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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Live Challenge: The Future of Pakistan to 2060

(Originally published in The News International http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-271235-Pakistan-2060)

Alternative Scenarios

Alternative Scenarios

A daunting challenge, many have struggled to imagine a future of Pakistan beyond an electoral cycle or a human life or even unmet visions. The trouble is that collective foresight and intelligence is missing from our political and institutional systems. Foresight that enables a country to build, and for stronger relationships and alliances amongst leaders from across organisations and sectors, demonstrating clearer intentions and commitments as to what these leaders need to do and as a result of which initiatives and actions are designed co-creating better futures.

As the rhetoric goes, Pakistan is in a unique situation in the region. ‘Hybrid democracy’, ‘failed state’, ‘the world’s most dangerous country’ – in recent decades Pakistan has been categorised and de-categorised so it can fit the informed paradigm for strategic thinkers.

Pakistan is undoubtedly a young nation. It is apparent that the country’s democratic structure remains highly uncertain due to sovereign debt crisis, weak and polarised political leadership, diminishing confidence in state institutions, criminal injustice, oppressed freedom and decaying rule of law. Close to 70 years, Pakistan and its people have come a long way in militating global affairs.

The question is: are policymakers, legislatures and political groups equipped to shape the future of the country, which will inspire the next generation and enable it to enjoy a secure and prosperous Pakistan beyond an electoral cycle? Can they realign themselves in an effective decision-making process, by developing shared understanding of global uncertainties and political despondency?

‘The future of Pakistan to 2060’ in its current state serves as a working paper that highlights the essential narrative required of a secure and prosperous Pakistan with a positive regional influence, demonstrating leadership in the Muslim world and inspiring the next generation. The principle idea of this paper was not to predict the future, but to bring people on board to draw out perspectives, establishing logical sequences to challenges, determining relationships between drivers, and identifying certain high-impact events.

The challenges that seemed to concern people the most included leadership, religion, economy and security. There were differences in perspectives between the generations. In Pakistan’s case engaging with the next generation becomes an important entry point.

Preliminary research was conducted to check and test assumptions about Pakistan’s future among the ruling elite and wider society, explore perceptions of Pakistan from both inside and outside the country, and identify future risks and opportunities.

As a result four scenarios emerged for the country in 2060: i) low citizen empowerment, regional integration; ii) high citizen empowerment, regional integration; iii) high citizen empowerment, regional fragmentation; and iv) low citizen empowerment, regional fragmentation. These scenarios were based on impact and uncertainty. The drivers of change were composed of demographics, urbanization, macro-economic conditions, resource availability, climate change, technology, religiosity and ethnicity.

Policymakers and the political leadership in Pakistan are either incompetent or incapacitated to cope with the challenges confronting the nation due to rapid globalisation, economic interdependence and the changing nature of global affairs. The country begs for ‘meritocracy’ where there’s an institutionalised capacity to devolve the decision-making process.

Nepotism has destroyed the state-run institutions; the public faces the brunt of dishonest and corrupt officials at the highest levels. Research and several discussions have indicated that there’s an overwhelming need for institutionalising foresight techniques, tools and technology in policy formulation, planning and decision-making processes; allowing different stakeholders to explore emerging ideas and values reflecting on medium to longer-term strategic research, analysis and planning contributing to policies that are dynamic, resilient and transcendent.

In South Asia, the complete lack of visionary leadership is a serious challenge. While President Ziaul Haq drove this country in a reverse gear the consequences of which linger in the form of ethnic conflict, sectarian violence, radicalisation, oppression against freedom of expression, and exploitation of minorities.

Equally to blame is Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Historic precedents have demonstrated that religiosity does not let nations become pragmatic; corruption and perceived corruption reduces investment, which makes them less competitive and less efficient.

Pakistan is the second largest Muslim country, and if the population – which is projected to exceed more than 250 million by 2030 and up to 335 million by 2050 – presumably grows at that same rate, then it will be a tough battle for the leadership to overcome the dramatic challenges that come with the uncertainty that climate change, geopolitical difficulties and social and cultural isolation pose.

Currently, we have a population of 198 million people, with a median age of 22, 63 percent of the youth is under the age of 29 years, making Pakistan as one of the youngest nations in the world. If this invaluable human capital is not leveraged in achieving its optimal potential, then with deteriorating service delivery, unemployment and injustice will further frustrate the coming generations which will become the gravest challenge for state institutions – ultimately undermining the political system.

