28th October 2012: Negotiating Conference Travel

Yesterday, I had to cancel two papers/presentations with coauthor Ben Eltham at the International Studies Association‘s annual convention in San Francisco in April 2013. We both were unable to get access to research incentive and travel funding for the ISA conference. Some lessons:


1. Negotiate your initial contract carefully. Your university employer makes a valuation decision on your career if it gives you an Academic Level versus a HEW Administrator contract. Academic Level roles are governed by the Minimum Standards for Academic Levels (MSALs) and can access research incentive and conference travel funding. HEW Administrator roles often cannot and don’t have as clear pathways for funding access: they are not considered researchers even if they have an existing track record. These access and resource allocative differences can shape your career and create a ‘success to the successful’ dynamic that is needed to become an academic superstar (Sherwin Rosen). Get access to research funds in writing and in your contract: an email or verbal promise often won’t survive a staff change or a cost reduction initiative.


2. Negotiate some personal discretionary funds. A secret of successful professoriate is that they negotiate a salary loading component during their initial contract negotiations that are personal discretionary funds. This enables conference travel independent of budget, staff or organisational changes.


3. Situate the conference within a long-term research program. University senior management have a ‘value for money’ philosophy. They are interested in grant and journal publication outputs rather than conference papers. You need to show in your conference travel application how the conference will build your international visibility (an MSALs criterion); how the papers will lead to high-level journal publications; and how you will build networks that could become collaborative teams or mentors for competitive grant applications. Be strategic about this: don’t just go to an international conference because of the exotic locale. You are instead reframing the ‘value for money’ philosophy as a strategic level investment in your research career, and with up-front, observable research outputs. Know what the economic value added of your research program is to your university. Link your research program to university areas of distinctive specialisation or strategic investment priority. Use the pre-panel discussions to find out what other national and international researchers and research teams are doing in your area.


4. Get an institutional champion. Explain to your boss or supervisor why the conference is important to your research program and overall career. Get their advice and help in dealing with the institutional paperwork for conference travel funding. Having an institutional champion means you won’t feel isolated and you have someone who can help to make the ‘research case’ to senior decision-makers if needed. Your professional association might also have a conference travel fund that you should apply for.


5. Develop healthy psychological barriers from your organisation’s problems and self-narrative. The rejection of conference travel funding might relate to other factors such as budget austerity, misaligned incentives (which can involve decision rights and moral hazard), or a change in research funding priorities. You need to differentiate yourself and your research program from the “struggle” narrative (Dr. Jose M. Ramos) that occurs in organisational reform initiatives. You likely did not cause institutional debt or the failure to invest in the necessary infrastructure and strategic portfolios — and you can be part of the change management initiative. Don’t take the funding rejection personally: practice mindfulness techniques and try to be psychologically resilient.


6. Write the papers anyway. If you don’t get conference travel funding then reframe this as a self-limit to work around. Think like a New Wave (1978-84) musician: if you decide to self-fund the conference travel then ensure your financial affairs and taxation records are in order. I liked Ben Eltham’s advice: “Let’s use this energy to write write a couple of shit-hot peer-reviewed papers.”

1st August 2012: Dr. Jose M. Ramos Interviews Jim Dator

Friend and colleague Dr. Jose M. Ramos has a great 8-minute video interview with futures scholar Jim Dator:


Well, I was really and pleasantly surprised by Jim’s way of being. Yes he is one of the founders of the FS field, but he was very approachable and had an amazingly warm and inviting demeanor. Of course he was brutally honest about how he saw FS and the futures of the planet in general, but done so in a way that connects and inspires.


Ramos is correct: Dator‘s comments are a succinct explanation of the value of using futures studies in your contemporary life. I look forward to more of Ramos’s interviews with World Futures Studies Federation members.

12th July 2012: The Foresight Epidemic

Strategic foresight expert Dr. Jose M. Ramos and colleagues have a new project that combines foresight and social media:


Experiments with social media, foresight and you (we hope!). Inspired by the work of a number of projects in the open foresight space, we are attempting to further develop social media foresight methods.  We want to experiment at the junction of social media and foresight studies to create an epidemic (or hopefully a pandemic!) of foresight thinking.


