Seven lessons from engaging people on policy

Liminal Space’s ‘Night Club’ project engaged people in the issues associated with a rapid increase in the amount of night working in the UK.

Julie Jenson Bennett and Anne Bowers write: Last year, UK Research and Innovation asked the School of International Futures to consider options for the future model of their public dialogue programme, Sciencewise. As we blogged back in May, we explored leading examples of public engagement around the world for the project, and spoke with those leading that work in ten countries across four continents (including three pan-national projects) to understand what they’ve learned from bringing people from all walks of life into conversations about policy.

Here, we share seven of the key lessons…

by Cat Tully and Luis Lobo Xavier

There’s growing interest in many countries in intergenerational fairness — the idea that governments and decision-makers need to start paying much closer attention to the impacts of policy decisions taken today on the interests, needs, rights and wellbeing of future generations.

Future generations will bear the consequences of today’s decisions for decades to come, yet they are absent and voiceless in decision-making processes. The UK’s Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, has called future generations (and the children of today, many of whom will live to see the 22nd century) “the ultimate unrepresented constituency”.


A guest post by NGFP Fellow Alanna Markle

Warning sign in South Africa’s Western Cape. Photograph by Brandon Gregory. CC BY-SA 4.0

In Zeno’s Achilles Paradox, Achilles races to reach a slower runner ahead, but never can. By the time he arrives, the runner has already moved to a new point. This continues in perpetuity because Achilles starts his runs by aiming for his opponent’s current destination, making no provisions for course correction. The paradox offers lessons for both COVID-19 and policy making generally:

1) we can never reach the projected futures we aim for because — like a spreading virus — they are always in motion; and

2) if we accept this limitation…

Higher education could be on the edge of a huge change. To make it fit for the future we need to think long-term — and involve the next generation.

Cat Tully writes: Today is only the second UN International Day of Education. So it’s a good day to reflect on the value of foresight for the global education sector, and (for me personally), a good day to reflect on participating in UNESCO’s recent Global Futures Literacy Design Forum [SR1] and my collaboration, as Chair of Futuristic Thinking at Kuala Lumpur’s UNIRAZAK University, with the Malaysian Higher Education sector.

For those…


Cat Tully writes: The year 2020 is full of a kind of futuristic resonance for many of us — somehow a little like living in the future. Seeing 2020 on the calendar this January summons specific memories for me of my time a decade ago as a Strategy Director in the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. At that time, 2020 served as a useful mid-term time horizon to ask clients and colleagues to imagine themselves into, to help design future scenarios and tease out the policy implications. …

by Andrew Curry and Emma Bennett

‘Business as usual’ is no longer enough. It won’t meet the growing pressures from consumers, policymakers and the planet, while also ensuring business value. The old ways of doing strategy are not fit for purpose in this environment. The new decade demands new approaches and new thinking.

Fernand Leger, The Railway Crossing, 1919. Art Institute of Chicago.

Most of the models that drive our businesses are breaking down. The signs are all around. Profit margins are being squeezed. Each round of incremental innovation seems to produce less bang per buck than the last one. Suppliers are finding just-in-time deliveries harder to guarantee. …

Futurists don’t often feature as fictional protagonists. And there is even an oblique reference to the SOIF Retreat at Hartwell House. This is a guest post by Corinne Roëls, of the French futures organisation, Futuribles. Corinne also attended the SOIF Retreat in 2017.

Photograph of the reviewer, Corinne Roëls, taken at a SOIF Retreat by the novel’s author, Jean-Philippe Toussaint.

Followers of Futuribles should enjoy The USB Key, the new novel by Jean-Philippe Toussaint. It is set against the backdrop of foresight and futures work, and even features the Futuribles’ former offices.

The hero of the novel, Jean Detrez, is a strategic foresight specialist at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Brussels. His backstory: before becoming…

Lady Writing a Letter With Her Maid, by Vermeer. Public domain.

Cat Tully writes: Last week, I and a group of other global Fellows at the Salzburg Global Seminar published a Recommendation setting out a new project idea: that people from across the globe should sit down and write letters to their grandchildren’s grandchildren, living in 2200.

The idea was the result of a futures lab convened by SOIF for Salzburg Global Seminar, bringing together inspiring young policymakers from across the globe, from Denmark to Japan, and aiming to encourage the authors — be they leading decision-makers or ordinary citizens — to think through their hopes and fears for future generations…

Source: Kristel Van der Elst. Image: Chris Skelly.

Note: re-posted after we streamlined our Medium accounts

Chris Skelly is a member of the facilitation team at this year’s SOIF Retreat, when policy-makers and practitioners come together to learn with us about how to use futures to improve outcomes. It’s held at Hartwell House, in the south of England. He meant to post daily, but the facilitator’s role is a demanding one. Here are his thoughts on Days 2 and 3.

Chris Skelly writes: Days 2 and 3 were long, hard days. I am finishing this blog on the morning of day 4.

Last night we had drinks in…

Hartwell House: the view from the window

Note: re-posted after we streamlined our Medium accounts

It is the week of the SOIF 2019 Retreat, when policy-makers and practitioners come together to learn with us about how to use futures to improve outcomes. It’s held at Hartwell House, in Buckinghamshire in the south of England. Chris Skelly, a member of the facilitation team, will be posting on how the event unfolds.

Chris Skelly writes: I’m participating in the 5 day SOIF Workshop. My first. And only my second ever 5-day futuring event ever. Looks like a wonderfully eclectic group. …

School of International Futures

SOIF, the School of International Futures uses futures and foresight to help shape change for the better.

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