Strategic Narrative; a perspective

Narrative is not a static craft, it by its very nature is mutative. And in the age of internet, it’s the technology that enables how things ‘are’ done and how ‘they’ get done. Strategic Narrative is a way making sense of and developing the ability to comprehend the effects and causes. In an ideal situation a strategic narrative has be non-linear in nature based on diverging views. The importance of a strategic narrative comes into plain view when we recognize the evidence—from neuroscientists to psychologists to sociologists, as well as by way our universal engagement with the arts, myth and so forth—that people make sense of their world through stories. Although facticity is clearly critical, even scientific facts are not meaningful to a group until they are placed in a context.  We are, in other words, all in a constant state of sense making about what we think is happening to us.  Because of the way stories work, we engage with them emotionally and see ourselves in them, so they also act as subtle guides to how we should behave.

The beauty of a strategic narrative is that it never challenges a ‘core value’ proposition and it has capacity to capture the aspiration of an ordinary Pakistani. Generational analysis reinforces the need to understand and build an effective use of immersive techniques to create a backloop to the ‘core value’. Any substantive change provides an episodic capacity for redressal. Even for professionals to manage and create strategic narrative at a policy level there needs to be a governance model with enough flexibility so the ‘core value’ is not threatened. The elements of strategic foresight in order to bring into view both weak signals and the different conditions emerging that will produce new challenges and opportunities — on that landscape of the future what is possible? What kind of future story could be told — as we imagine it from here -in which current problems have found solutions? With these two pieces in hand, the steps to work out a new vision that takes enduring and important elements from the past and sees how they might be brought into an unfolding story in which steps will be taken, and innovations attempted, that will drive toward the futures story as it was imagined at its most productive. There is also a critical last step, which is to make sure this narrative is both a story that can be told and an action plan — so versions of metrics or benchmarks that make it implementable are critical.

Therefore, it also is an exploration of ‘what ifs’? Transformative within its contours which debunks common myths and unpacks metaphors. So basically, a strategic narrative centers on a leaderships ability to coherently present a captivating vision and strategy for the future of a country. It captures the past, the now and an imagined future not as a failure but as a struggle. This compelling nature of storytelling creates perception of a country that takes pride. Now, pride and dignity are a powerful phenomena thereby, implying that the narrative-directives need to be human-centric, sympathetic with a degree of acceptability towards change. Inclusivity and co-creation is key. A genuine strategic narrative takes a life form itself, it is realistic, credible and moreover relatable. So it has multitude-systems, with an inherent processes of learning, unlearning and relearning at various implementation phases with the possibilities of tweaks according to behavioural changes and emerging trends. So that it becomes a shared value, rather than one which is perceived to be imposed, that later creates space for non-aligned entities to hijack pushing the framework in to one which may call a ‘narrative trap’.

Pakistan’s Strategic Narrative needs to be linked to various forms of communication techniques, that links people to its global outlook, regional dynamics and local underpinnings. The people are part of the process and outcome, they are simply not just the audience. They become the community of interests that can comprehend and communicate the ‘core value’, promoting smart power on international forums and reinforcing the same with equal vigour to domestic audience.

A strategic narrative is concise, it inspires, it engages, it excites, it attracts and it influences. Within that framework of a thinking model in human context, professionals create choices. It becomes the brain. Strategic Narrative gives a nation the intellectual wisdom on global complexities and how they impact regional and local politics. The scope of a strategic narrative goes beyond persuasion and coercion. It is no longer about ‘whose story wins’; rather, ‘whose story is more credible’ in a non-coercive practice.

For example: When do societies become pragmatic or when is it they decide become contrary to that?

This quite easily can become an academic debate. But for the sake of argument when we localise the context of what pragmatism mean with in our societies; it is very much a product that conveniently find roots in decades of social conditioning. So, what is this social conditioning – In Pakistan just like in any other country many of us come with a set of inherent biases either through our education system, the way we are raised or our own set of very personalised experiences and interests. In each or either of the cases or instances, this is what we usually bring to the table when we are confronted with a challenge or even an opportunity. For a nation-state dealing with homogeneity is very simple; but what we are failing to grasp is that this is changing; people have far greater choices and ultimately create enough resources to become self-sufficient. Technology is the driver. And as when people become more aware of how the information ecosystem works they demand for more transparency and this is why striking the right balance as to how a strategic narrative is created is extremely important. Narratives are associated to interests and behaviours. In the international system the Strategic Narratives are created by great powers examples of which can be found when you closely study the Cold War, War on Terror, The Rise of China, and in Pakistan’s context it can be found in the Fall of Dhakka, Kargil War so on and so forth. Currently, Zarb-e-Azb, CPEC and SCO are a good case studies in themselves.

