Practitioner Reflections Archives

June 25, 2007

Advocacy and consulting: conflictual or compatible?

Something that has often held my attention the past couple of weeks is the conscious and unconscious roles of advocacy in futures work. This is particularly so in the context of where I currently work: a consulting firm that is specialised (at least on paper, the reality often seems different) in sustainability, or sustainable development - along with the often uninspiring area of corporate responsibility. As someone who has been a passionate advocate for these issues for many years and an activist it is clear to me that advocacy (along with toned-down activism) often creeps into my work... sometimes without me "knowing", other times because I want it to; because I feel nothing less than a compulsion to get people/organisations to ACT NOW to help address the myriad challenges that we face.

In analysing the current and emering issues facing a client I could, for example, only want to pay attention to the ones that are likely to lead them to embrace the concept of sustainability or to help create some aspect of the my preferred future. This may or may not be, strictly speaking, good advice (which is what a consultant is asked to provide - to lead to actions in the best interests of his or her client that will help them to achieve their objectives). Or it may be. Increasingly detached, unemotional analysis - which is the kind that I typically have to write in formal reports for clients - leaves me feeling cold... the meaning is lost in the translation... and it makes me want to join an international NGO and do some campaigning or advocacy work. What about you - do you ever grapple with this? How do you resolve these kinds of conflicts if you encounter them> What are the ethical dilemmas in amongst all of this??

A chance run-in to Sohail Inayatullah a week or so ago gave me the opportunity to ask Sohail his views on the topic...

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July 2, 2007

From Blog to Broadsheet

Two of our writers here at Futuristics have had opinion pieces published recently in Victoria's Age newspaper. Josh Floyd today draws an adroit and principle based line to argue for a social morality foundation to developing Australia's carbon trading system, while Stephen McGrail (following up January, February and April opinion pieces) leveraged comments made by Dalai Lama in his recent visit to explore the implications of 'enlightened self-interest' for business strategies appropriate to the 21st Century.

Both articles are worth noting for the progressive yet pragmatic approach they take to address the complexity of responding to humanity's sustainability challenge. From my vantage point, albeit a biased one for several reasons, it's great to see the fruits of Swinburne's strategic foresight program beginning to be more publicly displayed. Whether it’s the course or the people it attracts, or a combination of both, there's hope in them there hills;)

August 22, 2007

Democracy Is Dead. Long Live Democracy!

Okay, so posting this copied text below is against the rules, so if the author, Michael Pascoe, or the publisher, represented my beloved complain, I'll pull it down immediately. But, it's so damn good, so adroit, that I feel I can't quote one sentence without quoting it all.

My commentary, before the Crikey's editorial, is that Pascoe has nailed the core problem with Australia's current state of democracy. Forget the important issue of Federalism, the voting system we have and anything else you can think of, and (in my not-so-humble opinion) go straight to the fact that Howard and co have systematically muzzled civil society in Australia over the past 11 years.

You can start with the fact that no non-profit can achieve that status without complying to the outrageous requirement to not use their funds to support or voice political positions. Pardon me, but what the heck are most of our non-profits for but to campaign for change while doing their best to fill the gaps our current system can't provide for. And these cracks are full of flesh-and-blood people mind you!

But back to the main rant....

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September 23, 2007

Jose M. Ramos on Anticipatory Innovation

Futuristics contributor Jose M. Ramos has published a 7-part series called Anticipatory Innovation which spans many dimensions:

• A reflection on Ramos' personal journey and evolution as a futurist.

Genetically Modified Organisms as one example of collective innovation.

• The effects of debates on nuclear deterrence and sustainability on Ramos' values and worldviews.

• Innovation as the coevolution of sociotechnical systems.

• The personal influence of crises and normative futures as a form of radical awareness.

• The multiple dimensions of self: cultural, ecological, ethical, normative . . .

• The foundations of Anticipatory Innovation as a mode of inquiry, a heuristic method and a change process in different contexts (e.g. individual, firm, community, industry, national, global).

