The World Futures Studies Federation's 50th Anniversary Conference

The World Futures Studies Federation's 50th Anniversary Conference

The World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF) was founded in Paris in 1973 as a global network of leading futurists, committed to truly global futures and to creating alternative futures that embrace cultural diversity and individual difference. The conference to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary held between 25th and 27th October was certainly a massive undertaking with two days of pre-conference events and the actual three-day conference not only taking place in person during the working day but carrying on with virtual sessions in the evening and throughout the night. The number attending in person must have been well into the three figures, and the numbers online a multiple of that. (At the time of writing the total numbers of attendees are still being worked out.) With five sessions running in parallel through most of the three days, I can do no more than highlight a few of the events that seemed of most significance to me.

The conference took as its theme “Exploring Liminalities: Creating Spaces for Unlimited Futures”. Liminalities? I’d never heard the word before and had to look it up: not the most promising start. My dictionary gave the following two definitions:

  1. “of or relating to the transitional or initial stage of a process”
  2. “occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold”

If one paraphrases those to “a space for deciding how to move forward from where we are”, in the context of global futures, that’s more interesting.

Indeed, one of the keynote speakers at the Opening Session, Mariagrazia Squicciarini, Chief of Executive Office, Social Human Sciences, UNESCO said that we should use the future to rethink the present. She stated that forty-six agencies throughout the UN were now being trained in futures and stressed the importance of relating research to policy and knowledge to action. Another opening speaker asserted that futurists were rational optimists, trying to imagine a better future.

However, there was nothing particularly rational about what became the most talked about session of the conference. This took place on the first afternoon, when Alex Fergnani of the Rabat Business School gave a presentation on Metamodern Futures: Prescriptions for metamodern foresight. Professor Fergnani suggested that underneath current problems there was a deep ideological split between modernity and post modernity. Metamodernism would transcend all previous value systems and resolve them into a new integrated system. Data should be gathered on worldviews with the object of working towards establishing it.

Fur flew and passions ran high during the panel discussion which followed it. Such a level of control was impossible. It was “ludicrous that metamodernism could save the world”. Another panellist with experience of serious conflict situations retorted that a “Ministry of Global Values” sounded like something out of Orwell and emphasised the importance of ongoing conversations: we should just be trying to keep the game going: an infinite game. Many people just wanted to be safe. It was left to a further panellist – as it happens a SAMI principal – to make the most sober comment of the discussion in reminding everyone of the importance of foresight in bridging conflicts and establishing a grand narrative. Professor Fergnani responded that he was only introducing new concepts.

As an audience member, I am always slightly disappointed when things are discussed in terms of “meta” this and “meta” that, or this “ocracy” or that “ology”, because whatever the  academic merits of such terms, they rarely have any resonance with the public whom they are supposed to be considering. But while no-one wants the “thought police”, the assimilation of values naturally as societies integrate is a different matter. The central idea of trying to solve man’s differences by transcending them is surely a powerful and important one today.

Following on from this, another use of liminality was explored in a workshop run on the first afternoon by Ted Fuller, UNESCO Chair at Lincoln University under the title “Exploring liminality in human responsibilities for the future.” Professor Fuller referred to a paper contributed to the first WFSF Conference in 1973 by Dario Zadra, Professor at the Gregorian University, Rome describing religious liminality as a space where church communities could gather together to be transformed before re-entering the everyday world. Professor Fuller suggested that for futurists, imaging the future was the space where they were transformed. Thus the workshop was about understanding the challenges of articulating responsibility in futures work and covered questions relating to action and responsibility, responsible actor relationships and the emergence of what responsibility for the future meant. The workshop was a stark reminder of the importance of being clear about what you are doing and why when working in the field.

Ideas about how to transcend man’s problems and what responsibility for the future means are all very well, but what is going to happen on the ground? This topic was taken up by Dr Seren Dalkiran, a member of the Dutch node of the Millennium Project, during a session on Transforming Leadership on the second afternoon. In her presentation (also written up in the October edition of Compass) she quoted Peter Drucker who noted:

“Every few hundred years in history there occurs a sharp transformation. Within a few short decades society – its worldview, its basic values, its social and political structures, its arts, its institutions – rearranges itself. We are currently living through such a time.”

What was the story of the younger generation who would take up leadership roles and drive meaningful and lasting change? In exploring a new story there needed to be a new paradigm centred on human and planetary flourishing and sustainability. Her research looked at whether millennial leaders had an inclination to these emerging paradigms. She had conducted field work with youth leadership networks in 28 countries across 6 continents engaging more than 5000 youth leaders. She had collected quantitative and qualitative data in 117 countries representing millennial leaders across diverse backgrounds. New leadership was not developing fast enough, but her research insights emphasised the potential of individuals and organisations to foster such value-based leadership styles and learning cultures. She pronounced:

For NextGen futurists, foresight is often a leadership capability to navigate global challenges and drive social and sustainable change.”

Leadership was also an implicit theme of the ESPAS Conference which followed two weeks later and which will be considered in next week’s blog.

Written by Tony Diggle, SAMI Associate and member of the UK Node of the Millennium Project. 

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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