The country’s elite captures determining the economic growth model have mostly benefited the rich more than the poor; institutions retreating from providing essential legal assistance, collecting taxes and security have severely discredited the socio-economic and political outlook of the country. Pakistan already has a fragile political system; and while the philosophy behind strategic depth is hugely out of fashion, the country in the information age has failed to integrate the role of its institutions with the growing needs of not only its population but also in aligning itself to the global knowledge-grid.

In order to secure stability in the region Pakistan, the Kashmir region and India must chalk a way forward. Complacency towards diplomatic obligations will lead to further internal misfortunes. Lack of public funding, appalling institutional capacity in service delivery, access to justice, and extremism – already a bane of contention – will further fuel internal crisis.

As the state loses its relevance, it has created room for many of the non-state actors who are essentially plugging in the loopholes. While incompetence can be one of the reasons, the country needs to learn to start paying for itself. Masooda Bano has, in one of her writings, highlighted the failure of development funds channelled through non-governmental organisations eroding cooperative behaviours rather than strengthening initiatives amongst the state, community and individuals. A serious issue that goes unaccounted for in realpolitik.

Pivot of the World?

Pivot of the World?

 

There’s potential for creating the fifth scenario for Pakistan based on a vision, commissioning some more systematic future insights that can be helpful in developing plausible scenarios, thinking through global/regional dynamics, understanding risks and opportunities, and bringing out insights on what useful intervention points might look like.

 

 

 

 

NOTES:

DRIVERS OF CHANGE 

Demographics

  • Although a population of 188.2 million projected for the year 2014 is well above the carrying capacity of its resources and creating population resource imbalance. With a median age of 22, 63% of youth in Pakistan is under the age of 29 years, making Pakistan as one of the youngest nations in the world.229 people per square km and it was in position 151th in the density population ranking of 2013. With over a 150 million people today, the UN projects the population to cross 300 million by 2050. The country also host 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees hosted by local communities across Pakistan.

Urbanization

  • During 1990-2003, Pakistan sustained its historical lead as the second most urbanized nation inSouth Asia with city dwellers making up 36% of its population. Nine cities have population of more than one million, 75 cities have population of over one hundred thousand. Its urban population is expected to equal its rural population by 2030. Environmental degradation along with poor hygiene, lack of basic sanitation and unsafe drinking water will have a grave impact on the migrant population.

Resource Scarcity

  • Pressure on land and water, as well as demand for food and energy, will increase significantly over the next decade as the country faces the demographic dividends and the urbanization process. Inefficient distribution and mismanagement of energy and water resources will become an impediment to the economic growth and livelihoods. Pakistan also faces the effect of climate change, with related disasters intensifying impacting the vulnerable threatening food security. A study indicates an available supply of water of little more than 1,000 m³ per person, which puts the country in a high-risk category, this will threaten the lives of millions of Pakistanis. About 29% power is generated through hydro resources.

Technology

  • The potential of ICTs is not sufficiently leveraged in Pakistan, where access to ICTs remains the privilege of a few. On a slightly more positive note, Pakistan does comparatively better in
the more advanced areas captured by the GCI. It ranks 67th in the financial development pillar, 85th business sophistication pillar, and 77th in innovation.

Network Readiness Index 2014

  • The Telecommunication sector of Pakistan is fairly dynamic with the adoption of next generation advanced technology. Teledensity of the country reached 75.21% (135 million subscribers combining Cellular, WLL & LL) with major contribution from cellular sector and revenues of $4.457 billion.

Macro-Economic Situations

  • In 2013-14, Pakistan ranked at 133, out of 148 economies on the competitiveness Index. On the competitiveness index, Pakistan’s performance on the public institutions indices signifying inefficiencies corruption, patronage, and lack of property rights protection:
Country Global Competitiveness Rankings Goods Market Efficiency Labour Market Efficiency Financial Market Efficiency Market Size
Pakistan 133 103 138 67 30
India 60 85 99 98 3
Bangladesh 110 89 124 102 45
Sri Lanka 65 37 135 41 61
Iran 82 110 145 130 10
China 29 61 34 54 2
Turkey 44 43 130 51 16

 

  • According to the International Monetary Fund, macroeconomic imbalances and longstanding structural impediments to growth have prevented full realization of Pakistan’s potential:

Problems in the energy sector, security concerns, and a difficult investment climate have combined with adverse shocks to undermine economic performance in the past decade.

