Asia Deep Dive on the Commons and the Temporalities of the Commons

I was invited in mid Oct to participate in the Asia Deep Dive on the Commons, a process  of the Heinrich Bo?ll Foundation‘s Commons Strategy Group, in large part due to Michel Bauwens’ influence and via our dialogues on alternative globalizations.

The HB foundation is doing amazing pioneering work bringing together social innovators and thinkers from around the world to develop an emerging discourse on the commons. Following their landmark conference in 2009 in Berlin bringing together people from every angle and niche of the commons, David Bollier and Silke Heilfrich have produced a landmark text, The Wealth of the Commons.

In lead up to their follow up major conference in 2013 to focus on the economics of the commons, they ran various working groups around the world, one in Mexico, another in Bangkok, and another I don’t know where.

It was great to meet and dialog in such depth with others working toward a commons-nurturing world. It was incredibly intense, intellectually overwhelming at times, and a powerful experience. I came away with an expanded and more complex understanding of the many dimensions of the commons, its challenges, struggle and strategic pathways. I also came away with new friends and comrades. Here is a picture of us:










I had wanted to write about the strategic dimensions in the democratic development of the commons for years. My thesis work made it clear that this was the golden thread that brought together many movements, visions and projects. In the wake of the deep dive I have put time and energy into finally putting forward the key ideas surrounding the temporalities of the commons.

This draft paper, titled Temporalities of the Commons: Toward Narrative Coherence and Strategic Vision, details a number of counter hegemonic narratives and temporalities, interrogating each for what they have to offer an emerging narrative and temporality for the commons. Using these discourses, an outline for historical antecedents, present processes, and future agendas are constructed toward a narrative of commoning. The article also proposes some strategic considerations regarding the timescales within which different commoning projects might be understood. Overall the article is an attempt to offer one starting point with which to dialogue and debate the narrative and strategic development of post­?capitalist commons-­nurturing political economies and societies.

It is a heuristic that provides a point by which to evolve our narrative and strategic understandings of the commons project, to provoke discussion and debate. It does not assume conceptual and strategic finality, but rather to facilitate the evolution of our narrative and strategic thinking with respect to creating a commons nurturing world.

Foresight in a Network Era: Peer-producing Alternative Futures

I’d like to announce the publication of a refereed article in the Journal of Futures Studies: “Foresight in a Network Era: Peer-producing Alternative Futures

Over the two and some years I’ve worked with colleagues Tim Mansfield and Gareth Priday, in the Services2020 team. Over the last year we have studied network based approaches to foresight work.

It was a rather winding journey, looking for new ways to think about how foresight can be done in a network era. Many workshops and drafts later we have finally come to this result, no doubt to be superseded by others in the not too distant future in the ever evolving conceptualization of our cybernetic civilization. But nevertheless we are happy with where we have arrived for now.

The article addresses the evolution of foresight in a network era. In it we look at a number of examples of ‘network foresight’, using new analytic approaches to understand their dynamics: Replication, Openness, Prefiguration, and exploring the relevance for the development of Anticipatory Democracy.

In the abstract we write:

The advent of the network form has ushered in new practices and possibilities for participation and collaboration based on emerging on-line technologies. It is no surprise that new approaches to futures / foresight research and engagement are being developed in the context of these technologies and emerging practices. In dwelling within this juxtaposition between participatory futures and the maturing network era, we ask what the implications are for foresight / futures studies, and how this can help us re-imagine Anticipatory Democracy in the 21st century. A developmental narrative for the emergence of the network form in futures studies provides context for our understanding of new pathways. Within this we identify key emerging issues with implications for Anticipatory Democracy: instantiation, replication, openness and control. Explicated, these emerging issues provide a rich picture of the challenges and possibilities for building Anticipatory Democracy in the network era.

We believe network foresight holds great promise for promoting Anticipatory Democratic aims, and hope that we see great innovations in the years to come that brings citizens together to explore, imagine and create alternative futures and a global foresight commons that can help us all address and thrive in the face of our wicked challenges.


The Nuts and Bolts of Strategic Foresight

I put this together this past year for colleague Dr. Gerry Roberts for the Newsletter of the Australasia-Pacific Extension Network.

In this short piece I tried to make some basic points:

First the importance of the concept of embodied foresight – that foresight is contextually situated. And as such it is ever present (tacit) and expressed differently in a variety of situations. That does not mean we don’t need formal approaches, indeed the scale shift to a planetary civilization is necessitating formal studies of futures.

Second the evolutionary notion of techno-economic shift with its particular qualitative dimensions. The development discourse is a dangerous one and I am no subscriber to the ‘industrial-development’ idea of progress, however I have a weak spot for scientific-progress as one of a number of important views.