At a policy level, decision makers can make at least two determinations. One is simply to recognize that policy and its effects does not stand apart from narrative but is one of the elements that drives forward the larger “play” that we are all acting in and that tells the narrative. One may simply ask what are the implications of this policy, how will it be interpreted, and what will lit communicate to begin to get at that. At a strategic level, it would be useful for politicians and policy makers to recognize how facts are filtered through our story making.  The “facts” of globalization and immigration were transformed into radically different stories by different parties in the UK.  Tactically, knowing that the story we all feel we are acting out matters should give policy makers provide tools for helping people to arrive at new identities for example (when older people did not see themselves in the unfolding story of UK in the EU, they were alienated. What kinds of education and real support, say retraining for new skills, could have helped their integration into a new chapter of UK identity before they all voted themselves out?)

The purpose of a Strategic Narrative is to create and shape identities not in isolation but as a behavioural norm, which could be based on short-term tactical gains or long-term sustainable visions with the range of possibilities.

Note: I would like to thank Prof. Amy Zalman for her guidance. Founder & Principal, Strategic Narrative | Laura Roselle work on Strategic Narrative: A means to understand Soft Power.

 

Book Review: 2015-16 State of the Future

The world’s so uncertain, the decisions so adhoc its almost impossible to gauge change. At times when it is nearly possible to foresee alternative futures emerging from exponential degree of global conversations on technological breakthroughs, rise of lone wolf terror threats, power-shifts somehow all these developments amongst many others can not be ignored. And these are just few of the most critical insights in to the future.

The State of Future (SOF) by the Millennium Project a Global Futures Studies and Research Think Tank, each year launches its publication that has been tracking and observing “how can ethical market economies be encouraged to help reduce the gap between rich and poor” for the past 18 years by continuously updating its Global Futures Intelligence System (GFIS); across 15 global challenges which include: sustainable development and climate change, clean water, population and resources, democratization, global foresight and decision-making, global convergence of IT, rich-poor gap, health issues, education and learning, peace and conflict, status of women, transnational organized crime, energy, science and technology and global ethics. Since 1997, the millennium project through a series of international Delphi surveys and global scanning systems have been continuously renewing and revising the 15 challenges in order to decipher global with an agenda to improve futures.

Where the World is at?

The IPCC reports that each decade of the past three was consecutively warmer and that the past 30 years was probably the warmest period in the northern hemisphere over the last 1,400 years. Even if all CO2 emissions are stopped, most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries. Hence, the world has to take adaptation far more seriously. An additional 2.3 billion people received access to safe drinking water since 1990—an extraordinary achievement—but this still leaves 748 million without this access. Water tables are falling on all continents, and nearly half of humanity gets its water from sources controlled by two or more countries. The current world population is 7.3 billion. It is expected to grow by another 1 billion in just 12 years and by 2.3 billion in 35 years. To keep up with population and economic growth, food production should increase by 70% by 2050. A global consciousness and more-democratic social and political structures are developing in response to increasing interdependencies, the changing nature of power, and the need to collectively address major planetary existential challenges. Meantime, world political and civil liberties deteriorated for the ninth consecutive year in 2014 (61 countries declined; 33 countries improved). Decision-makers are rarely trained in foresight and decision-making, even though decision support and foresight systems are constantly improving—e.g., Big Data analytics, simulations, collective intelligence systems, indexes, and e-governance participatory systems. The race is on to complete the global nervous system of civilization and make supercomputing power and artificial intelligence available to everyone. How well governments develop and coordinate Internet security regulations will determine the future of cyberspace, according to Microsoft. Extreme poverty in the developing world fell from 51% in 1981 to 17% in 2011, but the income gaps between the rich and poor continue to expand rapidly. In 2014, the wealth of 80 billionaires equaled the total wealth of the bottom 50% of humanity, and Oxfam estimates that if current trends continue, by 2016 the richest 1% of the people will have more than all the rest of the world together. The health of humanity continues to improve; life expectancy at birth increased globally from 67 years in 2010 to 71 years in 2014. However, WHO verified more than 1,100 epidemic events over the past five years, and antimicrobial resistance, malnutrition, and obesity continue to rise. Much of the world’s knowledge is available—either directly or through intermediaries—to the majority of humanity today. Google and Wikipedia are helping to make the phrase “I don’t know” obsolete. The vast majority of the world is living in peace, and transborder wars are increasingly rare. Yet half the world is potentially unstable, intrastate conflicts are increasing, and almost 1% of the population (some 73 million people) are refugees or IDPs. The diplomatic, foreign policy, military, and legal systems to address the new asymmetrical threats have yet to be established. Empowerment of women has been one of the strongest drivers of social evolution over the past century and is acknowledged as essential for addressing all the global challenges facing humanity. The percent of women in parliaments doubled over the last 20 years from 11% to 22%. However, violence against women is the largest war today—as measured by deaths and casualties per year—and obsolete patriarchal structures persist around the world. Transnational organized crime is estimated to get twice as much income as all military budgets combined per year. Distinctions among organized crime, insurgency, and terrorism have begun to blur, giving new markets for organized crime and increasing threats to democracies, development, and security. Solar and wind energy systems are now competitive with fossil fuel sources. Fossil fuels receive $5.3 trillion in subsidies per year compared to $0.12 trillion for renewable energy sources, according to the IMF. Energy companies are racing to make enough safe energy by 2050 for an additional 3.5 billion people (1.3 billion who do not have access now, plus the additional 2.3 billion population growth). Computational chemistry, computational biology, and computational physics are changing the nature and speed of new scientific insights and technological applications. Future synergies among synthetic biology, 3D and 4D printing, artificial intelligence, robotics, atomically precise fabrication and other forms of nanotechnology, tele-everything, drones, falling costs of renewable energy systems, augmented reality, and collective intelligence systems will make the last 25 years seem slow compared with the volume of change over the next 25 years. Although short-term economic “me-first” attitudes are prevalent throughout the world, love for humanity and global consciousness are also evident in the norms expressed in the many international treaties, UN organizations, international philanthropy, the Olympic spirit, inter-religious dialogues, refugee relief, development programs for poorer nations, Doctors Without Borders, and international journalism

