Time to ask some magical questions? Exploring the future of Europe’s innovation agencies

Over at the blog of OPSI, the OECD’s Observatory for Public Sector Innovation, Alex Glennie of Innovation Growth Lab, Marie Mahon of NUI Galway, and I have written about our work using the IMAJINE scenarios with TAFTIE, the European network of innovation agencies.

At the OPSI website, you can read our discussion of what happened when we used IMAJINE’s four visions of Europe in 2048 to help innovation agencies ask ‘magical questions’ about what lies ahead and the implications for innovation strategy & policy today.

The Time of the Surprise: Strategy for the Wooden World

I spoke this week at the Inclusive 2040 event hosted in Plymouth, England, to explore the future of sustainable, equitable growth in that city.

Alongside speakers including Stephen Evans of the Learning and Work Institute, Fiona Tuck of Metro Dynamics, Alexis Bowater OBE, and Tim Sydenham, I presented an interactive session on strategic foresight, drawing on an adapted version of the IMAJINE scenarios.

Britain’s so-called “Ocean City” has been a strategically important naval site for centuries, thanks to its shipyards and dockyards. In exploring the future for the city, we also wanted to acknowledge its long history. Who we have been in the past shapes who we are today, and the potential for who we might need to become tomorrow.

In Plymouth’s naval heyday, the time of the Napoleonic wars, each ship was its own “wooden world”, a microcosm moving through the ocean. The image of a man o’war sailing into battle evokes a particular notion of strategy: directing one’s own organization like a vessel through changing waters, assessing the conditions of the weather and the sea, weighing one’s limited resources, managing the morale of one’s crew, and making judicious choices in combat and competition with other, rival ships.

At times, leading an organization can feel like steering one of the ships pictured in Dominic Serres’ Return of a Fleet into Plymouth Harbour: even in a familiar setting, all is not certain. Some hazards are evident and well-charted; others may lie below the waterline; others still may vary with the conditions of the sea and the sky. Each figure in Serres’ painting, whether on the land or aboard a vessel large or small, will have a different perspective on the waters which the fleet is seeking to successfully navigate.

Such multiple perspectives can prove useful in helping us to understand the three elements which Geoffrey Vickers identified as fundamental to wise decision-making in his book The Art of Judgment:

What is going on? What does it mean for us? And what can we do about it?

Yet our world is different from that of centuries past. The connections and complexities which define it have evolved considerably, as has the speed and quality of communication. Strategizing today involves much more than guiding a single ship, squadron, or fleet in competition against hostile powers.

As Trudi Lang and Richard Whittington write in Harvard Business Review, we must adopt a broad view of strategy, rather than leaders’ traditional approach of “taking the long view and focusing on where they’re going”:

Thinking narrowly, in terms of traditional sectors, industries, or geographies, can limit or blindside an organization. A better approach is to think in terms of systems. Doing so sensitizes leaders to broad changes of context and allows them to bring actors together from many sectors, which in turn enables the creation of new value.

Read more

IMAJINE: Futures of Infectious Disease

COVID-19 has brought infectious disease, and the ways we fight or prevent it, to the forefront of discussion about the very biggest decisions our societies face. On issues ranging from economics, wellbeing, and sustainability to authoritarianism, democratic accountability, digital inclusion, privacy, and surveillance, the pandemic has become something we cannot ignore.

What might the future hold in terms of both infectious disease and the acts we take to counter it? For the IMAJINE project’s four scenarios for the future of Europe in 2048, Gail Carson of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine explores this question.

You can read her response to the scenarios at the IMAJINE website.

Ideas on Ghosts: Scenarios and the Spectral Metaphor

Did you just ghost me?

I just read Catie Disabato’s U Up?, a strange little mystery novel set in contemporary L.A.

Eve is a researcher for an app called LA By Foot which offers “definitive walking guides to the secret history, hidden paths, pedestrian staircases, and beautiful architecture of Los Angeles”. A historian at UCLA highlights notable locations in the city, then Eve visits them, photographs them, and writes the copy.

“I could do it all myself,” Eve explains, “research the history of Los Angeles by reading any or all of the many books James Danielson has published, but he has something I don’t have: the social power that comes from having a masculine name that starts with a J.”

So Eve walks the city, through hangovers and simmering California heat, all the while keeping another secret: on her iPhone, she texts her friend Miguel, who died by suicide a year before. And Miguel’s ghost texts back.

