Scripturient: Information and Exformation

For years you think talking means finding, discovering, understanding, understanding at last, being illuminated by the truth. But no: when it takes place, all you know is that it is taking place; it’s there, you’re talking, you’re writing: talking is only talking, simply talking, writing is only writing, making the shapes of letters on a blank piece of paper.

– Georges Perec

How do you talk about a thing without talking about it? What is concealed by our efforts to make ourselves understood?

The latest Scripturient column for Information Professional is an experiment with “exformation” – the negative space of information.

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.

“Que sera, sera?” — anticipating change in a time of uncertainty

For the “One Thing” library thought leadership series convened by my colleague Brendan Fitzgerald, I wrote a piece on how libraries & information institutions can use scenario planning to address conditions that are turbulent, ambiguous, novel, or unpredictably uncertain.

Albert Bierstadt, A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie

“Libraries are an institution with a long and storied global history, but their context is transforming too. Our societies’ relationships to fundamental notions of information and trust are subject to change. The social, economic, and political orders within which libraries have survived or thrived are not set in stone.

Library leaders seeking to make sound judgments need to be able to anticipate futures beyond those currently expected or predicted. By stretching our sense of what awaits, we can gain insights from the future before it arrives – rather than having to “learn the hard way” from the brutal audit of real crises and changes.”

Read more from my piece here.

New strategic plan for Reading Public Library, Pennsylvania

The new strategic plan for Reading Public Library, Pennsylvania has just been published.

I supported the Reading team through the early months of this year to devise a set of scenarios for the library’s future operating context, and use these scenarios to inform a new strategy. You can read about the process in my paper for the New Librarianship Symposium, “Mapping the Future: Scenario Planning for the Post-Pandemic Library“.

Reading is a fascinating library service which has a proud tradition of negotiating complex strategic circumstances; there’s a reason why the 1971 chronicle of its existence is called The Library That Would Not Die: The Turbulent History of the Reading Public Library. The challenges of COVID-19 and Pennsylvania’s hotly contested politics were only the latest to be faced in its 250-year history. It was my privilege to support the current team in planning for the next four years.

Reading Public Library’s Executive Director, Bronwen Gamble, writes:

“Creating a new strategic plan for RPL was overdue. Our 2013-2018 plan was modified for two years but the process for creating a new one met several obstacles. Enter the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual meetings. I attended the Pennsylvania Bureau of Library Development’s series of workshops facilitated by Matt Finch and was introduced to his Scenario & Foresight Planning process. Our Board of Trustees and library staff feel very fortunate we were able to engage Matt to lead us through our own library’s scenario and foresight planning with Matt in London and the library team in Reading, PA.

Using a mural app, and Zoom sessions, Matt facilitated our conversations around the collaborations, services, and transactions, which shape our work at every level. Matt acted as a guide, making suggestions and providing alternatives rather than telling us what to do or how to proceed. Our team members were enthusiastic and active participants. Imagination was encouraged and everyone had buy-in. Matt’s scenario & foresight planning process is much different than the usual SWOT analysis, and number crunching. We had fun and lively sessions!

Looking back, I believe it is a good thing our old strategic plan was allowed to languish.  The changes brought about by the pandemic would have made a strategic plan created in 2019 obsolete in 2020.  Our team has ownership of the Reading Public Library’s Scenario & Foresight Planning to Strategic Plan 2021-2025. We looked into the future, found three plausible outcomes, and crafted a plan that works for today and is flexible to accommodate whatever happens in the next five years. Thank you, Matt, for giving us the tools to move forward with confidence!”

Scripturient: Sanchita Balachandran on Conservation through Generations

In the latest instalment of Information Professional‘s ‘Scripturient‘ column, guest writer Sanchita Balachandran tells the story of meeting her late maternal grandfather for the first time among the collections of a colonial archive.

Born in Nagercoil, South India and trained in forest management at the University of Edinburgh in the early 1930s, her grandfather’s journey is part of a wider network of relationships spanning the generations, and stretching from the Indian state of Travancore to Baltimore and beyond.

In her column, Sanchita explores the resonances between her grandfather’s work as a conservator of forests and her own role as Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum; she reflects on the necessary, mundane, often invisible work of cultural heritage professionals; and she considers the complex emotions experienced when “harm and recovery, disconnection and reunion” are entangled in our experience of the colonial archive.

What do we owe to the families and loved ones of the long deceased? How do objects bear witness to our lives, and how is that act of witnessing complicated by questions of power, justice, and belonging?

You can read ‘Conservation through Generations’ (PDF download) here.

New Librarianship Symposium: Scenarios for the COVID-affected world?

On November 18th, I’ll be joining the fourth of the New Librarianship Symposia convened by leading information professionals to explore key issues and new agendas for the COVID-affected world.

The symposia mark ten years since the publication of R. David Lankes’ Atlas of New Librarianship, and offer an opportunity to reinvigorate institutions’ approach to the ever-changing information environment.

In the panel on “Re-imagining the future”, I’ll be presenting a paper on “Mapping the future: scenario planning for the post-pandemic library” (PDF download), drawing on a case study of public library planning in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and America’s widening political rifts.

The paper explores both the use of scenarios, and the benefits of attending to value co-creation, in devising library strategy.

My contribution will be in dialogue with thought provoking papers from Seattle Pacific University’s Michael Paulus and a team at the OCLC library cooperative. We’ll consider what might await for information institutions and the communities they serve; how best to move forward in times characterised by turbulence, uncertainty, novelty, and ambiguity; and what it means to practice strategy at different levels, from the global to the deeply local.

Do join us for the fourth of the New Librarianship Symposia on November 18th, 2021.