Looking ahead…

This year SOF 2015-16 as it publishes its book also highlights why and how ‘addressing the future of work and income gaps’ is a top priority for national governments. What is so striking about the current edition is that it actually makes ground for an optimistic future. So perhaps the future is way better than most of the leadership and the community is willing to explore. And here is a dimension, which is relatively a new discourse being established within the global futures network of professional.

Although Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates warn the world about the potential threats that may emerge as the use of artificial intelligence moving from human to robotic control. Robotics, synthetic biology, computational science, nanotechnology, quantum computing, 3D and 4D printing, Internet of Things, cognitive science, self-driving vehicles will change the market scenarios. Widening income gaps, concentration of wealth in the hands of the few; where future technologies will replace human labour would be a leading driver of change for long-term structural employment. One of the most alarming future that arises within context of the future of jobs; was that by 2100 there will be zero employment and the very idea of employment or unemployment will cease to exit. And without political or economic changes it is quite possible that half of the world could be unemployed by 2050.

The Future Work/Technology 2050 Real-Time Delphi explains in the last section that the nature of work and political-economic systems will have to change by 2050 or else there could be massive long-term unemployment. Avoiding this could lead to the beginnings of a new kind of self-actualization economy in transition from issues of scarcity to issues of abundance. So what is suggested and what needs to be rigorously pursued is the research component, and the quest for identifying important question that have either not been asked or have not been answered satisfactorily with respect to how governments, organizations, communities improve the prospects for the future of jobs while also reducing the income inequalities. The Millennium Project encourages its worldwide network of 56 nodes which will develop two to three scenarios on future of work and income gaps to illustrate plausible cause and effect links and decisions with impacts for research, training, innovation systems, education, and future economic policy and systems.

The State of the Future is not a regular read. It is simply a reference literature for decision-makers, legislators, strategists, development scientists, academics to build a sound comprehension of the global scenarios. This book should be on every one everyone’s desk, those making decisions, thinking strategic, desiring development – and each year they need to look back refer and see how do they and their decisions fit in to the global developments. This book encourages long-term vision and strategies required to address the dire need to focus on unemployment and income gaps. The present-day governments will struggle to devise holistic policy frameworks shapes an environment where acceleration, globalization and integration of technological advancements become a norm and not an uncertain snag. This book stresses on how nations need to think together to make signification transitions much smoother. As it may take decades for major global structural changes, what will be unique at this point in time is to pursue long-range futures thinking; creating substantive attention to potential massive job displacements and increased income gaps.

You can download the 2015-16 State of the Future at:

http://millennium-project.org/millennium/201516SOF.html

The review also published on www.agahi.org.pk 

Pakistan of What ifs?

If and when in a fix, political parties barely look beyond a day, even to a point when they are counting down the hours; this takes one back to the days of Dharna – the images of the sitting government with two-third majority were pale at its best. But what does that mean for the voters, when Pakistan has had several transformational moments yet it has always fell short of taking a leap of faith. It is so incredibly difficult for the political leadership to disassociate itself from a distant past and the urgent present. So, usually what happens is that we have the military game-theory(ing) over what is considered to be more ‘important’. The worldview of Pakistan is subjected to internal policy uncertainties and therefore lack of institutional decision-making processes. The world is always second guessing Pakistan, and expecting the worse. They are not to blame. While the elite capture can get away with bad governance and institutional decay; the cost is borne by an ordinary Pakistani. To run a country one requires a constant source of longer-term thinking inquiries supported by backward-forwardlooking mechanisms.