Third the fundamentally layered nature of foresight in the “modern” world, which contains older forms.

Comments welcome



Strategic foresight is an approach to “forward thinking” that allows groups, organisations, businesses, and people the capacity to develop a grounded understanding of the social change affecting their lives. This allows people to then make decisions and develop strategies based on that “forward knowledge”.  The end result is an adaptive capacity in the face of change, and a heightened awareness of emerging opportunities.

Since the beginning of time human beings have had to think about the future to survive. Indeed, across human history the character of this “forward thinking” has changed depending on the nature of the existences that people experienced.

In paleolithic (stone age) cultures, people’s outlook on the future was likely an expression of the ways of living those people engaged in. “Foresight” may have meant understanding the migrations of animals which were food sources, be this bovine, fowl, and fish. It may have meant understanding where wild fruit, roots and edible insects existed through the year’s cycle. It may also have been expressed through how to survive a very cold winter, a very hot summer, or a period with very little water or food. These people’s foresight allowed them to navigate many challenging environments, by looking ahead for weeks and months. While we may consider this a relatively short time frame, for these people, with their tools and in their environments, this was a formidable capacity.

Herding cultures, which followed and later domesticated animals, developed another way of life. These cultures created a symbiotic relationship with their domesticated animals: such as camel, ox, cow, goat and sheep (and in meso-America rodent, dog and turkey). This way of life offered them a continuous  form of sustenance, so long as their domesticated animals had access to food and water. This then changed the character of the “foresight” these people would express. Their “forward view” would need to be focused on finding and exploiting the the best habitats for their animals. In Eurasia, migrating longer distances would have necessitated a deeper understanding of seasonal changes in various regions.

Subsistence agricultural cultures, which began to create symbiotic relationships with plants and trees, developed another way of life and hence expressed another way of “forward thinking”. These peoples would need to think about seasonal changes, especially the coming of rains, storms, and harsh weather that could destroy crops. In the ancient agricultural societies of Egypt, Babylon, the Indus river (and others) floods had to be anticipated and managed. It is not surprising that these cultures, which could store more foods for longer periods, and which needed to have a more accurate understanding of seasonal changes, began to look at the stars, and create a more accurate understanding of seasonal changes, culminating in the development of the first calendars.

Industrialisation changed the game yet again. Water resources could be pumped using machines. Goods could be transported quickly and cheaply around the world. Fossil fuels could be used for farming, as well as synthesized into both fertilizers and pesticides. The shift from subsistence agriculture to surplus market agriculture would again shift the nature of the “forward view”. New questions emerged: is there a market for this good? will there be a glut in this good? can this good compete against market alternatives?

While these examples from history and pre-history are an obvious oversimplification, and the true nature of foresight in these types of cultures is best understood by the science of anthropology, the main point remains salient. A “forward view” or “foresight” has been integral to the survival of peoples from the beginning of time to the present. I would further argue that developing the capacity for foresight has become more important as well as more complex as time has worn on.

Today the average business is faced with a mind-numbing array of issues to grapple with in considering their business decisions.

• Economic globalization has meant that more people are competing in more markets
• Currencies ebb and flow in a turbulent global financial system
• Sustainability challenges are impacting in a number of areas: land use, climate change, waste management and many other places
• Government policy sometimes stabilizes and sometimes disrupts organisations
• Economic boom and bust cycles affect different industries and sectors
• Technologies continue to have big impacts, such as computer, biotechnology, nanotechnology and renewable energy technologies
• New values are emerging from new generations with new expectations

Faced with so much complexity a common response is to say “I’ll do what I have always done, it has worked before”. However this is a major mistake!  We know from history that human life continues to evolve and change in tandem with changes in technology, culture, etc. Engaging in forward thinking not only allows businesses to adapt to a changing environment, it opens up avenues and opportunities that were previously not visible.

The modern art and science of strategic foresight is a grounded approach to understanding this landscape of social change in ways that open up opportunities to decision makers in every walk of life. An enhanced capacity for foresight has a number of benefits. It allows decision makers to understand what the key issues impacting their sector or industry might be. It provides a strategic landscape where various options for development open up. It creates more clarity where an enterprise should devote time and energy. It provides guidance in respect to the direction an enterprise should innovate.