Informatics of the Oppressed? Interview with Rodrigo Ochigame

For the latest edition of Information Professional magazine, I interviewed MIT’s Rodrigo Ochigame about researching and building alternative systems to search, index, and filter the information we want, need, or require.

From social media protests over Brazilian land rights disputes to liberation theology, information technology in socialist Cuba and contemporary attempts to produce “alternative metadata”, you can read about Rodrigo’s work in the latest edition of my column “Scripturient”, here.

Was there ever really one normal? Discussion with Murray Cook and Brendan Fitzgerald

Today’s blog features a discussion between two colleagues, Murray Cook and Brendan Fitzgerald.

Murray helps organisations and leaders in the use of scenario planning to explore the future and its impacts upon current strategy.  He works on understanding disruption, detecting early signals of the emerging future, and developing responses to the changing environment.  Alongside his consulting work, Murray also works in executive education, most recently at Saïd Business School, and has previously led large, complex transformation programmes.

Brendan, director of 641 DI, works to build capacity for the library, government, and not-for-profit sectors in Australia and New Zealand. Formerly Manager of Digital Inclusion at Infoxchange, his focus is digital & social inclusion, its ability to reduce social isolation and loneliness in community. Working with clients across Australia and New Zealand including Hitnet, Grow Hope Foundation, State Library of New South Wales, LIANZA, City of Newcastle Libraries, and the Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, 641 DI delivers research and project evaluation services, digital inclusion planning and practice, as well as strategic consultation.

Last month, Murray & Brendan got together for a wide ranging discussion covering foresight, localism, their experiences in different sectors on opposite sides of the world, and even the nature of change itself.

Murray: 

Some topics we might discuss: How things are changing, how change itself has changed, and how we might use scenarios to attend to things we haven’t looked at before. There are never any facts in the future – but that’s more apparent than ever now, isn’t it?

Brendan:

I think it’s also important to look back; to consider those things in the past that you bring with you into the present – or leave behind. One of the things I know we’ve both been pondering: was there actually a “normal” in the first place?

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Interview with Betty Sue Flowers, Part 3: Libraries, Little Voices, and the Hidden Common Ground

This is the final instalment of a three-part interview with Betty Sue Flowers – you can find the first part here, and read the whole piece as a PDF download here.

Betty Sue Flowers, Ph.D., is a writer, editor, and international business consultant, Emeritus Professor at the University of Texas, and former Director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.

She has been a consultant for NASA and the CIA, Visiting Advisor to the Secretary of the Navy, Public Director of the American Institute of Architects, and editor of scenarios for organisations including Shell International, the OECD, the University of Oxford, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

She has written scholarly works on Robert Browning, Adrienne Rich, and Christina Rossetti among others, as well as serving as a consultant to television series including PBS’s Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. You can see more of her work and her extensive publication history here.

In September 2020, I talked with Betty Sue about her career, her accomplishments, and her understanding of the diverse fields she’s worked in, from foresight and healthcare to poetry, literary studies, and library leadership.

Your work on a television tie-in book with Joseph Campbell led, indirectly to you working on scenarios at Shell. How did that come to pass?

After I’d written the Campbell tie-in, people were calling me all the time for help with their books, and I turned them all down except for one person, Joseph Jaworski.

He was writing a book on leadership, Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership, and though I’d never met him, I decided to say yes to his proposal.

I’ve always gone by this little voice inside that says “Yes”, and if it says “Yes”, I never go against it. It’s gotten me into a lot of trouble – good trouble. I didn’t have time, I was running the honours program at UT, I was a professor, I had a small child, and I wasn’t interested in his topic either – he wanted to write a book about the American Leadership Forum.

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Interview with Betty Sue Flowers, Part 2: From “Fire Alarm Time” to Generations of Love

This is part two of a three-part interview with Betty Sue Flowers – you can catch up on the first part here, and read the whole piece as a PDF download here.

Betty Sue Flowers, Ph.D., is a writer, editor, and international business consultant, Emeritus Professor at the University of Texas, and former Director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.

She has been a consultant for NASA and the CIA, Visiting Advisor to the Secretary of the Navy, Public Director of the American Institute of Architects, and editor of scenarios for organisations including Shell International, the OECD, the University of Oxford, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

She has written scholarly works on Robert Browning, Adrienne Rich, and Christina Rossetti among others, as well as serving as a consultant to television series including PBS’s Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. You can see more of her work and her extensive publication history here.

In September 2020, I talked with Betty Sue about her career, her accomplishments, and her understanding of the diverse fields she’s worked in, from foresight and healthcare to poetry, literary studies, and library leadership.

Just thinking of your own writing for a moment, with your early poems, with your teenage plays, did you have an ideal audience, or a specific reader in mind?

I wrote plays for my cousins to perform at Christmas, but actually as a teenager, a play I wrote was performed on television in my home town of Waco, Texas. It was a satire on the Kennedy administration. It was put on TV, and I thought it was quite funny, and obviously it was a political play, intended to be of relevance to the world; they were going to rebroadcast it, and then the assassination happened, and that was the end of it.

That shocking, moving event changed my sense of where I was heading. But my first published poem, which I wrote as a Brownie scout, was about meeting a beggar selling pencils on the street in Abilene, Texas. I was in my uniform, and I thought the appropriate thing to do was to give him the Brownie salute: to stop and acknowledge his humanity. I did this, and he saluted me back, and that was an interaction I wrote about. The little girl and the beggar. The point of the poem was to establish a human connection which overcame the way people were treating him on the street. Insofar as my writing has had an implicit purpose, it was something about opening eyes.

Can you talk a bit more about your process when you’re writing your own poetry?

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