However, with the on going Zarb-e-Azb one is somewhat assured that the state is willing to root-out terrorism; but once the beast is killed who would scrape off the remnants of extremism that stems from within. One recent flicker of hope is of resurrection of NACTA’s website. But the National Action Plan is more than just a unit of measuring the state of security within the country; it actually places a far greater responsibility on an already so frail political wisdom (seasonally self-centric) which will is essentially required in the next one decade to carve out a society that is ever so caught up with scheduling its life around the occasional power outages, gas shortages amongst several other mundane issues. The Vision Pakistan 2025 hasn’t move beyond the Ministry of Planning, Reforms and Development; the message has not been passed on to the people who would realize Prof. Iqbal’s dream of a better Pakistan.

There is this lingering fear; that Pakistan may continue to grow old while remaining poor while the writ of the Federation will shrink; confining it to just Islamabad. So from being a middle-income country it is quite possible that this country will still be considered amongst the least developed nations in the near future. Balochistan is still economically fragmented and socially isolated. Sindh is still starving. The political party that produced and implemented the 18th Amendment has yet to be seen benefiting its people in the province. The International Financial Institutions have been classifying Pakistan as part of the MENA-AP region (Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan); what does that mean for Pakistan’s role in South Asia? We are not clubbed amongst the advanced nor are we closing gap in the emerging market and developing economies according to the International Monetary Fund’s Outlook Report. We are challenged between acquiring fiscal space or actually pursuing a robust economic growth strategy; which intrinsically expands market opportunities and thereby create jobs. So while a handful and almost insignificant persons and businesses may benefit from these dynamics a vast majority of the population will remain sequestered.

While, we avowal of CPEC being a game-changer; all we hear is an extreme China-centric narrative, hardly ever do we get to hear what and how will Pakistanis, businesses and people alike will gain from this and whether or not the country has the intellectual resource and institutional capacity to gain from this extraordinary regional economic integration; and while we witness this tectonic shift in global power how all this development will tie-in to the country’s foreign policy; what would be the instruments of the future beyond nuclear deterrence and peacekeeping missions.

According to Prof. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Chairman World Economic Forum we have entered in to the fourth industrial revolution, which is fundamentally the blurring of physical, digital and biological entities. This revolution will change the ways of production, management and governance. The breakthroughs in emerging technologies, concept of decentralization of everything / digitization of everything, nanotechnology, robotics, 3-D printing, artificial intelligence (AI), brain science, quantum computing is unprecedented. The future of work will be ghettoized into ‘low-skill/low-pay’ and ‘high-skill/high-pay’.

Impact of which, Pakistan is neither prepared nor cognizant of.

More than two billion of the world population uses the social media, with an another three billion using the internet; learning, sharing, exploiting happening in a digital space rather than the physical is a key trend to extrapolate growth potential. Now according to not so recent data, last updated on October 2014 by the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan; we have an estimated 25 million internet users; with 15 million accessing it using mobile service; while the teledensity as reported by the Pakistan Telecom Authority has reached 62.79% – while mobile subscribers stands at 114.7 (FY-2014-15). The financial sector has gained from such technological advancement however the public service sector has yet to automate and think digital – if this doesn’t happen public authorities will steep further into its own dark future of nothingness and government systems will become irrelevant and obsolete. So, can Futures be at the core of policy discourse for Pakistan with an inherent bottom-up approach?

Along all these “what-ifferies”: Will Pakistan ever care enough? Will we be able to negotiate through uncertainties and rapidly changing realities?

Pakistan has yet to make human capital investment. Other option includes suffering from a lifetime of anxiety and attention deficit disorders diminishing all forms policy-thinking space.

This is an un-edited version. Originally this article was published by the Express Tribune, affiliate with the International New York Times:

http://tribune.com.pk/story/1053622/where-is-the-planning-for-the-future/

Pakistan Development Futures, 21st Century

Human conditions in the 21st century harkens for grand ideas. The Global Security architecture will change exponentially over the next decade; Climate Change although will be the driving force of many developed nations’ foreign policies seeking developmental interventions in slow-paced economies of the world; yet it will have little or no impact at human-level. Since the future is distributed amongst the haves and the haves not; the only factor we’d see playing a greater role in the development sector in 2016 is the use of technology and innovation in closing the gap between the rich and the poor. The opportunities offered by science and technology to improve unemployment and economic divide essentially rests within the domain of the political realm. Much of the transformation leading to positive outcomes will inherently be reflected in the narratives placing higher value on human dignity. It is imperative for the international development sector to demonstrate the ability to discover and construct new metaphors challenging muddled thinking and status-quo. Policing a singular approach will be an unrespectable notion in humanizing public interest interventions. The focus of the non-governmental individuals (NGIs) should be to automate and digitize to accelerate change in overcoming society’s colossal challenges such as conflict and chaos, education and health, scarcity of resources.

