Litany Watch Archives

September 25, 2007

Scenario Connector

John Cassel is working on a project to develop an online collaborative approach to scenario development based on web 2.0 principles. The concept is basically to create a peer to peer approach to scenario development. In his words:

The overall goal of this environment is to provide a large-scale, analytical-deliberative platform for collaborative foresight and open scenario planning.

He calls the approach 'Scenario Connector' because it is about connecting a diverse number of online actors / agents in a fluid and ongoing / heuristic manner to develop sets of stories or 'tag bundles'. This means that potentially each entry by a participant can be evaluated, added to and modified. Sort of like wikipedia for scenarios and futures? Imagine a project called 'Future of water for such and such a location'. Potentially such a project has a main page, something like wikipedia or other format, which shows the primary assumptions about what people think are driving change. A farmer might offer farming practices, a climatologist might offer greenhouse emissions, an academic might offer as a driver 'worldviews', and together it links a whole number of stakeholders that normally have a difficult time sharing space. But the page stays up, so that over the years, as our awareness of water trends and emerging issues changes, so does the 'water futures project page'. Thus it links the potential of longitudinal and diachronic narrative scenario development, with the potential for open and epistemologically diverse stakeholder inclusion. The image of a wikipedia-full of possible futures comes to mind.

[it] makes scenario creation simple by allowing sit-
uations and events to be described as combinations
of tags, which are short text labels. Then, situa-
tions and events are joined together in networks that
illustrate the possibility of events transforming one
scenario into another. Scenarios can be quickly as-
sembled from existing tag sets, from scenarios the
user has previously created, from scenarios that other
users have shared, and by tags provided by the sys-
tem on installation.

My interest in this in part stems from my desire to see many many people engaged in the process of futures exploration. Early on in my discovery of Futures Studies in 2000 I was inspired by Robert Jungk's 'Future Workshops', which aimed to popularise the visioning of preferred futures in Europe for citizen empowerment in the face of creeping technocracy. Later I worked to link action research with futures studies, as I felt we / I needed to create a bridge between the visions of futures and action / innovation in the present. John Cassel's concept certainly carries many of the principles on action research, such as stating one's assumptions explicitly, the heuristic evaluation review of facts / concerns, and providing an open and participatory space where such work can unfold.

Yet like the branching system it wants to create, such projects also branch into different possible futures, so I will list some of my fears and preferences:

- It would be a shame to see such a platform dominated by the affluent, which is almost inevitable when we think about who has IT infrastructure and bandwidth / speed. How does one create such a system so that it can reflect that experiences of the majority world, and their perspective?

- It would be a shame if the scenario connect approach or culture were wedded to a positivist epistemology that dismissed the moral / ethical and normative dimensions. We are still haunted by David Hume. Can this system accommodate the need to develop preferable and ethical futures, not just descriptions of what we think will / can happen?

- It would be interesting to see whether it is possible to develop layered futures based on Inayatullah and Slaughter's categories (eg litany / pop, social analysis / problem oriented and worldview / epistemology), incorporating both empirical, systems based and epistemically reflexive approaches, or on Chris Stewart's framework for Integral scenario development. Is this asking too much for an open online approach?

- Can such a platform also facilitate the development of policy, projects and innovations, eg action-influence in the present? To satisfy me, it must be more than just speculation and mental exercises, we need to link these approaches with wise social change that addresses the importance of developing socially just and ecologically sustainable futures.

The project throws up some interesting questions and challenges. The project is in the development stage, and John Cassel is currently creating the technical foundations and building a collaborative team. But he should be commended for taking a bold leap into a new frontier for scenario development.

Anyone interested should contact: john [dot] benjamin [dot] cassel [at] gmail [dot] com

View the project concept overview at:

September 9, 2007

Chemistry Fact or Fiction?

Earlier this year scientists discovered something remarkably close to the fictional speculation called Kryptonite – Superman's inert nemesis. This week, Russian scientists reported that they have discovered a few grams of a mineral that apparently absorbs radiation from water. While they don't say what type of radiation, nor what the mineral is like, it’s a pretty startling possibility – so much so, that I think everyone needs their skeptical hat on when reviewing any news about it;) The implications, however, are yet to be mined…

Russian scientists in the Khibinsky Mountains in the Arctic Circle have made an important scientific discovery. They've found a new mineral which absorbs radiation. It does not yet have an official name and is known only as number 27-4. It can absorb radioactivity from liquid nuclear waste.

Continue reading "Chemistry Fact or Fiction?" »

August 23, 2007

A Short, Sharp Shock

I've been glued to Bloomberg & CNBC for the past few days watching U.S. post-mortems on the "technical correction" of the subprime mortgage market. This has been a "guilty pleasure" since reading George Soros's "reflexivity" theory a decade ago, and more recently following the Capital Markets CRC.

Capital markets' role --- particularly the new "actors" such as currency speculators and risk arbitrageurs --- is one dividing line between the worldviews of "pragmatic" and "critical" futurists. Susan Strange's description of capital markets as a "casino economy" and Ulrich Beck's "world risk society" (Masters essay PDF) appeal to "critical" school exponents.

This description misses the "excluded middle" that many risk arbitrageurs in the Vaeshya caste use "critical" school theories for "pragmatic" ends.

