Chapter 9. Trends and Progress – Leading Positive Change

The next two chapters will conclude our brief survey of the rich and complex domain of Global Foresight. These chapters we will discuss two particularly useful open foresight platforms that we at Foresight University would like to see and help emerge in coming years. Consider each chapter a humble first effort to create a “stub” for those platforms. If you would like to fund or get involved in the development of either platform, please let us know, we’d love to talk.

This Chapter, Trends and Progress, begins with a sketch of Futurepedia, a proposed platform to aggregate crowd stories in probable, possible, and preferable futures, culminating, for each issue discussed, on tentative definitions, models, visions, and evidence of social progress. The next chapter, Startup Ideas, offers a similar sketch of Idea Hub, is a proposed platform for listing global and local problems, and public and private product, service, and project ideas to address them, as an aid to social entrepreneurs.

We think both of these are particularly needed platforms in global foresight.

4U’s Futurepedia: Envisioning Social Progress

futurepedia_logo_small

Global foresight needs a few leading, globally recognized platforms that do their best to aggregate the wisdom of foresighted crowds on a vast number of future-important topics, culminating, for each topic discussed, in shared and competing visions of social progress.

The platform we are envisioning would be run by a nonprofit organization, and be called Futurepedia. We introduced this platform briefly in Chapter 1. Futurepedia would cover a topic that Wikipedia traditionally hasn’t allowed: structured thinking and writing about the future, in every topic people care about. Because Wikipedia’s editors consider such efforts speculative, the future doesn’t make it into their wiki, in general. So that is a challenge waiting to be addressed by an independent organization with a deep commitment to foresight thinking.

In 2005, sci-fi author and futurist David Brin called for the emergence of a Predictions Registry, a global platform to record predictions by industry and subject area, with social rewards to those who are particularly successful. That same year I publicly presented the vision of a Futurepedia at ASF’s Accelerating Change 2005 conference, as a mediawiki platform like Wikipedia, and invited someone in our ASF community to fund it’s start.

Once it was sufficiently developed, I am sure it could raise funds annually from its user community, like Wikipedia, and I can envision several other crowd-benefiting business models, using a Futurecoin digital currency, that would also capitalize the ongoing platform. We might also adopt Media Co-Operative model for the nonprofit, or launch it as a social benefit corporation, giving back a fraction of annual income to all contributors, based on reputation.

In addition to a wiki, a good Futurepedia should have polling and argument mapping features, and other tools to help folks move through probable, possible, and preferable futures mapping for each issue page, using the order of operations recommended in the Three Ps foresight model (picture right).

I asked for $250K as a minimum to start the project in 2005, and I still think we could start a Futurepedia with such funds. We reserved the domain Futurepedia.org for that purpose in 2006, and I wrote it up at the FERNweb.org website in 2007. The futurist Kevin Kelly independently called for a Futurepedia, using the same name, in 2008.

Such a platform will eventually be developed, but it may not be developed with good foresight process, and with academically trained foresight professionals at the helm. Some early efforts toward the Futurepedia vision exist today, such as the Forwiki for futures practices and Future.wikia.com. But none of these have strong funding or business models, and none have achieved the scale and scope we envision to date. There are also a number of great for-profit online foresight platforms that are party related to the Futurepedia vision, and would be excellent technology and strategic partners for the project. See our Online Platforms page in Appendix 3 for some examples.

All the existing online foresight work that is CC-licensed needs to be brought into a larger nonprofit project with this kind of global scope and ambition, with good management and a business model. We just need a funder, and a team to commit to its development and management in its early years. After a few years of good growth, it will become a free and commonly used global resource, just as Wikipedia is today. Let us know if you’d like to fund or lead this initiative, or join our team.

