We can’t handle the future

IFTF’s Jane McGonigal is promoting her new book Imaginable. Her crucial talking points are the two foresight games she did in 2008 and 2010 involving more than 20,000 people and accurately predicting the Corona pandemic.

But as Tim Harford points out in his FT article (paywalled):

As a life-long gamer, I am easily persuaded of the benefits of games, but they are no panacea, even when they do predict the future. Superstruct and Evoke did not prevent pandemic policy missteps;

One could even ask if those games had any effect on the pandemic they predicted. And thus, they are an excellent example of what I deem to be the biggest challenge of foresight work: nobody listens.

In this interview with Stuart Candy, which is an excellent primer on futures studies btw., he also points toward this problem:

However, over some years of working with foresight in government, I found that policymakers had limited capacity to envision alternative futures, and even where the field had a certain currency, its legacy methods weren’t necessarily having great impact. […]

The field traditionally has been very strong on frameworks for organizing thought, but less so on converting those anticipations into embodied insights and making them stick.

I’ve spent some time studying the history of futures studies and foresight, and I think it’s rather bleak. I like to sum it up as “a history of being ignored.” So this is a general topic that has been on my mind for the last couple of years: how can our work in futures studies become more effective and lasting?

Sure, this isn’t just a problem with our work and methods. It’s also caused by the short-termism and focus on the now in business and politics. Nevertheless, it’s the biggest and most exciting challenge we’re facing as a field, and after sixty years, we should be able to find better answers.

My personal approach has been to look at imaginaries as collective expectations that have become so ingrained that they are taken for granted and impossible to challenge. Charles Taylor talks about them as a background understanding in society that guides all decisions and behaviors.

Foresight and even futures studies have always been primarily interested in creating new images of the futures/scenarios. But unless they feed into the status quo, they are usually dismissed. That’s why I’m so interested in critical futures studies work. It can help create awareness of current future imaginaries and thus open up receptiveness for new images of the future.

This seedling is based on a conversation with Patrick on the Sentiers discord.