Continue reading "A Short, Sharp Shock" »

June 26, 2007


Dr. Joseph Voros of Swinburne University's Strategic Foresight program offers the following gem:

I was sitting here thinking about what to call things written for the purposes of being seen by Google Earth -- graffiti for Google, as it were, when it hit me:

Googleffiti, GOOG-le-FI-ti, n, pictures, words, symbols or glyphs created expressly for the purpose of being seen from space-based imaging devices and visible to anyone through Google Earth.

This is an example:

53 32'19.50"N, 1 20'49.22"W

Note the pronunciation: not Google - ffIti, but GOOG-le-FI-ti.

April 30, 2007

Futures On Your Tele

SBS TV is currently airing an interesting grab bag of documentaries under the rubric of "Future Focus." As a futurist, I'm interested to watch, of course. I suspect, however, that many professional futurists would have sighed, and changed channels. Why is that?

Continue reading "Futures On Your Tele" »

April 10, 2007

Planning for the Aftermath of Climate Change

I recently watched the latest episode of the BBC's Spooks (the last episode in Season 5 downloaded courtesy of uTorrent and ISOHunt). The episode's main plot, besides the obligatory end-of-season cross-over emotional subplot, was about environmental terrorists threatening to blow up the Thames Barrier that serves to reduce the impact of flood waters on the low lying London. Their one demand before everyone involved became manifestly irrational was that the British Government publish in full a planning document code named 'Aftermath.'

The premise of the fictional Aftermath plan? Accept that climate change is not only inevitable, but already too progressed to be corrected, altered or mitigated in any way, and simply get on with adapting to the tectonic like changes by securing existing energy supplies, key infrastructure that will survive and generally capitalising on the ensuing chaos while squashing any trouble at home or with those pesky EU neighbours. The plan's co-authors were, of course the United States.

Stepping back into reality, this far-fetched plan isn't such a stretch.

Continue reading "Planning for the Aftermath of Climate Change" »

March 20, 2007

The Secret and Magical Futures

In describing what I actually do as a futurist, and as ever, trying to fit into the 30 second elevator pitch at parties, I've often come back to a joking stance: "I'm a rigorous imagination technician. Not engineer, that you do for yourself. But technician, helping explain how things work, yes, that I do with imagination, vision, images of the future and how to get there or avoid going there."

Despite the critical-reflexive, self/client empowering, non-deterministic and inherent action orientation of this stance, I still get dumbfounded by the level of magical thinking in our society when it comes to the future. Whether it be techno-optimists who religiously fantasise and proselytise that we will create technology beyond our dreams and solve every problem and open up impossible means of transcendence, all at the flick of a psychic switch, or new-age retro-romantics who have read the cards, studied their sun signs for the year and, in the middle of a primal scream session had a sudden realisation gifted by an animal spirit that their future would require we do away with all technology, they all have one thing regularly in common: magical thinking.

I'm obviously going to have to change my humorous 30 second pitch, otherwise I could easily been seen as promoting magical wish fulfillment (if I didn't have a conscience and wanted to be rich, then maybe I would;)

Continue reading "The Secret and Magical Futures" »

March 3, 2007

How The World Really Shapes Up

US media futurist Mark Pesce kindly tipped me off to a Daily News article on a collection of visual maps known as cartograms that reveal the dynamics of globalisation forces and geo-economic imbalances. The maps on HIV prevalence and Military spending are very revealing.

Continue reading "How The World Really Shapes Up" »

February 10, 2007

We all knew this was coming….

'No mask' hey Alex… perhaps this isn't what you had in mind: Mind reading computers… we all knew this kind of technology was coming along, but did anyone really think they'd get the correlations between brain waves/localised activity and intention/meaning so quickly? And, have they really? Will they ever? From a stub article in The Age newspaper today:

A TEAM of world-leading neuroscientists has developed a powerful technique that allows them to look deep inside a person's brain and read their intentions before they act.

The research builds on a series of recent studies in which brain imaging has been used to identify tell-tale activity linked to lying, violent behaviour and racial prejudice.

The latest work has prompted the researchers to call for an urgent debate on the ethical issues of the technology.

Here's the original UK Guardian article and a nice comment on Slashdot.

Now, while I agree with the urgent need for debates on the ethical issues involved, I have to wonder first, if the technology is really that good? Is this just another form of behavioural cues that so many people think they master, and then soon find out don't generalise so well?

Continue reading "We all knew this was coming…." »

February 3, 2007

Five Things

For some reason, my first post here is going to be trivial. In the litany of human communication habits, and right through litany futures work, short lists of things seems to resonate with our neocortex's thinking and memory functions. So lets hand it over to the number Five…

Five different things landed in my inbox this week – all talking about five big things. So, for some reason five is the number this week (was Sesame Street playing in my subconscious or something?):

-'s Top 5 consumer trends for 2007;
-'s Top Five Nanotech Breakthroughs Of 2006;
- The Inquirer's Top Five Next Big Things That Weren’t;
- has a daily Five Things You Need to Know to stay ahead of the pack on Wall Street, here's a taste; and,
- In psychology there are Five Big Personality Factors. I never knew, and I even studied psychology!

Okay, we can change channel now. We can do an integral futures cartography of the levels of thinking and domains of interest some other time… Now I just wanna cookie.

About Litany Watch

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Futuristics in the Litany Watch category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Knowledge Base is the previous category.

Methodologies is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.