The novel follows the events around the first anniversary of Miguel’s death, when Ezra, who was Miguel’s friend and Eve’s, goes suddenly missing. As she tries to discover whether Ezra is merely avoiding her or something more sinister has happened, Eve is forced to confront what is going on within and between their circle of friends.

Disabato’s book addresses different kinds of spectrality with delicacy and deftness. In this world, there’s little difference between a supernatural revenant like Miguel’s ghost and a living friend who Eve is messaging, “trapped inside my useless idiotic lump of an iPhone.”

Read more

OER 22: Open to Uncertainty?

Together with the Open University’s Anne Gambles and Open Education Global’s Executive Director Paul Stacey, I presented an interactive session “Open to uncertainty? Foresight and strategy for turbulent times” at the Open Education Resources conference OER22, run by the Assocation for Learning Technology.

Our session invited participants to explore ways of strategic thinking which support the goals of the open education movement during “TUNA conditions” characterised by turbulence, uncertainty, novelty, or ambiguity.

How might the fundamentals of publishing and intellectual property change in the future? What impact will changing social, economic, and political values have on the open education ecosystem? What new domains of learning and research might it be possible to “open” in times to come? Will the very definition of what is “open” evolve? How might exploring the answers to such questions help us make better decisions today?

In 2021-2022, I worked with Anne’s team on the Islands in the Sky project exploring future ways of working at the OU, and with Paul’s organisation on their new strategic plan Open for Public Good, as well as further work on value co-creation in the open education movement. They shared insights from their projects during the session.

You can watch a recording of our joint session from OER 22 below, or on YouTube.

IMAJINE: The Future of Corruption

Corruption is on the rise across the world. It can be seen in old forms, such as bribery and nepotism, and newer ones, such as state capture and global flows of corrupt capital.

In the latest response to the IMAJINE scenarios, Professor Robert Barrington of the Centre for the Study of Corruption at the University of Sussex offers an account of how corruption might appear in each of IMAJINE’s four future visions of Europe in 2048.

As Professor Barrington says, “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain can undermine any objectives at any time, and should be a constant consideration for the successful management of any political economy”.

In his timely response, which can be read at the IMAJINE website, he explores how plausible future scenarios can help us address the emerging challenges of corruption today.

IMAJINE: The Future of Food

What do IMAJINE‘s scenarios for the future of European regional inequality imply for how Europe feeds itself in times to come?

Regional dynamics affect, and are affected by, the agrifood sector and its vital supply chains. Questions of environmental sustainability, logistics, health, and lifestyle are all entwined.

In the IMAJINE project’s latest expert response, Singaporean futurist Luke Tay explores IMAJINE’s four scenarios for Europe in 2048 from a food futures perspective.

Foresight & The Environment of Democracy @ 2022 Council for European Studies Conference

I’m presenting twice at the online portion of the Council for European Studies’ conference in June.

First, National University of Ireland, Galway’s Marie Mahon, Monash Sustainable Development Institute’s David Robertson, and I will talk about “Reimagining Environmental Futures” based on the IMAJINE scenarios for the future of European regional inequality.

Then Malka Older of Arizona State University and I will present a paper on “Agency, Accountability, and Imagined Futures: Exploring Democracy and Environmental Stewardship Through Speculative Fiction and Foresight”.

Early bird registration continues until April 11th and the last day to register is May 10th. Find out more at the conference website.

IMAJINE: Digital Futures

Citizens gaming artificially intelligent policy mechanisms, a telepresence Luddite movement, ecological damage from cyberattacks, corporations supplanting governments, & rights for intelligent software agents – Caroline Baylon of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for Future Generations explores potential implications for the digital world, cybersecurity, and AI in the IMAJINE scenarios.

You can read Caroline’s response to the scenarios at the IMAJINE website.

Open to uncertainty? Workshop for OER22

Together with the Open University’s Anne Gambles and Simon Ashby, and Open Education Global’s Executive Director Paul Stacey, I’ll be running an online workshop for the OER22 conference hosted by the Association for Learning Technology.

Our session, “Open to uncertainty?”, explores ways of strategic thinking which support the goals of the open education movement in times of turbulence, uncertainty, novelty, and ambiguity.

In addition to practical, participatory activities, we’ll share experiences from the Open University’s ongoing ‘Islands in the Sky‘ project and last year’s development of Open Education Global’s new strategic plan.

OER22 is a hybrid event running 26-28 April, promising to “put the spotlight on both the value and limitations of open education in a (post)pandemic world”. Find out more at the conference website.