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.

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.

Library Journal: COVID-era scenarios for Reading, Pennsylvania

“It was clear we should not wait out COVID-19. We needed a vision for where our services were headed, even if we couldn’t fully see what lay in store.”

In Library Journal, Bronwen Gamble of the Reading Public Library in Pennyslvania writes with me about our experience developing COVID-era scenarios to inform strategy for one of the United States’ oldest public libraries.

You can read our piece “Change the Scene” at the Library Journal website.