Moronic failures, leadership void, a state still pondering over whether to get its act together or not; there are people like Dr. Adib Rizvi and Abdul Sattar Edhi living NGIs and not just legends, these are superhumans who have been giving back, giving their all. Yet when we compare their value-based development models to the rest of Islamabad’s; we sense some shocking disappointments. Even though Children in Thar die everyday. There is no visible Government-led development intervention that prevents babies in this country from dying. Moving slightly north, the horrific response of PML-N Ministers to Kasur child sexual abuse is yet another despicable example of sheer complacency; let alone the inability to deal with high profile natural disasters. The meager media coverage of socio-economic constraints of interior Sindh and southern Punjab bordering inhumane conditions is equally deplorable. The impression one gathers from the conduct of the judiciary is that of a state instrument which has simply looked the other way capitulating to its own inefficiencies.

The donor community, either unilateral or multilateral in nature are usually driven by strategic and economic interests. The capacity of the development sector in Pakistan to systematically institutionalize public sector service delivery is severely limited despite influx of enormous foreign funding funneled in to the country. This has not helped the market to expand to its full potential; therefore the impact of the projects have been extremely narrow which are ordinarily not integrated in the national economic grid. There is a severe disconnect amongst the Ministries of Planning, Development and Reforms, Finance and Economic Affairs Division.

Diminishing trust and lack of confidence between the state and the society is leading to weakening societal norms challenging economic and political stability causing social unrest leading communal violence. While, the Governments globally are eager to embrace the sustainable development goals (SDGs); in some cases several have failed miserably to meet the benchmarks set forth by the millennium development goals (MDGs) – Pakistan is one of them; administratively paralyzed as it was when adopting the declaration back in 2000 and as it will be when embracing the SDGs. The signs and indicators of progress have been insufficient to meet the mounting needs of a growing population.

The responsibility-accountability arc of responsiveness remains on the backburner for Pakistan. Although this void is more often overcome by the not-for-profit sector or the civil society organizations where even the non-governmental individuals play a significant role. However, these segments of the society will be required to become dynamic and resilient; mechanization of delivering across unexpected and provocative human security needs will be counter-productive, which will hamper exponential progress; as the silos within which they function is usually off the government agencies’ radar.

The development organizations to function in an highly uncertain circumstances in Pakistan will need to become futures-centric driven; the components leading to such a framework are based on three pillars i) openness ii) values-based iii) transformative. Development futurists should explore rapid adoption of emerging technologies, keeping a closer view on social trends anticipating change and effectively dealing with the unforeseen, reformulating responses towards complex setbacks in a precipitously changing environment. Those not co-thinking futures, continuing to Photoshop reality will obfuscate it labeling it as an ‘skimpy-perspective’ will lose. The dimensions of reality will be determined by the actors performing and not by the observers analyzing. Knowledge entrepreneurs will have a much more critical role in drawing the line between the real and the fabricated. The young will name and shame those who are greedy and hypocrites in the development discourse.

This is an un-edited version. Originally this article was published by the Express Tribune, affiliate with the International New York Times:

http://tribune.com.pk/story/1042824/technology-innovation-to-the-rescue/

Puruesh Chaudhary – Shaping the Future of Journalism

The Future of Business

Industry Futures – How might old industries change and what new ones could emerge?

 

…New territories emerge, which then later disintegrate, either to be engineered or to be evolved into something we may know as ‘new’. This ‘new’ kind of ‘newness’ shapes lives, communities, realities and perceptions…Happy Listening!

Audio Podcast

Prospective – Foresight Network

INTERVIEW with Prospective – Foresight Network, Millennium Project French Node

PURUESH CHAUDHARY – PAKISTAN NODE

mercredi 4 mars 2015

Founder and President of AGAHI, Puruesh is a development and strategic communications professional. She is leading the Pakistan Foresight Initiative in the Millennium Project. Her work involves research, knowledge-collaborations and content intelligence. She also co-founded Pakistan’s annual journalism awards (the Agahi Awards).

Puruesh is the Founder of AGAHI, a non-profit organization established in Islamabad in 2011 under the Society Registration Act 1860. Its primary function is to create non-paid communication strategies, content intelligence structures, development collaterals and tools for diverse sectors and organizations. AGAHI encourages and advises individuals and institutions in pursuing and supporting initiatives to improve the state of development in Pakistan. It works on developmental frameworks facilitating information and knowledge sharing platforms on understanding challenges in global perspective. Its research work mainly focuses on national and international security, ICT, competitiveness, human capital development, and governance. In association with several leading national and international partners focuses on creating shared spaces for interactive learning, collaborative thinking, and knowledge sharing. Thus, The Millennium Project is not a full-time activity for her.

Since 2012, Puruesh Chaudhary has been going through various foresight techniques and methodologies until she conducted her own study on Pakistan’s Future to 2060. According to her, the Millennium Project is a wonderful platform for AGAHI-Network. She believes MP is a gateway to foresight thinking in policy design at the government level.

Puruesh launched Pakistan Foresight Initiative as a means to focus on improving strategic thinking and policy interventions. This initiative will fundamentally focus on :

Building stronger relationships and alliances among leaders from across organizations and sectors

Developing clearer intentions and commitments as to what these leaders need to do

Institutionalizing insights, relationships, and intentions, initiatives and actions to co-create better futures.