The GDP growth has only averaged 3 percent over the past few years, well below what is needed to provide jobs for the rising labor force (95 million) and to reduce poverty.

The population is still increasing rapidly (1.7%), per capita income growth ($1370 almost 4.3%) has lagged behind many emerging economies.

The fiscal deficit is at 4.9%, driven by weak tax collections, energy sector subsidies, and increased provincial government spending.

Domestic deficit financing has crowded out private sector borrowing and has contributed to inflation (8.4%).

Private sector credit has become negative in real terms, while monetary aggregates continue to be driven mainly by the government’s financing needs.

The external position has weakened significantly, and central bank reserves have declined to critical levels $8 million in Jan 2014 and $14.3 million in July 2014.

Religiosity and Ethnicity

According to the CIA World Factbook, Library of Congress, Oxford University, over 97% of the population of Pakistan is Muslim and the remaining 3% is Christian, Hindu and others. Majority is practicing Sunni, while Shia’s are a minority. Saraiki make up 10.53%, Muhajir 7.57% and Baloch 3.57%, remaining constitutes 4.66% of the total population.

Numbers of speakers of larger languages
Language 2008 estimate 1998 census Main areas spoken
1 Punjabi 56,367,360 44.17% 58,433,431 44.15% Punjab
2 Pashto 26,692,890 15.44% 20,408,621 15.42% Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
3 Sindhi 26,410,910 15.35% 18,661,571 14.10% Sindh
4 Saraiki 17,019,610 10.42% 13,936,594 10.53% South Punjab
5 Urdu 13,120,540 7.59% 10,019,576 7.57% Karachi, Sindh
6 Balochi 6,204,540 3.59% 4,724,871 3.57% Balochistan
7 Others 8,089,150 3.59% 6,167,515 4.66%
Total 172,900,000 100% 132,352,279 100% Pakistan

 

 

GEN 2013: Politics and Media Standards in the Digital Age

Free speech is the bedrock of democratic transformation, but some governments and politicians see independent journalism and social networks as potential threats. What can be done to bridge the gulf in understanding between politics and media?

Pakistan [POINTERS]:

The internet in Pakistan has been since the 90s.

Pakistan’s total population is more than a 180 million people.

Over a hundred and 20 thousand user-base was recorded in 2000.

Now it covers almost 18 percent of the population, crossing over 25 million users.

So the country has the highest internet usage in South Asia.

According to the global literacy rate, Pakistan ranks 113th among 120 nations. Even though the high illiteracy rate threatens the fragile economy.

But this years general elections showed an increase in voter turnout.

The country’s population estimated to be under 30 is almost 60%, this data may now vary as the new definition of young is 40.

The mobile internet users are roughly around 15 million, while the cellular companies are actively pursuing different marketing strategies promoting less expensive rates of using internet over cellphones.

Many of the socio-economic development sectors are focusing on building the capacities of the local NGOs to have a purposeful influence.

Most political parties in Pakistan have social media wings.

Few of the most active groups have been the Tehreek-i-Insaf, Mutahidda Qaumi Movement in the recent elections.

In terms of social media, this years elections received far more coverage than compared to the ones held in 2008.

Many of the campaigning done this year was through blogging, tweets, sharing images videos on social networking websites such as facebook.

It made the political leadership directly connected to the online public. So the technology became the bridging factor. Due to immense security threats many of the political parties resorted to online election campaigning driving public sympathies and votes.

A lot has changed there are socio-politico forums on Facebook that drives online opinions and there about 8 million facebook users in the country. Roughly two million use twitter and a half of that linkedin.

Views are of the opinion that an average of 7% annual growth is seen in social media users.

This data is fragment of what was all being done to attract 80 million registered voters.

Much of the content that we see as being broadcasted or even printed is as a result of a direct interaction online be it over twitter or on facebook between politicians and the public.

In lot of the cases what the information may lack at times is its accuracy or the credibility.

Now, there are different civil society action groups, focusing on information and communication technologies as a fundamental to advocating human rights – somewhat similar to civil liberties. These organizations build capacity on digital security, online safety and privacy. They also drive campaigns against internet censorship and surveillance issues.

