Leapfrogging Sustainable Development: Exploring the strategic futures of production and policy through cosmolocal and commons-based design

A cosmolocal and commons based design course was held 0n September 20-21 2019 at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, entitled: “Leapfrogging Sustainable Development: Exploring the strategic futures of production and policy through cosmolocal and commons-based design”

The philosophy behind cosmolocalism emphasizes documenting innovation and keeping this knowledge open, so that it can be relocalized in other contexts and geographies around the world. It envisions a world in which each community’s innovations work is documented and remains open – so that we create a world of open designs and solutions. This becomes a resource for all of humanity to use for enhanced livelihoods and production within planetary ecological boundaries.   

The course was a collaboration between Dr. Jose Ramos (Action Foresight), Dr. Raji Ajwani (IIT Mumbai and Centre for Policy Studies) and Professor Shishir K. Jha (IIT Bombay and Centre for Policy Studies) and Michel Bauwens (P2P Foundation) and began with conversations initiated in September 2018, between Raji and Michel. The course was designed and delivered by Jose with the support and sponsorship of Raji and Shishir.    

Many countries are looking for new development pathways that can address systemic poverty and a host of sustainability and development challenges, including but not limited to the SDGs. Development strategists are increasingly keen to avoid “used futures” for development that perpetuate the development mistakes of the last few decades (large scale modernization projects with little sensitivity to local knowledge and needs, little regard to ecological boundaries, technological gigantism, etc.), and keen to find new approaches that work from community strengths, culture and needs while leveraging technological potentials. 

The workshop attracted a diverse group of people, from the UNDP, local NGOs, PhD students and others interested in learning about the commons and cosmolocalism. 

As a prototype, the workshop combined knowledge of a variety of cases (listed below), commons and cosmolocal concepts, together with a foresight to experimentation methodology called the Anticipatory Experimentation Method (AEM). The content and method used is documented here so that others can adapt either in their own contexts. We encourage others to use and adapt this to their own context – so that you can run something in your own community. We do ask that credit is given to the content developers in any reuse.  

Day 1 

Day one was a content heavy day, with the introduction of ideas and many cases. 


Introduction by Shishir Jha and Jose Ramos  Audio: https://www.dropbox.com/s/fu18ib644fvq4br/Iit%201.m4a?dl=0


Cases by Jose Ramos  Slides by Jose  


Audio presentation by Jose 


Cases by Raji Ajwani  Slides by Raji https://www.dropbox.com/s/yqa1x9297ejewj1/FINAL_RA_SEPT19_For%20Cosmolocal_Jose.pdf?dl=0

Audio presentation by Raji 


Presentation by Michel Bauwens (P2P Foundation)  https://vimeo.com/362939708 
Presentation by Andrew Lamb (Field Ready)  https://vimeo.com/362934622 
Presentation by Gabor Kiss (Envienta)  


Links to cases 


Here are two presentations, one by Michel Bauwens and another by Andrew Lamb – both are excellent. Michel discusses many thing, but he goes into the importance and role of the urban commons – examples from Ghent and Bologna.



Michel Bauwens – P2P Foundation from Jose Ramos on Vimeo.




Andrew Lamb – Field Ready from Jose Ramos on Vimeo.


Day 2

Day two was the design day, where we ran the Anticipatory Experimentation Method, and 3 groups worked on developing project ideas: 

The ideas included: 

  • Addressing drought among rural villagers 
  • Addressing the need for a policy innovation lab 

Because there was so much content, the time needed to flesh out ideas wasn’t available. This is something that needs to be better balanced in future. 