The main challenges she has subscribed to at the Millennium-Project are Global Foresight and Decision-making, Peace and Conflict.
 
According to her, Millennium Project has a remarkable reservoir of insights, debates, questions, research, across 15 different global challenges which are extremely valuable for every Node. It pulls in a mind, there is a whirlwind ideas, concepts being shared, conversations leading to the next big global agenda.

Puruesh believes that it is important to not only disseminate foresight work but to also walk through individuals/institutions in assessing the utility of such work through an effective dialogue process.

Read More:

http://www.prospective-foresight.com/Puruesh-Chaudhary-Pakistan-Node.html

Foresight 101

(My interview with Prof. Sohail Inayatullah, Co-Founder MetaFuture – originally published in Dawn Magazine http://www.dawn.com/news/1155960/the-pakistani-nostradamus)

Extended version. 

Puruesh: What is futures studies?

Futures Studies is the study of alternative futures – possible, probable, preferred – and the worldviews and myths that underlie them. The futurist employs time, uses the future, to change the present. The futurist seeks not only to solve tomorrow’s problems today, but find tomorrow’s opportunities today. While many use futures studies in the corporate sector – focusing on strategic foresight, the use of the future to create more effective strategy – futures thinking can also be an asset for individuals, nongovernmental organizations, and associations. Futures as practice begins with identifying the default future and questioning it, and thus creating alternative future. It is a way, a practice, to decolonize time.

My mapping alternative futures, one has a better map of what is emerging, and thus one more successfully navigate change. By having a vision of the future, during difficult times one can stay focused on where one is going. By using scenarios, one is better prepared for contingencies and far more ready to make necessary changes as the world changes.

Futures studies has moved from prediction and accuracy to scenarios and uncertainty. More recent efforts have focused on not getting the particularly right (given the rapid rate of change) but on creating reflective, adaptable learning organizations and cultures. This means that foresight – or an understanding of how, self, world, technology are mutually changing – is embedded into the nature of the organization and nation.

Puruesh: Has this been a difficult journey?

I have really enjoyed my work in Futures Studies. Certainly when I was starting out as a university undergraduate student at the University of Hawaii, some professors did not think it was a wise route. One said: “Futures Studies, it is just a can of worms.” Other suggested I go to law school instead. But following the words of Joseph Campbell, I needed to follow my bliss, and I did.

I pursued a graduate degree in Political science with a focus on futures studies and then did my Phd on macrohistory, the grand patterns of change.

I have been working as a professor at multiple universities and co-director of a think tank focused on creating alternative and preferred futures.

Over the past 20 years, Futures Studies has taken off throughout the world – in the offices of Prime Ministers, in corporations, in ngos, and with individuals. There is a great need and desire to explore alternative futures, envision the preferred and developed transformative strategies to achieve the desired.

Puruesh: Foresight studies is the most interesting phenomena of building scenarios on longer time horizons; why in your opinion do you see a growing use of such techniques by Governments and Businesses?

Yes, everywhere. I have just finished a project for the Office of the PM, government of Canada on the social disruptive futures of Asia 2030. They sought research and advice on how Asia was changing. A few months back I did a project with my colleague and co-director of our think tank, Metafuture.org, Professor Ivana Milojevic on the implications of the youth bulge, ageing and migration on the Middle East and North Africa. And earlier this year, we spent a session presenting foresight methods and tools to the Science and Technology Policy Institute, Government of South Korea. I also teach a course at the Mt Eliza Executive Education, Melbourne Business School where CEOs and senior leaders spend four days exploring the future.

Why? There is more and more uncertainty and individuals and organizations desire a map of the future so they can make more effective decisions. As well, they realize more and more that old tools and methods do not work when change is both heterogeneous and exponential – the rapid and uneven pace of change – requires new methods and tools. As well, executives need new narratives so they can lead in uncertain times.

Certainly at the national level, Pakistan needs a new narrative, as it has been defined firstly as non-India and then not-West. Or, in the last twenty plus years the future has been cornered by a particular extremely conservative, rear-view looking brand of politics. While there historically have been multiple contending images of Pakistan – I tried to explore these in research on images of Pakistan’s futures – the Islamic socialist (roti, capra, makaan), the Islamic rightist (the Land of the pure); threatened sovereignty (from within and without); the grand disillusionment and the planned disciplined capitalist economy (like South Korea), the last decade has seen the choices narrow with the contending images of the land of the pure, threatened sovereignty and the grand disillusionment dominant. Recent politics has been an attempt to find a way out of these limiting images, to break the pendulum between rule of the military and landlords, and the attempt of the maulvis to control both.

The crises and the foundational changes of the past few decades– the collapse of communism, the Asian financial crisis, SARS, the global financial crisis as well stunning shifts in world geopolitics – the rise of China – digital disruptions with the growth of the internet along with advances in genomics, in preventive, personalized and participatory health – all require a different way of understanding the future. More complex and nuanced maps are required. And as the future keeps on changing, our maps need to be more robust. We often forget that the future changes with every step we take. Where do we wish to go? Every decision, every future has a cost.