Cyber terrorism in Pakistan according to its policy, is either lifetime or 10million rupees. Defamation charges go upto 5 years.

Cyber warfare between India and Pakistan started back in the 90s.

Now while the medium could’ve been used as to bridge the divide between the two nations, it is currently being used by both countries to spread hate inciting malicious intent.

Many donors and development organizations are now inclining towards online portals that, showcases more people-to-people, also business-to-business relationship between the two countries.

In Swat

Swat Valley

I was there this August. The city reflects about what it would have been like when the Taliban had taken over. People of Swat were threatened, Islam was different, life was not normal, and nothing could possibly be related to the essence of what the city was known for.

The clashes of natural beauty; the mountains, rivers and the innocence of the land through the eyes of young girls like Malala. Swat has risen from the dark ages, despite the distant yet lingering fear of the return of the extremist elements. The streets are abuzz with the sweetness of young boys and girls making their way to school, taking a dip from the riverside, joyfully teasing one another; something that any parent in their right state of mind would want their child to experience and share. The marketplaces cluttered with people and goods, I could also see shops selling music CDs and DVDs. Sitting on a newsdesk, couple of years ago, collating information and trends, I regularly got to hear of the music shops being blown up by the Taliban back then.

Driving through the valley, we pass Imam Dhehri, once the Headquarters for the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, a rebel movement dedicated to the destruction of the rule of law, now banned, Maulana Fazllulah, also known as ‘Mullah Radio’, a fundamentalist, son-in-law of the TNSM Chief, Sufi Muhammad, allied to the Taliban forces spread inciteful messages through illegal FM stations against the women’s right to vote and education. swat1

Even though the enforcement agencies in the Malakand Division now come across as a state functionary in absolute control of the law and order situation. Pakistan is seen to be continuously demanding the Afghan Government to handover Fazllulah. The militant has been accused of destroying schools, shops, conducting suicide attacks, bombings and most recently for carrying out an attack on Malala Yusufzai and her school friends. One may argue, that this perhaps calls for the International community to build a more closer diplomatic relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan that brings stability in to the region.

Meanwhile, further ahead into the valley, is the Sanghota College for Girls, an educational facility, a bleak reminder of the past, wrecked and blown up, walls scraping off, holy scriptures painted, tarnished school desks and books piled up in the corner – it does tell a story of the clitter-clatter of girls running through the corridors. The silence is now filled with workers fixing the grills, re-building and renovating different parts of the college.

A visit to “Saba’oon”, a de-radicalisation school, a harsh reality, a project meant for teenage boys, psychologically savaged into believing that the true way of living is to destroy the so-called ‘others’; their only fault in life, is being born and raised in unjust circumstances. Their stories are the ones that need to be told, stories of plight, stories of economic disparities, stories of bad peers, stories of not being aware of right from left, right from wrong – stories that reflect on the poor education system, on unbearable living conditions. Their life is not a simple story to tell. But is a story worth listening to before questioning their dignity.

Nevertheless, the project, instills the belief of how life, under different circumstances can change thought, build  character, create a new future for these young boys. Each one I spoke to had a future, a dream to do better, to do good to give back to their families, to help their community, to help the ones that have suffered. Overwhelmed only by sheer intelligence, the program  shows that the youth in Pakistan needs its share of attention in a country caught up in every type of turmoil.  Many of the 15-17 year old boys have been reintegrated, and are being mentored on regular basis.

How often, does one get to read, hear, think, what “The State for the people” actually means for an everyday Pakistani?

Saba’oon protects these children, gives them shelter, hope and a tomorrow to look-forward to. One would only naturally think that is what the role of the state is supposed to be.  To Protect and To Serve.

SwatSwat has suffered the worst exodus and civilian casualty.  Rah-e-Rast left 90 soldiers dead, and now as it reels back to life, the impact of those contributing towards its rehabilitation can be seen through constructional efforts of new schools, hospitals and clinics. But the infrastructure still carries the wounds of the past.

(This blog was originally published by Jang Group’s, The News, http://blogs.thenews.com.pk/blogs/2012/12/in-swat/)

Future of Journalism

Media practitioners, journalists, communication professionals around the world need to build consensus to realize the significance of globalization, in the context of the socio-political gaps, economic interests, cultural and religious values, to strengthen the fundamental rights of individuals and societies.

