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.

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.

Facing the Strategic Sublime: Scenario Planning as Gothic Narrative

Marie Mahon of NUI Galway and I are in Vector with a new piece taking a literary approach to strategy, scenarios, and foresight.

In “Facing the Strategic Sublime: Scenario Planning as Gothic Narrative“, we investigate how constructing plausible future scenarios can help people to test their assumptions, suspend preconceptions, and engage with issues and information that they had previously framed out of consideration.

In doing this, we argue, scenarios are akin to Gothic literature, offering what Leila Taylor calls “a means of working through the discomfort of a changing world through the safety of fiction”.

Treating scenarios in this way “restores both our humility with regard to external forces that may seem almost unbearable to face, & the troubling sense that our own desires may not be pure or uncomplicated…”

See more at the Vector website.

IMAJINE Workshop: Territorial Inequalities, Cohesion Policy, and Spatial Justice

On 23rd March in Brussels, the IMAJINE project hosts a hybrid event bringing together researchers & policy experts to discuss territorial inequalities within Europe.

IMAJINE explores key questions of territorial inequality, cohesion, and spatial justice: do Europeans have equal rights and opportunities regardless of where they live? Is your ability to realise your rights compromised by where you live?

You can’t simply “run the numbers” when it comes to the future of justice, because it is defined narratively and socially. Questions of what is fair and just are framed, debated, discussed, and negotiated over time.

As well as gathering and analysing fresh data about European inequalities today, IMAJINE explores the theories and concepts by which those inequalities are understood. It also investigates the mechanisms which institutions and communities use to intervene in inequalities. The IMAJINE team have developed future scenarios to help people explore how these issues might play out and be understood in times to come.

You can see IMAJINE’s four scenarios for the future of European regional inequality in 2048 here (PDF download).

On 23rd March, as part of the one-day IMAJINE event, a panel will discuss the IMAJINE scenarios and what they might help us to learn – or unlearn – about regional inequalities in the present. Find out more, and sign up for the event, here.

IMAJINE: “Levelling up” and the future of media

The British government has announced its “levelling up” plan to address regional inequalities across the UK.

The IMAJINE project, delivered by a consortium of 16 institutions across 13 countries, investigates questions of inequality and injustice within and between Europe’s nations and regions.

To give us a unique vantage point on what “fair treatment” means for different parts of Europe, the team worked with stakeholders to develop four scenarios for Europe in 2048 (PDF download): SILVER CITADEL, GREEN GUARDIAN, SILICON SCAFFOLD, and PATCHWORK RAINBOW. The scenario set includes responses from experts at the OECD, European Trade Union Institute, Capgemini, UK Space Agency, and many other institutions, exploring the implications for a range of sectors.

One key insight of this process was that it’s never sufficient to merely “run the numbers” when it comes to questions of what is fair or just between regions. We define justice through the stories we tell about what matters to us. Addressing regional inequality is not merely a case of measuring the difference between today’s “haves” and “have-nots”, then seeking to narrow the gap according to today’s metrics. It’s also about understanding what, where, and who we will value, now and in times to come.

The scenarios provide one way of reflecting on those questions of value, and how things are changing compared to the past. SILVER CITADEL sees regional policymakers lobbying centralised bodies for their fair share of an economic “pie” carved up by artificial intelligence. GREEN GUARDIAN explores a climate-ravaged future where Europeans have given up on consumer values and choose to live by new measures of sustainability and wellbeing. In SILICON SCAFFOLD, tech corporations dominate and the nation-state is on the wane, in a world where almost all of our daily life has migrated to privatised virtual spaces. And in PATCHWORK RAINBOW, Europe fragments into a jigsaw of regions with wildly different cultural and social values.

Since the scenarios’ publication in October 2021, we’ve received additional expert commentary from Madeleine Gabriel at Nesta on sustainability implications, the Danish Design Center’s Oskar Stokholm Østergaard on the future of design, and Belgium’s EU Digital Champion Saskia Van Uffelen on how “digital society” might develop in each scenario. And there’s more to come.

The latest expert response, published today, is from Cardiff University’s Caitriona Noonan, and explores what the IMAJINE scenarios mean for the future of media production in Europe. Who will make the content that appears on our screens? How will it be distributed? Caitriona notes that we are at a critical moment for the future of Europe’s film and television sector. IMAJINE’s scenarios offer a unique viewpoint into how that moment is going to play out.

Find out more about IMAJINE at www.imajine-project.eu.

“Imagination Infrastructure”: Interview with Oskar Stokholm Østergaard, Danish Design Center

As part of the IMAJINE project using scenarios for the year 2048 to explore European regional inequality, I interviewed the Danish Design Center’s Oskar Stokholm Østergaard to find out what the scenarios might imply for the future of design.

Our conversation covered “design as diplomacy”, digital transition, moving from human-centred design to a planetary-level focus, and the notion of “imagination infrastructure” — among other topics.

Danish Design Center, Copenhagen

You can read our full conversation at the IMAJINE website and find the complete scenario set as a PDF download here.