Puruesh: Tell us in simple language how Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) can help leadership prevent policy failures? And how is it different from other foresight tools and methodologies?

CLA is a simple method that seeks to unpack policy issues at four levels. For example in health work, if we seek to increase quality and safety and reduce medical errors, then level 1 or litany solutions are to education doctors differently – more training. Level 2 or systemic analysis is to redesign medical systems, to make them more efficient, to redesign hospitals to make them ageing friendly, to set up protocols so there are checklists that reduce mistakes. Level 3 or worldview analysis is to see how the different stakeholders: doctors, nurses, specialists, patients, registrars all see the process. Level 3 develops a dialogue of efficiencies and by using the wisdom of many increases effectiveness. Level 4 analysis is focused on the metaphor that coheres the system, in the case of medical systems, the current model is the “doctor is always right.” The new emerging more effective model is patient-centred, “I am the expert of me.” The new story reduced risks since quality and safety are enhanced as now the patient is in dialogue with the system. They are empowered in this participatory process. With CLA, all four are required – changes in how measure the future, changes in the system, changes in the culture and changes in the core narrative, the metaphor that creates meaning.

In Pakistan, certainly, new measurements of growth are required, that go beyond gdp. Extensive systemic reforms are required that encourage cooperatives, the social economy, reducing the power of the State as ensuring that the playing field is fair. And a forward looking worldview with a new metaphor is needed.

Puruesh: What has been the most interesting challenge for you as a futurist? 

I try and learn from every group I work with. I don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. I need to find ways for individuals to recover agency in their lives, to let them speak their truths and let them explore what is urgent and important to them. My role then becomes the facilitator who guides others. However, dealing with the voices of skepticism, cynicism in facilitative environments can be a challenge. More and more, I let others in the room respond to the resisters – to let other participants share their knowledge and experiences. I also now try and frame the cynicism as an idealist who has been hurt, and thus, my role is to have them explore their narrative around social change, around what is possible. With resisters, I see that the goal is to find out what they are resisting and use their knowledge to make solutions more transformative, to include them without being captured by their fear, disguised as cleverness.

Puruesh: As inspiring as this is, this way of thinking futures connects people at such a rudimentary level that it can only…

…lead to better strategies, more informed decision-making, longer term decision-making, and more importantly decision-makers who are reflective of their own life stories and organizations who begin to move toward becoming a learning organizations. Often organizations want the right answer, the future. Our role is to expand this to alternative futures, scenarios. But even this is not enough; more than a map is required. We also require ways to successfully implement the preferred future such is backcasting (wherein the desired future is considered already arrived and we remember the past, the milestones that led us to the future). And finally, the inner work of discovering one’s own core metaphor and how the metaphor defines the world we see is critical to creating different futures.

Puruesh: So long range planning is possible?

Futures studies is not long range planning. It is not the PLAN – which is static, owned by the government. Rather futures studies is challenging the present, opening up alternatives, and developing inclusive approaches to policy making. Certainly from strategic foresight – an overview of how technologies are changing – one can articulate strategic plans. But the first step is the scan – how is the world changing?

Some nations build in foresight to the Office of the Prime Minister. Others seek to encourage foresight in the Ministry of Science and Technology. Others believe it should not be wasted with the bureaucracy but rather seeded throughout society, as capacity building, as anticipatory democracy. Still others believe education – critical, questioning, open-ended, process based – comes first. And still others see that it is best if corporations and professional associations lead in scenario development. Ultimately, it does not matter where one starts, as long as one starts.

Puruesh: Global Futurists is a very small community, how does it build its niche in a developing world or is this just a super power thing?

Certainly, foresight work has taken off in wealthier areas as they can afford to invest in the knowledge economy, in ideas that make a difference. At the same time, we have seen great success in using futures studies in developing areas such Malaysia, and poorer areas such as Bangladesh. The Rockefeller foundation has began a wonderful initiative titled, “pro-poor foresight.” Each person already has a view of the future, futurists work on making that view explicit, and then deconstructing the future, so that nations, organizations and individuals can move toward desired futures instead of living the used future, or the colonized future. Thus it is crucial for the developing world to unpack its current view of the future – is it only playing catch-up? If so, what are some other models? For the developing world, other stories are also required. I was discussion foresight in cancer research. And a researcher told me in one developed nation, the cancer patient said the only way she could get off the fast track of development, the one way train line was to get cancer. The pressure of that story on her health was overwhelming. No choices were possible. At an OIC foresight course in Dhaka on the futures of education, the old story, participants suggested was the arranged marriage, ie the given future. The new story was the love marriage, the created future. This was not a denial of the society but an understanding that change is required if individuals are to be happier and education to be more effective. The Ministry may know many things as do professors, but the best pedagogy is student-centred, process-based, interactive and whole of person, encompassing multiple ways of knowing.

