Ten years ago, I co-authored a report which The Henley Centre produced for the British Government’s Cabinet Office, trying to identify what represented best practice in strategic futures. We started with a benchmarking project, then identified a further range of interviewees, whom we talked to at some length, before distilling it into a collection of principles about good practice. I re-read it earlier this year, and found that (perhaps because it was about principles rather than process) it had held up well. A summary of the principles can be found below the fold. The full report has just been republished by my employer, The Futures Company (free, but registration required).
I noticed last week that a presentation I’d given three years ago on the museum of the future had disappeared from the site that had been created for the event, so I’ve uploaded a version of the presentation to Slideshare. The Museums of the Long Now event at City University had explored how museums might evolve. I’d posted some notes here at the time.
While I was looking, I also found a piece of work which I’d done for the Arts Council in 2005 on ‘thriving in the 21st century’ which had been put online – in powerpoint here, with the full report here (opens pdf). The argument runs as follows:
Thriving requires a consistency of approach to output, structure, users, and talent, but this on its own is not enough. The missing ingredient is that the thriving organisation is able to construct a web of relationships with other, different, organisations. In doing so it gains access through co-operation to talent, or to resources, or to audiences, which would otherwise be closed to it. Such collaboration creates outcomes which are greater than the sum of its parts.
The report suggests that these relationships also create innovation pathways which can link new work to different audiences. Openness, as I have argued elsewhere, is a feature of success in the 21st century, and one where cultural organisations create models which other organisations could learn from.
The recent UK Government Foresight report on the future of the global food and farming system can’t be faulted for a lack of ambition. It takes on the whole of the global food system, and looks out to 2050. Much of what it says is valuable (and the supporting papers look to be a useful research resource), and this is to be expected, given the calibre of the advisers the project was able to draw on. But there are some telling gaps, and these largely come from a lack of decent futures work in the report. Some of these gaps have been pointed up by some of the other work that’s been published recently on food and its wider impacts. This will be a long post, so I’m going to split it into two parts, the first about the Foresight report, the second on its limits.
Suddenly, with the turn of the decade and the latest World Economic Forum opening, we’re awash with projections of how the world economy might look in 2050, produced by economists, and each as implausible as the other. Two, from HSBC and PwC (both open in PDF) offer similar (and improbable) views of a hugely expanded global economy to 2050. But they also seem to assume that the future will be a lot like the past.
One of the best workshops I’ve run in the past eighteen months was with a group of museum curators, held in the Whitechapel Gallery in the room holding Goshka Macuga’s Guernica installation. The documents assembled for the exhibition seemed to permeate the workshop; everyone seemed to take extra care because of it. The project that the workshop was part of has now published a collection of reflections from participants. I contributed the short essay below, on the role of the past in futures work.
No sooner had I published yesterday’s post on the wide disagreement about future oil production, than Britain’s Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security has called on the government to reassess its currently dismissive view of the risk of oil shortages. The Taskforce produced the Oil Crunch report which I mentioned in yesterday’s post.
The row over whether the International Energy Agency has or has not nurdled its oil data to (a) prevent financial market panic or (b) appease the Americans or (c) neither of the above, is interesting but a bit of a sideshow. What’s more interesting is how fast the notion that ‘peak oil’ is imminent has moved from being a contested minority view to being mainstream.
Strangely I’ve had a couple of recently written articles released into the wild within a few days of each other. One was written for ‘Made in the UK’, a book sponsored by the BBC about the impact of spreading its production and broadcast facilities more evenly across the UK. My contribution – sandwiched between those of the Director of Vision, Jana Bennett, and David Attenborough – looked at the underlying theory as to how, and why, regions succeed. It’s an area which I’ve done some research and writing about, and some work on, over the last decade. The BBC book enabled me to develop my thinking – which is that successful regions manage create a dynamic in which the local economy interacts with local social betworks and a sense of place – and that public investment is essential to the process.
However tight the crisis seems for us, its effect on the world’s poorest is proving devastating. New research from the Institute of Development Studies (with whom I’m currently doing some work) released ahead of the G20 summit suggests that it’s not just making the poorest poorer. It is also accelerating the cycle of poverty. There only bright spot is that the falling oil price has eased some of the economic pressure on oil importing countries.
For all of the media noise about Twitter, at least in the affluent world, the big global communications story is about the mobile phone (the blue line in the charts above – click on them to make them a little larger). About eighteen months ago, global mobile penetration went past the 50% mark. Now, the International Telecommunications Union reckons that it has – as at the end of 2008 – climbed above 60%. This is the figure for paid subscriptions, so in terms of usage it’s inflated in the affluent world – where some people have two – and under-estimated in the poorer world, where some people share. The fastest rate of growth is in Africa, and that’s also where many of the most interesting applications are to be found.