Needless to say, efficient and transparent mechanisms need to be developed, which can help in determining the quality and implications of what is ‘good’ content and which is ‘bad’. Bringing the debate in the public domain will bridge the unnecessary gaps that are reasons for creating knowledge deficit in the society. Therefore enabling a healthy debate of reasoning and rationale.

In emerging economies, early adaptation of the ICT tools will connect communities pertaining local relevance with those ensuring best practices at a global playing field, hence raising the bar of journalistic standards encouraging not only an effective but an appreciative-well-informed society. It is through this transition, which gives an individual or the society to question and demand response playing a vital role in the newly formed democracies of the world. And because this industry on its own is so rapidly evolving, most fearing change will not able to adapt, compete and coexist in the digital space.

So as Adrian, suggests in his video, that the future of journalism, is for the digital savvy group of people having the ability to analyze massive amounts data; but then the question arises in what context does one critically evaluates such information…

 

Dear Journalist,

When you cover a story, or chase a lead hot or cold is this the way you’re looking for it to be…can this be the way how journalism should be done and offered to the masses or does this framework seem one-dimensional?

Future of Journalism – The Way Forward

Journalism in emerging markets have a unique opportunity to reinvent its traditional model, re-identify challenges, and manifest its achievements in form of knowledge in the public interest at the policy as well as at the grass-root (individual/community) level.

The Boston Globe and the MIT’s Center for Civic Media acquired a grant worth $250,000 dollars from the Knight Foundation, in order to build tools for newsgathering and reader engagement. This is one of the prime examples how new journalism trends will emerge from environments of mutual collaborations.

The industry, at least in Pakistan would need to go back to the Academicians, establish linkages that are very so often discussed but not processed into tangible results. In other words, and very right put by the Secretary of State’s Advisor on Innovation, Alec J Ross ” Innovation comes from taking risks, accepting failures” reason why we see so many venture capitalists investing in start-ups are thriving in the US.

The dynamics of the thought processes with the future generations to come will not be determined by shady propagandist tactics used by special interest groups that encourage fear-mongering that teased the less-informed segments of the society.

As the society is becoming increasingly informed; the ability to navigate through large amounts data by rationalizing with objective narratives will determine the credibility of the journalists. The industry-academics will need to ensure that the concept of journalism in the public interest is not lost in implied tactics of the external factors acting as the influencing force that challenges the credibility and the authenticity of the profession. One methodology of evaluation can be based on the following indices:

1) Content reflecting diversity.

  • Reports that highlight the issue and content that reflects an unbiased viewpoint.
  • Article that are thoroughly researched and well written and are edited by a professional news outlet.
  • Articles that mention people with contrasting viewpoints.

2) Content should serve the need of all groups in the society: public, private and community based.

  • Identify stakeholders: government, security establishment, political parties/groups, minorities, religious groups, cultural groups
  • Understand the history and be familiar with coverage of diverse groups in society. Usefulness of the news information for the public at large
  • Accessibility of the content

3) Content displays culture of self regulation.

  • Applied ethical guidelines and practices that govern the profession and the legal implications and considerations that inform the profession
  • Including information about sources, accuracy estimates, possibilities of bias and voluntary retractions

4) Communicating with fairness and impartiality.

  • Articles that demonstrate the ability to apply tools, concepts and technology appropriate for the presentation of images and information on diversity
  • Minimum 2 or more contrasting views in the story. Use of neutral (unemotional) vocabulary

5) Content displays high-level of trust and confidence with the civil society organization/academia.

  • Credibility can be measured by the number of readers or subscribers of the professional news outlet

6) The content should also reflect the linguistic diversity of the targeted issues.

  • Credit reports that discuss regional (and not national issues) in less commonly spoken languages and that interact with minorities in their local languages
  • The report includes interviews and/or information from linguistically diverse segments of society

7) The content should represent the views of the entire political spectrum and the wide spectrum of the social interests including the weakest segments of the society.

  • Is there a political bias or not?
  • Choice of a topic (or topics) that highlight a minority (or underrepresented) group. Major piece on a minor political group

Although this methodology is/could potentially be debatable, and is open for constructive critique, yet it covers variety of elements that an informed material, in whichever form that may be, can be evaluated and assessed over its quality. The amalgamation of the framework and the assessment criteria of creating quality content ensures the credibility of the content-originator/journalists.

