response:

Retrieved 28th May, 2013