Puruesh: What potential do you see within the Pakistan’s ecosystem; having played a significant and an influencing role in various decision-making circles of different Governments and Businesses; Is there a space for a mind-shift?

Each nation has different pulls of the future, imaginations of what is possible? And each nation has different weights or deep structures that prevent possibility – time, the bureaucracy, the mind-set of nothing is possible, the power of the landlords, for example. Pakistan, for sure, has more weights then imagination. But the same drivers of change are here – the need for renewable energy, the need for better infrastructure, the impacts of globalization, digitalization, for example. Thus, in Pakistan the possibility of agency is more challenged. And yet, there, within one’s zone of control, many things one can do.

At foresight workshops in Pakistan, there has been a dramatic interest in scenario writing, in using narrative based foresight methods, in backcasting –in strategic transformation. And in types of interactive pedagogy.

Thus, certainly change is possible. However, the greatest weight is the worldview of geo-politics, of the international relations paradigm, where everything is a “card game” and each nation is fighting for supremacy. It is not that we do not live in a jungle of nation-states, it is that this mind-set overwhelms other possible ways to see reality and the future. It is a zero-sum game that destroys the ecology of thought.

However, when I have run foresight workshops in Pakistan, participants have been brilliant: creative, resourceful, and balanced between theory and practice. As one scientist said, “most of our training is in how to hold on to what we have: foresight, I see, is about creating the new.”

Puruesh: What of the challenge of governments constantly changing, that is, the lack of continuity in policy?

Certainly engaging in long term projects – foresight or infrastructure – is far more challenging when there is either regular political change or coups. But this occurs throughout the world – in established democracies and democracies where institutionalization and deep culture has yet to emerge. In these places, the goal is to articulate foresight not solely at the state level but in professional associations (in policing, for example, or universities) and in civil society in general. Thus capacity building becomes equally important. Thus, there is a push from sideways and from below if there is a political change. The long-term is not lost sight of. Even in established democracies foresight can be difficult. In Malaysia for example, in the education system, we focus on leadership development, working with deans, professors and deputy-vice chancellors to articulate new visions and strategies. Of course, capacity building – learning how and when to wisely use tools of change –takes time. I use the anticipatory action learning approach. Learn by doing and constantly question the future. In policing – the global pearls of policing project – we focus not just on the current commissioners but the future commissioners. The current commissioners set an assignment for the deputies, eg the futures of cyber policing, and then using futures tools and methods they present their scenarios and global strategies back to the commissioners. This helps create new strategies and enhances the capacity of the deputies so when they become national commissioners they can not only excel and problem solving but think of the long term. Thus, even in situations where political change is frequent, success is possible.

Puruesh: And what of corporations and their focus on the single bottom line and quarterly returns.

In Pakistan, certainly corporations are not strategic. They focus on implementation and operations, rarely looking at what’s next – new technologies, new opportunities – and success often only occurs through the cultivation of personal relationships. But if Pakistani corporations wish to go global, certainly having a clear vision, articulating scenarios, searching for outlier events and emerging issues can reduce their risk and enhance opportunities. The issue is if the leader and the board merely wish to be more efficient in the current game or do they wish to create new game, to excel at the emerging landscape. I have worked with hundreds of corporate leaders and most want both – to keep on getting returns in the short run but also to have an eye out on the changing world, so that they are not disrupted.

Almost every part of Pakistani society is ripe for technological disruption, for example, imagine how uber (which disrupts the private taxi system) would increase efficiency in transport? Pakistan, as African nations are already doing, leapfrog the West and innovate. That is, since many African nations did not have landlines, they went straight to mobile phones, and thus have innovated in the digital economy, for example, with the invention of mobile money – m-pesa. Similarly, Pakistan which is mired in a feudal economy could bypass the oligarchic capitalist and move into a collaborative social economy. Already social technologies such as the Hawala system exist, but digitalization (allowing real time personalized transparent information where the user creates value) would allow the creation of a true social economy where value grows through connectivity. Instead of being marginalized, the informal economy could become the social economy – relationships could be leveraged for prosperity in transparent ways. Both feudalism and capitalism would be challenged.

Puruesh: How often do you find people apprehensive to your way of approaching an issue or a national crisis? Please share your experience?

The people I work with are rarely apprehensive. They are excited to be part of a process of transformation. They are excited to be creative and find new solutions. They are excited to design new products. They are excited to challenge their own paradigms and create new possibilities. They do worry that if the change and others stay in the old world, will they felt feel left out, too far ahead of the mass. That is the main concern, being too far ahead and perhaps not so easily intelligible. However, those interested in futures tend to be idealistic while very grounded in strategy and data. They are balanced. However, they seek change, and know that current models do not work. Disruption and innovation will occur, the issue is whether they, Pakistan, will be part of that change. Will they be inventors of the future, or passive recipient of the words and stories of others.

The choice is easy.

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