At a good Futurepedia you should find structured speculations on probable, possible, and preferable (Three P’s) futures in science, technology, environmental, economic, political, and social (STEEPS) domains. You will need to find dystopias to avoid, and protopias to strive for. That work will lead us to better collective versions of most important aspect of a Futurepedia, in my view, our shared and competing definitions, models, data, and visions of social progress.

We’ve seen a good start at the social progress aspect of the Futurepedia vision with Kevin Kelly’s lovely website, HumanProgress.org, which charts a growing variety of progress trends and achievements to date.  Please consider funding or joining their team to further their vision for their site. While I love HumanProgress.org, I think we need to go much further, and ideally, much faster, in building a crowd-driven foresight community around probable, possible, and preferable global futures. Here are some initial thoughts on what a great Futurepedia might entail. I’d love to hear yours as well.

Project Details

All material would be shared in a Creative Commons share-alike license. We can crowdfund short, 3-minute Summary Videos, for the top of the most popular pages, to help the site become more educational for youth and lay audiences.

As in Scholarpedia, which is often of higher quality than Wikipedia, the Top Section of each page, perhaps one printed page long, might be written by a relevant foresight scholar who takes personal responsibility for curating that page. The Top Section would include links to good online pages on the history and present status of the topic. As the topic research grows, this section will link to number of slightly longer (5 pages or less) Summary Articles on the possible, probable, and preferable futures of the topic, with one of these potentially written by the curating scholar.

The Top Section and Summary Article would be written in Schools of Thought (SoT) format, where each major SoT is described in a few summary paragraphs, referencing some of the leading thinkers advancing the school, and some of their supporting publications. These sections would  be anonymously peer-reviewed for reliability and  be citable as peer-reviewed publications, and continually revised and improved, as with any wiki page. Also as in Scholarpedia, every page would have a curator, typically the page author, who maintains the page for relevance, accuracy, readability, and reliability

As in Wikipedia, which is by far the largest and most valuable of these projects, the remaining sections of every page will be publicly editable by anyone who creates a RealName account, to capture the collective foresight of our global community of foresight thinkers, professional and lay.

Interestingly, Wikipedia occasionally waffles on its policy on allowing structured speculation on the future. You can occassionaly find such Wikipedia pages as:

The Future of Robotics
The Future of Newspapers

Unfortunately, such pages are rare, and several “Future of” pages have been killed by Wikipedia editors and redirected to regular pages. In the long run, we would like our editors to create and edit more pages within the Wikipedia environment, so a top priority for the Futurepedia project would include talking to the Wikimedia Foundation and getting our pages in close compliance with their policy, and perhaps migrating a few over to their site.

At the same time, we see great value in maintaining our own independent status as well, forking select Wikipedia pages and sections where valuable for our own use, and converting them to our own future-oriented versions. Affiliation of this wiki with APF, WFS, WFSF, UN, and other leading foresight organizations and think tanks, as well as all the graduate foresight programs, would be ideal.

In the long run, a well-developed Futurepedia will likely have the following sections, among others:

1. Encyclopedia. Outlines of discussions on Possible, Probable, and Preferable Futures over a wide range of STEEPS topics.
2. Polling/Delphi/Prediction Market. Tools for capturing the collective wisdom of the Futurepedia-using crowd.
3. Education. Links to frameworks, courses, and resources for professionals seeking foresight education.
4. Research. Links to pre-print communities, methods, and tools used by professionals in foresight research.
5. Employment. Links to and descriptions of foresight employers and jobs available in major cities around the world.

Fundraising Needs

Again, I think the launch of such a platform would require both a substantial resources commitment of at least $250K to start, and ideally three or four times that amount, as startup projects are almost always three or four times more expensive than we think when we begin them. Are you interested in Sponsoring, Volunteering or Fundraising for this worthy project? If so, email us, we’d love to talk.

Let’s turn now to technology foresight, and a starter overview of current trends and progressive futures in ten strategically important areas of technology change. I look forward to seeing these brief overviews expanded and improved in a Futurepedia platform in coming years.