In times where it may seem that the journalism in public good no longer matters, it only reinforces the behavior which will provide favorable circumstances to the bulging youth populations in the emerging economies to challenge the existence of monstrous infrastructure and traditional revenue models by exploring and innovating new wheels of the game.

The Missing Link

It’s ironic how the mainstream media deviates from what is important to a 180 million people to what aids individual interests. Sadly, it has become an acceptable way of life that a corrupt politician, misleading opinion-makers and the ‘foreign forces’, are allowed to govern and then destroy the efforts of aspiring youth population to bring change. And when hoping for one becomes a sin, surfacing selfishness and disorientation spreads like a disease.

A country, by the very definition of consequences of any chaos, in this case, which is constant in nature, suffers from Post-traumatic stress disorders. Whether this may be because of the War President or the Drone War President.

Perhaps our own short-term ill-conceived tacit strategies are haunting us back to the Dark Ages.

Since 2008, the Drone warfare has increased radically, there are almost 64 bases across the globe engaging in US drone missions. Currently, positioned in over 14 different countries, some for intelligence gathering purposes and others for targeting ‘populations’ those are ‘sources’ of National Security threat to the US.

One of these frequently targeted area is the North Waziristan, a place I never visited, nor which the Pakistani Army dares to go, clearly many Americans wouldn’t know how it actually looks like either. But regardless of how complicit the US or the Pakistani Government is towards civilian deaths, what is strange that none of the overly exuberant Civil Society Organization has been able to establish Reprieve Pakistan. The only people churning out remotely smart questions and op-eds are the ones not sitting in key decision making boardrooms of legislators and policy-makers.

A question put forward in a documentary produced by Alternate Focus, by an author and an activist Tom Hayden was; “Are these weapons [Drones] keeping us [United States of America] safe, or do they just incite further terrorist attacks? And is their use a violation of the Geneva Conventions?”

According to the Geneva Convention, most serious of crimes are termed grave breaches, will the drone strategy be termed as one? If so how far, will one go to distort the lines  – even further between the combatants and the civilians…

Why Pakistan is an easy target and is usually not a hard nut to crack; well that is mainly because we critically remain in a self-sustained state of anarchy and inefficiency.

The combination of the two defines the very nature of how the country is perceived and dealt with.  According to a few professors in Israel, the price of anarchy is by now a standard measure for quantifying the inefficiency introduced in games due to selfish behavior, and is defined as the ratio between the optimal outcome and the worst Nash equilibrium.

Even though Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaaf portrays itself as a likely political force, which will act as a restraining factor and influence the scale of corruption in the country, yet the reality remains that the incumbent disease is widespread and systemic in law enforcement agencies, in the offices of the public service etc etc.

A country with massive power failures, leadership crisis, fanaticism, water-and-what-not shortages we really fancy our ‘long marches’ or as my friend put it over dinner ‘long drives’. Such actions only portray the level of commitment of these so-called power influences to this nation. The choices and then the priorities are all dangled up in an elusive dream.

Its 2012, as India goes into celebrating its first and the European region into marking its 10th year of Polio free certification, Pakistan is still battling possible travel restrictions over the virus. And even more absurdly, with the Taliban in the Waziristan creatively linking the predator drone programme to the polio vaccination of over 200,000 children in troubled region, there’s a possibility that thousands of families will be at the risk of being missed out during the inoculation campaign.

Who really decides for over a 180 million people, when each pillar of the state is losing its supposed grace?

A Free Press? What if Wapping were Islamabad?

Lord Hunt of Wirral has proposed a revamp of the Press Complaints Commission, which he now chairs. His is a serious and considered response to the complex issues being considered with great dexterity by Lord Justice Leveson’s historic inquiry.

The challenges faced by Leveson and Hunt are daunting – but transposing their activities to Pakistan would prove formidable even for men of such intellect, skill and diplomacy.

Pakistan has witnessed a huge increase in the number of private news channels in the last decade. Previously, the market was monopolised by a single state-owned television network that was heavily influenced by government functionaries and provided limited information access to the public.

Today, the people of Pakistan can watch dozens of news channels and hope to get more credible information in real time. However, the emerging situation has also spawned new questions and challenges that must be confronted to improve the overall quality of journalism in the country.

Many applaud Pakistan’s media for playing a significant role in the reinstatement of the country’s superior judiciary, bringing down the Musharraf-led administration, creating the environment for the restoration of democracy and frequently challenging corrupt politicians and the political system of Pakistan. On the flipside, many condemn it for glorifying militants, spewing hatred and creating despondency among people. Who is right?