Ramos' reflections cohere around a pattern that I've seen over the past 15 years in other co-journeyers: large-scale crises (structure) triggers the transutation of the individual (self agency) through the willful creation and application of methodologies (symbol-creating agency) which becomes a "strange attractor" for a small group (collective agency) to influence sociopolitical and civilisational trajectories (deep structure). This pattern is diachronic: it is observable through individuals, groups and societies over an extended timeframe. For individuals, it's a stratagem to achieve Dreams and overcome Hazard.

September 29, 2007

Reflections on This Is Not Art

The Australian independent arts festival This Is Not Art (TINA) is on this weekend in Newcastle (27th September - 1st October 2007). Over the past 9 years TINA has evolved from an underground subculture to become the catalyst for thousands of artistic collaborations and vanguard projects. For its panelists and participants TINA is a very real example of collective intelligence and a rhizomatic network that transcends academic theory to change lives.

I had been in a year of isolation after the demise of 21C Magazine when Sean Healy aka Jean Poole invited me to TINA in 1999. The TINA years from 1999 to 2003 were an intense period of improvised logistics, late-night conversations in the Octapod or on the cenotaph hill, meetings at Goldbergs cafe, crowded gigs, and amazing panels. It coincided with my most creative period as Disinformation's new editor which Healy, Marcus Westbury, Barry Saunders, Erin Clark and others enabled me to experiment with. I started with sessions for Electrofringe and the National Young Writers Festival before ending up in the Student Media Conference, in a meta-reflection on my 1994 stint at La Trobe University's student newspaper Rabelais. Finally, TINA provided a participatory space to experiment with Strategic Foresight frameworks and models, such as running a Spiral Dynamics session on film clips and considering how Octapod could become a Vital Signs Monitor on community futures. In-the-moment experience trumps the artefacts.

By 2005 I'd had enough and wasn't saying anything new. So I've not gone to TINA for a few years although I run into TINA allies in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. In these meetings, I often think of Chuck D's advice that your thirties should be a time of consolidation and building on the energy of your twenties. I'm looking forward to a new period of collaborations with some fellow TINA alumni --- and waiting with interest for what emerges from TINA 2007.

September 30, 2007

Ben Eltham on Micro-Entrepreneurs, Risk & Strategy

I recently caught up with Ben Eltham, founder of the Straight Out Of Brisbane (SOOB) festival, and one of the cultural creatives I met at This Is Not Art (TINA) in Newcastle. Eltham is in Melbourne to work on the Melbourne Fringe Festival and with the new independent think-tank the Center for Policy Development. You might have read Eltham's articles in Artshub, Crikey and New Mathilda.

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October 2, 2007

Agile Disruptive GTD

Meet The Life Hackers

Wired Magazine's Gary Wolf has an extensive profile of Getting Things Done author David Allen in the October 2007 issue.

Allen's GTD system is a heuristic for time and workflow management popular in Fortune 500 companies and Silicon Valley firms.  GTD gained visibility after The Atlantic Monthly's James Fallow profiled Allen in its July/August 2004 issue.  New York Times columnist Clive Thompson also mentioned Allen and GTD in an influential article on the "life hacking" movement, which includes sites such as Lifehacker and Merlin Mann's 43 Folders.  Allen has parlayed this exposure into the coaching firm David Allen & Co. and its subscription online community GTD ConnectLockheed, Microsoft Research and O'Reilly Media have all applied or debated Allen's GTD in their research environments.

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May 7, 2008

Strangers On A Train

The 8:03am Hurstbridge line train to Melbourne is overcrowded this morning: you can feel the stress and tension emanating from passengers as they huddle together, glance at nearby faces or seek escape via an Apple iPod or mobile phone game.  It's as if Connex's operations staff have learned of Fritz Leiber's occult science Megapolisomancy --- predicting the future via neo-Pythagoriean geometry, architecture and population masses in large cities --- and are using the railway network as a Monte Carlo simulation.

This morning something is different.

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