Explanation of Anticipatory Experimentation Method 

AEM – https://www.dropbox.com/s/q3mg2ntlwq2llys/1%20-%20Bridge%20-%20Intro.ppt?dl=0

For an explanation of the method see this article on medium – https://medium.com/@joseramos_30450/mutating-the-future-the-anticipatory-experimentation-method-17ca1244da8


Concluding Reflections 

  • What was clear was that the content resonated with people. There was a natural energy and eagerness to delve into the domain and also to be creative.
  • Also clear was the need to lean into the commons as a domain of knowledge and practice. Distributed manufacturing alone, technology alone, will not work to address the challenges people faced. Deep mutualization and commons governance (urban, digital, resource, etc.) are all needed. 
  • The conversation on enterprise cosmolocal quickly bled into a conversation on political economy. It was a natural progression because it is political economy that is the next frontier in terms of enablement. This is the partner state conversation and bootstrapping micro-political economies via the urban commons.
  • Too much space was devoted to cases. It made the whole process feel a bit stifled. Next time more space needs to be devoted to the design process. It might be good to lay out some design principles first, so that we don’t have to go through endless cases to get the point across. As well, a cosmolocal canvas could be useful so people can explore a bit easier.
  • It was a modest beginning. The whole thing felt a little rough around the edges, but it was also a prototype. So it was good to give it a try and get the experience. The next versions can build in the learnings.

I hope this content and documentation is useful in helping others use and adapt this in other contexts. Contact me if you need any advice in running this on your own.

And finally here are some photos for your enjoyment.







Interview with Joshua Vial: Past, Present and Future of Enspiral and Trans-national Collectives

Joshua Vial is the founder of Enspiral, the community, network and social enterprise in Wellington (New Zealand) which practices open source, networked and commons based enterprise creation. Enspiral is different from traditional businesses in a number of ways. They have an ethos of collective ownership and social impact, they have a networked form of organization with little hierarchy, and they make their work and innovations open source, contributing to the global knowledge commons. Finally, they take the cultivation of heathy and nurturing relationship seriously, indeed it is a foundation for their success.

Because of these reasons, Enspiral represents one of the critical seeds of the future. In a world struggling to re-invent itself, develop ethical business, and turn relational value into social value (rather than privatised), Enspiral shows a critical way forward.

For anyone interested in the futures of work and business, check out Enspiral, you will thank yourself you did.

Many thanks to Joshua for giving me the time for the interview. Many thanks to Michel Bauwens for putting them on my radar.

A longer video blog with the other interviews is forthcoming this month of April 2016.

Interview with Joshua Vial: Past, Present and Future of Enspiral and Trans-national Collectives from Jose Ramos on Vimeo.

Futures at the University of the Sunshine Coast

Future Studies FINAL from Marcus Bussey on Vimeo.

Over the past 3 years I have been teaching a course for the University of Sunshine Coast. It is an action research / learning subject which engages students in formulating foresight interventions. First they consider and analyze a context within which they want to apply some futures tools and frameworks. Then they apply these as the action  research / learning experiment. Finally they evaluate the experiment, deriving learnings from the application of futures / foresight.

I’ve really enjoyed the subject, it has been one of the most enjoyable courses I have taught, and it has consistently had the most interesting and inner-connected people, which I have also been fortunate to learn from as well.

One of the things I like best about the course is that I get to introduce students to a wide variety of frameworks and methodologies for doing futures work – thus forcing students to grapple with multiple strategies for the contexts they want to apply futures in. For example students are introduced to:

  • Six pillars (Inayatullah)
  • Foresight Fan (Schultz)
  • Three Horizons (Curry and Hodgson)
  • Generic Foresight Process (Voros)
  • Futures Action Model (you know who;)

While I lean toward Six Pillars and my own FAM, I have also used the others in various contexts and appreciate what they can do. In general I would like students to appreciate the multiple ways the cat can be skinned, and that different methodologies and approaches are suited to different environments and needs.

One of the most exciting things for me about the course is that many students, who are located in highly professional environments, choose to apply foresight in their organization or their consulting / facilitation work. This makes me more of a coach to the student-professional, to assist them in making the best choices and navigating what can be a tricky professional environment.

I have always had a great deal of respect for the mid-career professional who wants to add futures to their repertoire. I myself came into futures studies at the age of 29-30, and by that time I had already lived in East Asia (Japan and Taiwan) for four years, and had some life experience. I had experienced globalization before I received the academic definition. I never appreciated a patronizing approach to pedagogy, and almost always saw my peers as filled with various forms of life experience that could be combined with this new field. So the role of facilitator / coach suits me well, as I want to work with the student-professional’s knowledge and strengths to combine this with what they are learning in the course.