The project will appeal to fans of the film Contagion; the Anthrax album Spreading the Disease; and Richard Preston‘s book The Hot Zone.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been notified of a CDC-5 situation.

6th July 2012: Australia’s Potential Internet Futures

Strategic foresight practitioner Stephen McGrail and I have a new article out in the Journal of Futures Studies on Australia’s potential internet futures:


Australia’s Federal Government announced the National Broadband Network (NBN) in 2009. NBN’s current roll-out is scheduled for completion in 2021, with market forecasts estimating optical fibre overtaking DSL broadband connections in about 2015. This paper provides a timely contribution to more critical and expansive analysis of potential Australian internet futures. First, ‘schools of thought’ and current technological frames (Web 2.0, ‘the cloud’) for the internet and its possible futures are outlined, which provide perspectives on the emergence of the NBN. We then outline five generic images of the future which, as predetermined images, enable quick ‘incasting’ of alternative futures for a technology topic or related object of research: promised future, social/speculative bubble(s), unfolding disruption/chaos, unintended consequences, and co-existence/‘cooption’. High-level application of the ‘schools’ and generic images to the NBN and Australia’s potential internet futures, suggests policymakers and strategists currently consider too few perspectives.


The paper also responds to but is different from the Smart Internet 2010 (2005) report I worked on at the former Smart Internet Technology CRC. It took McGrail and I several months to get the paper published so it also has some pre-Facebook IPO comments. It is part of a JFS special issue on Australia’s contributions to the Millennium Project (McGrail has another article in the special issue on Australia’s science foresight and governance). McGrail and I have used our article’s incasting methodology in teaching technology foresight and also as a framework for potential use in investment decisions about exchange-traded funds and sector rotation. I thank Anita Kelleher, Jose Ramos, and JFS editor Tracy for their help in first commissioning and then ‘shepherding’ the article to publication.

5th April 2012: Jack D. Schwager’s Market Wizards



Jack D. Schwager‘s book Market Wizards is mandatory reading for traders and out in a new, 2012 edition. Brenda Jubin’s review explains Market Wizard‘s impact, its interviewees, and its influence amongst traders. Schwager interviewed a diverse range of traders about their motivations, strategies and market insights. Schwager’s new book Hedge Fund Market Wizards will be published in May.


Market Wizards also reminds me of the fourth volume of interviews with futurists and strategic foresight practitioners that Richard Slaughter, Sohail Inayatullah, and Jose M. Ramos compiled for The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies.

17th February 2012: Mediascapes, Conscientisation and Personal Foresight

Several months ago Dr. Jose M. Ramos called for contributions to a special issue of the Journal of Futures Studies on media and futures studies.


I wrote a paper – Mediascapes, Conscientisation, and Personal Foresight (PDF) – rejected by both Futures (Elsevier) and JFS. I had three goals: (1) respond to the debate about mediascapes and futures work; (2) reflect on personal ‘shaping’ experiences in the media that have also contributed to foresight practitioner work; and (3) contribute to theory-building on conscientisation and foresight. The paper contained personal details about my editorial stint with Disinformation and other stuff I rarely talk publicly about.


Futures felt the paper belonged in a digital culture journal. JFS reviewer one wrote: “This is a rambling, overly detailed resume/autobiography. In my judgement it is not a JFS article.  It is poorly written, does not define key terms.” JFS reviewer two wrote: “Although this is quite an interesting read it does not belong in an academic Futures journal.  Firstly, it has little directly Futures content, any connections being limited to quoting a few authors in the field.  Secondly, it is little more than a personal journey, or to be less charitable an ego-trip.”


Whilst I take both reviewers’ comments on-board, they minimised the article’s second goal (auto-ethnographic reflections as a criterion to develop personal foresight). Both reviewers engage in self-policing the field’s boundaries and journal content (an important editorial function – but one where authors and reviewers may have different mental models). Problems like defining key terms can often be solved with a single sentence or two. Both reviewers overlooked the deep connection posited between futures and conscientisation frameworks. I hope others can extract some value from the article: I have other material to write. The experience informed these suggestions on how to handle article rejections.