Over the past few months, I have helped organise a celebration of 10 years of the Masters of Strategic Foresight course at Swinburne University of Technology here in Melbourne. Last Saturday (31 July), a group of about 40 alumni, current students,  present and past teaching staff gathered to celebrate those 10 years. This course was a life-changing experience for me, not only because I had one of the most intense learning experiences of my life in my first year, which was delivered online, but also because I had a personal epiphany about the importance of thinking about the future impact of our decisions today - before we make those decisions - that caused me to change careers. The concept of responsibility for future generations and being a good ancestor struck a real chord with me, and by the end of the two years of the course, I had decided that I wanted to work in the futures field. It took me a few more years, but in 2007 I left behind a career of almost 30 years as a university manager, to set up Thinking Futures. Two and a half years later, I feel privileged every day for the opportunity to work with people who want to understand what the future might bring and who are willing to open up their assumptions to challenge - so that we can collaboratively create better futures for us all. The Swinburne course set me on this foresight journey, and I'll always be grateful for that.

Back to the day.  The organisers gathered at around 8am on a cold morning, and set up the hall where we would be meeting. The food was organised, as was the Wall of Wonder, and the Open Space Technology posters.  We had sent out a survey before we started organising, and we got a clear message that participants wanted the day to be about their experience and their passions. So we structured an opening and a closing, and devoted the remainder of the day to Open Space discussions.

A brief introduction and welcome was followed by the Wall of Wonder, facilitated by Karen Newkirk (Creating Eternity), who did a great job of drawing out of us all our feelings and beliefs about the past, present and future of the course.  A really big wall was created with a timeline and we each wrote our ideas on pieces of paper which were then stuck to the wall. It provided both personal and big picture views and perspectives, and allowed us all to hear about what drew us to the course, our experiences in the course, and then the driving forces in our work after the course now and into the future.

I facilitated the Open Space Technology session which saw sessions on:

  • Foresight in Schools
  • Foresight and Permaculture
  • Building a network of alumni
  • Helping socially disadvantaged people find their voice, particularly aged care
  • Where to from here: what strategies to we have?
  • Personal discovery through Future sculpture
  • Our Foresight Journeys
  • Aspirations for Change
  • Conversations that Enrich Foresight

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Open Space approach worked well - people were responsible and took ownership of the day themselves. And, as perhaps some sort of sign, the sun came out just before we moved into the Open Space segement of the program. People commented that they loved the emergence of the Open Space process, although it requires us to 'unlearn' how to meet without structure that is defined for us. The degree of involvement of the facilitator was also raised as some people felt some intervention was necessary to keep the process on track.  We did not have a formal feedback process on session outcomes, but rather encouraged each group to work out whether or not they wanted to take their topic beyond the day. A more general review of the day highlighted that:

  • there is lots of good 'stuff' happening,
  • we might need more 'in the box' thinking so we can act now,
  • we may not be clear about whether we are using futures to advocate something, or promoting advocacy of futures
  • there were many light bulb moments, and
  • overall, a re-energising day - we can make a difference.

We closed with a time capsule exercise facilitated by Barbara Bok, where we each - individually or in groups - developed our own futures triangles based around the future of the course. The time capsule will be opened in 10 years time. Richard Slaughter, who set up the course, then provided an overview of its history and reminded us of the urgency of the work we are now all doing if we are to help ensure a sustainable future for us and the planet.

For me, the day was marked by remarkable openness, from the passion of individuals who spoke about their drivers, to discussing methods and ways of working in the futures field. Sharing experiences, wonderful food and making new connections were hallmarks of the day. A common respect yet simultaneous dislike of the Integral Futures subject in the course was very clear!  This subject is challenging and forces you to question your own assumptions and worldviews in the context of learning about four quadrants, holons, streams, waves and much more. It remains a defining and connecting element of the course - in one way or another - for all of us.

The one thing that kept cropping up for me, however, was a question around why, if we understand the imperative of the future, can we as a society, and individual foresight practitioners, not work out a way to move to action?  Why is it that we don't change the way we think and operate in the face of overwhelming evidence that that change is essential?  This was a much bigger question than we could do justice to on the day, but it's remained with me and I'm pondering how to make this action step more overt in my work.

People stayed after the formal close and had more conversation before gradually heading off in the twilight of the evening. We organisers cleaned up, shared the left over food :) and said our goodbyes, exhausted but all feeling that the effort to organise the day was well worth it.  The challenge now will be to try and maintain the energy on the day, so that we can keep the conversations going.