Pakistan’s media organisations were in the forefront of exposing ‘disappearances’ across the country and raising many other human rights violations at a time when the U.S.-led ‘war on terror’ was in its full bloom. However, the same news channels also got many other things wrong and failed to create clarity about some vital issues that could have had existential implications for their state.

Pakistan’s decision to side with the United States in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks was frequently criticised by the mainstream news channels. Few of them realised that Islamabad did not have the option of staying neutral in the ‘war on terror’ since it was deeply involved in Afghanistan and supported the Taliban regime that harboured Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network. They also accused the government of fighting the U.S. war at a time when diehard militant factions were using their country’s soil not only to export violence in other parts of the region but also to target innocent civilians and security forces in their own country. Subsequently, the media’s discourse strengthened the militant propaganda and weakened the state’s ability to take the ownership of the war and swiftly respond to the challenge at hand.

Some journalists believe that some high-profile anchors working with leading Urdu-language news channels were pursuing the rightwing agenda on purpose. But a closer examination of the internal landscape of these organisations can also provide us more insight into this phenomenon.

Looking at the growing influence of Pakistan’s private news channels, it is sometimes easy to forget that they are relatively new to the business and have employed young journalists with limited field experience. While these journalists have brought fresh energy to the local broadcast industry and have become intimately involved in policy debates and political and decision making processes, they have also been required to venture into areas which were previously viewed as the preserve of senior journalists with concrete skill sets and proven track record of serious journalism. Some young journalists are now seen as performers as much as reporters. Bombastic talk shows and sensationalised issues keep the ratings of their channels high. So Pakistan’s media stands accused of committing a number of professional felonies. Private news channels are believed to be suffering from the breaking news syndrome – get things fast, not right.

This raises a credibility issue, something that was reflected in the media coverage after the U.S. Navy SEALs launched the Abbottabad operation in May 2011. Some of the leading Pakistani news channels kept displaying a fake image of Osama bin Laden’s corpse for several hours without confirming its authenticity.

The broadcasting of graphic images after terror attacks spreads greater anxiety among people, creating an impression that the local media is unwittingly playing into the hands of militant groups who are doing their best to strike terror into people’s hearts.

Media accountability remains limited. While most journalists remain understandably suspicious of government’s attempts to regulate their industry, they have fallen short of formulating their own code of conduct to display their sense of social responsibility and commitment to quality journalism.

When a senior DawnNews journalist, Matiullah Jan, launched a programme to expose the irregularities of the media in Pakistan, there was a backlash from among his own community. The show was stopped by the management of the news channel and the anchor was excommunicated by some of his close friends.

Mr Jan asserts that the extent of media freedom continues to fluctuate in Pakistan since “it is one issue that is usually determined on political, rather than legal, grounds.” Unlike most of his fellow journalists, however, he feels that media regulations may not be entirely bad for journalists.

Last year, the government revived the Press Council of Pakistan to receive complaints against news organisations. However, the Council has not accomplished much so far and its mandate and mode of functioning is opaque.

The media needs to devise a proper self-regulating code of conduct, acceptable to all stakeholders in the industry, within a proper and obligatory framework that does not only focus on their responsibilities but also extends them security and provides them with freedom of information and expression. The fact that such a code has not been formulated so far reflects the extent of fragmentation and lack of confidence among the media community.

According to one journalist, who attended a recent Agahi workshop in Lahore organized by Mishal Pakistan, the country’s journalists are represented by different media bodies. “Most of these associations,” he contended, “are at cross-purposes with each other. The groups that represent the owners do not speak for the rights of their employees and impose greater responsibilities on them. The media organisations representing the working journalists, on the other hand, view things differently and tend to hold the owners accountable as well.”

Whatever may be said about this problem, responsible journalists mostly understand the rudimentary principles of journalism and do not sacrifice their commitment to their profession at the altar of their organisation’s commercial interests. Technically, therefore, it should not be difficult for them to devise a proper code of conduct.

Perhaps, after they have finished dealing with the British media, Lord Justice Leveson and Lord Hunt should offer their combined talents to Islamabad? They might be there a long time.

(The article originally appeared in the Huffington Post and was co-authored by The Lord Carlile of Berriew)

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