I stumbled upon foresight by accident.
It was 3 AM in Nairobi, Kenya, and I was wracking my brain on how to redo a session that I was going to run that day with human rights leaders from across Africa. The aim of the session was to expand people’s sense of what was possible–from an incremental mode to a transformative one.
So I Googled, and Googled, and Googled.
Then I landed on this slide deck of seemingly exciting activities. Only later did I realize that these were common tools used by foresight practitioners. In the following hours as the sun broke the horizon, and with the hunger of an apprentice, I absorbed what I could so I could run my lab that day effectively.
The session happened, and everyone left energized, complete with invisible light bulbs floating over their heads. My ruse was a success!
That 3 AM moment has since influenced the kind of foresight practitioner that I have become–highly pragmatic and radically inclusive (at least I aspire to be; but as you can imagine, it is not always easy).
Over the years, as I have since gotten trained in foresight, and have swum in books upon books and guides upon guides on foresight, I have been surprised to find how deeply inaccessible foresight as a field/method actually is. The language is too technical to be useful, and futurists talk mostly to their fellow futurists. The winds are changing and some exciting efforts are being made to make it accessible, but a lot still needs to be done.
For me, there are three reasons why foresight has to be inclusive:
1 Our futures are too important to be left to a few.
Foresight is really about having the power and agency to tell a different story about the futures we want for our lives. To me, if something can fundamentally alter the way we relate to our future, then it has to be accessible to everyone.
As Mikko Dufva claims, those futures will be inhabited by everyone, so they need to be able to weave their own thread into the tapestry of stories that we will all work towards. Moreover, if we are to become active makers of futures, we have to put in the driver seat those whose lives are most intimately intertwined with the issue, and often, these are groups and individuals traditionally not in circles of power. Inclusivity in this sense is not just a matter of convenience–it is a matter of justice.
2 Experts are bad at forecasting. If you really want to reliably think about futures, you have to include everyone.
David Epstein makes a compelling statement: credentialed experts are bad at forecasting. Citing the work of Philip Tetlock, he claims that forecasting “requires a style of thinking that’s uncommon among experts who are certain that their deep knowledge has granted them a special grasp of what is to come.” Apparently, the more information that experts accumulate, the worse they become at forecasting. Generalists, on the other hand, are able to appreciate a quandary from a diversity of views and experiences, so they almost always get the future right.
Based on my experience working with people of all stripes and backgrounds, I would say that we need both experts, whose dedicated attention to certain things are valuable, and generalists, who make sure that we do not walk around with horse blinders. In short, we need everyone.
Game designer and futurist Jane McGonigal has been running simulations with the public for years–the largest one with 20,000 people which simulated a pandemic–a full decade before Covid-19 happened. Not only did such simulations prepare those who participated in the simulations for when the scenarios happened, but the collective intelligence gained from such massive simulations were of the quality that could and should move the public policy needle. So why keep foresight processes behind closed doors?
3 You cannot bring people along if they cannot identify with the story of the future you are invoking.
In my narrative change work, the most important lesson I have learned is that it is stories that drive societies, or as Yuval Harari claims, even our entire human race. Foresight is about being able to tell compelling stories of our lives in the future. If we want people to come on board in this journey of future making, then that story has to be co-created by everyone, especially those traditionally excluded.
It’s on you
Since you are reading this blog, then you are one of the few who are already in the circle. The responsibility and power to make foresight inclusive is then on you.
How do you check if you are being inclusive enough? I can share with you my own practice:
- I try to employ the “plus one” method: I invite people I know or who have been referred to me, but then I give them a carte blanche ability to invite somebody else they think should be in the room. And when I do that, I strongly urge them to invite someone they normally would not bring to these things–their hairdresser, their neighbor, or someone they argued with at a party who convinced them of an idea they previously thought was preposterous. This is my simple way of checking my own siloed way of existence at the door.
It is far from perfect: I have discovered that most people still end up inviting folks from their inner sanctum, which tells us of how deeply ingrained our siloed thinking is. But by making the effort, the clear message gets across: diversity is prized.
- I look at an issue, then I ask who is most affected by it, and I make sure they are in the room–not as token participants (“youth representation” is my favorite), but as drivers of the process. The process may be messier and more complex than what I am often comfortable with, but I know that it will be more meaningful. As they say in future scenarios, if it is not making you uncomfortable, then it is not doing its job!
- I do foresight in as accessible a manner as I can. It is not about “dumbing it down” (experts are wary about that a lot)–it is about making it authentically useful for those who know best. If foresight becomes truly accessible, then it will organically start to become inclusive. We remove the barrier of elite language, and we get rid of a lot of exclusionary blocks.
Can you imagine foresight as a ‘happy hour” and not just as a “conference”? Or as was beautifully done in Finnsight 2022, a “studio” and not just an accreditation course?
If we really care about our futures becoming a space that we can all be hopeful and excited about, then we have no other choice than to welcome people in our party–as many of them as possible.
It will be more fun that way anyway.
Krizna Gomez held a keynote speech at Finnsight seminar 3rd of November.