Strategic foresight provides a number of effective frameworks and tools for providing value to clients. It involves rigorously scanning across relevant data sources to understand the nature of change for a sector or industry. It requires sifting and sorting to come to an appreciation of the key themes and issues that are most relevant. Tools in data analysis and interpretation allow for a deepened understanding of the issues faced.  In can often entail developing a “picture” of one, two or many possible futures, often called “scenarios”. Importantly, it includes making sure that this new understanding of social change is used to ask: “now what”? It helps decision makers re-think their strategies and core assumptions, opens up awareness of emerging opportunities and helps develop more robust and exciting directions for businesses and organisations.

Symposium on the “Global Mega Crisis”



The Journal of Futures Studies is running a Symposium called “Global Mega Crisis”. The initiators are two long standing stalwarts of long term thinking and futures studies, William Halal and Michael Marien.

The intention of the symposium is to create debate about the dimensions and scale of the challenges facing humanity. The symposium centers around an article they have written called “Global Mega Crisis: A Survey of Four Scenarios on a Pessimism-Optimism Axis”. We have begun to engage and invite a number of futures / foresight thinkers and writers to contribute.

Here is the overview written up for the symposium:



A fundamental question in serious futures-thinking has to do with the idea of human progress.  All matters considered, will life be better for humanity as a whole, for countries and organizations, for communities and families, and for individuals in the decades ahead? Until the past decade or so, progress was widely assumed.  But in recent years this assumption has become problematic.  The Great Recession, still unfolding in some places, has dampened prospects for many.  The multiple threats of global climate change and more extreme weather events darken the long-range horizon.  World population continues to grow, despite a declining rate of growth, and food, water, and energy issues are emerging.  Political polarization and  gridlock appears widespread.  On the positive side, many new technologies are emerging that can potentially alleviate if not “solve” some if not many of these problems.  So, overall, should we be very negative about future prospects, largely negative, largely positive, or very positive?

The two authors of the lead essay have engaged in a public debate on this question over the past two years.  We both agree that a “Global MegaCrisis” is emerging, if not yet entirely here for all areas of the world.  We disagree as to the outlook: Halal believes that new technology will probably make things better; Marien argues that it is possible but not likely, too little too late.  After exchanging several long e-mails, we published our first version of this debate in World Future Review (1:5, Oct-Nov 2009).  A second and more popularized version appeared in The Futurist (45:3, May-June 2011).  A third version appeared in World Affairs: The Journal of International Issues, 2011.

This version refines our dispute and adds some new references. Similar to the other versions, it seeks to engage readers in discussion and debate through the device of four scenarios on a single axis of pessimism and optimism.  By quantifying the rough probabilities of the four scenarios, one can easily see where one stands in relation to others on this scale.  But then one must ask if the arguments for the assigned probabilities are persuasive.  And many arguments can and should be made for each scenario.

The value of this exercise is not only to put the idea of progress on center stage, where it rightly belongs, but to encourage reflection on the two more complex middle scenarios (the largely negative “Muddling Down” and the largely positive “Muddling Up”), rather than the extreme negative position (of widespread disaster, Armageddon, species extinction, all-out nuclear war, or collapse of capitalism in all forms) or the extreme positive position (often implicit, but made explicit by those advocating the technological Singularity and/or widespread change of consciousness).

The Journal of Futures Studies is inviting a number of distinguished futurists and other futures-oriented thinkers, as well as several students, to ponder these scenarios.

The only caveats are that each respondent must:

1) Stay within a limit of between 500 and 1,000 words;
2) Quantify (% wise) the likelihood of each of the four scenarios over
the next decade and provide some argument in support of the position
taken; or provide a short argument why you chose to not quantify, or
your argument against the approach taken in this special issue (or
possible argument for an alternative);
3) Submit your response by September 10th 2011 to give W. Halal and
M. Marien time to formulate a conclusion. Email response to:
Jose Ramos
4) Format your contribution using JFS editorial guidelines: .

Halal and Marien will attempt to briefly respond to most or all of
these comments.  And maybe, as events in our age of turmoil,
uncertainty, and multiple transformations unfold over the next few
years, we might try this exercise again.

Michael Marien edited Future Survey for the World Futures Society for 30 years, preparing some 21,000 abstracts, and is now embarking on establishing the website:, now has some 2500 mini-abstracts of futures-relevant books published since early 2009, and long “Book of the Month” abstracts, most of which underlie his emerging worldview.

William E. Halal is professor emeritus of management, technology, and innovation at George Washington University (GWU), Halal is president of TechCast LLC – a virtual think tank tracking the technology revolution. TechCast was cited by the National Academies as one of the best forecasting systems available, and has been featured in the Washington Post, Newsweek, and other publications. Halal also co-founded the GWU Institute for Knowledge & Innovation.


You comments and questions are most welcome. For those interested in participating, you can put forward your expression of interest HERE.