I’m also grateful for the opportunity that the director of the program has given me, Dr. Marcus Bussey, who I have blogged and podcasted about previously, as well as my work with Steve Gould, who has supported me at various times and who is also teaching in the same program. This is more a reflection than an official promo, but you know the drill! If you are interested or if you know someone who might be…. here is the official blurb below:

“The application of futures thinking and futures methods can invigorate organisations, inform leadership, and enhance institutional learning and levels of purpose and wellbeing. This course explores a range of futures methods, the values that inform these and links them to strategic thinking and organisational learning. This is done through linking theory and practice with your own contexts. The learning aims to be practical and applied, expanding your personal and institutional horizons.”

Marcus Bussey – Six Shamanic Concepts

Six Shamanic Concepts from Jose Ramos on Vimeo.

My students at the University of Sunshine Coast were intrigued by Prof Marcus Bussey’s Six Shamanic Concepts – yet they found it a challenging read and wanted a more accessible bridge to the ideas.


I promised them that I would interview Marcus and ask him about the idea, in a way that was more directly related to the practice of futures / foresight.
The six concepts are a coherent philosophical system for transformation and emancipatory foresight work. The idea include:

1.    geophilosophy;
2.    rhizome;
3.    intercivilisational dialogue;
4.    heterotopia;
5.    immanence; and
6.    hybridity.

They draw from broad influences but have anchors in critical theory, post-structuralism, and post colonial development discourse, among many others.
Filming and editing in the end proved logistically and technically challenging – as I was a solo interviewer / technician – I had various audio and video issues arise and the editing was dogged by poor software and my own time and skill limitations.

But the result is a watchable and a very interesting version of the Six Shamanic Concepts, with some technical rough spots attributed to my own lack of skill. I pushed Marcus to apply his ideas to the practice of foresight, who responded with a rather brilliant explanations of how it applies. He navigates the ideas like a skilled captain amid a sea of heterotopic possibilities.

Aubrey Yee, John Sweeney and Gaming with the Future(s)

Gaming with the Future(s) is one of the most interesting research projects I’ve come across in a long time. The research will involve an “experiential scenario-based game”  in which players will weave their way through the streets of Honolulu engaging in four alternative futures. The research is fundamentally about power, and in this to understand “how communication technology impacts power relations in four alternative futures” and to “integrate Futures thinking into popular and public discourses on power, technology, and social change.”

This is a crucial endeavor, as communication technologies in our maturing network era, are anything but neutral, rather they are instruments of values, expressing great tensions, ambiguity and indeterminacy. On the economic front, emerging network conglomerates, or what Michel Bauwens’ calls Netarchical Capitalism, have established powerful collaborative platforms through which to extract surplus value, while emerging peer-to-peer industries drive hard to establish alternative commons oriented economic systems. On the political front, we are faced with bloated classes of government apparatchiks hell-bent on creating panoptic states, while transnational cyber activists aim to pry open the veil of government secrecy and unaccountability. The futures of the network era have yet to be written. Communications technologies lie at the very heart of power, and it is here where the great struggles for the futures will be waged.

The game will be played on Saturday, December 1st, 2012. 

While I understand to play the game one must be in Honolulu, I also expect the game and gamers to be  followed by various forms of social media.

Enter two of the coolest emerging futurists I’ve met, Aubrey Yee and John Sweeney, who are running this research project / game. I was fortunate to meet both them and many of their Manoa School of Futures Studies colleagues at the Penang WFSF miniconference in 2011, and have the great pleasure of introducing both of them through two very short  interviews I conducted and some biographic data. I hope you enjoy both their research and interviews.

Why Futures Studies? An interview with Aubrey Yee from Jose Ramos on Vimeo.

Born and raised on Oahu, Aubrey Yee is a freelance writer, photographer and professional futurist. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Futures Studies at the Political Science Department, UH Manoa under the guidance of Professor Jim Dator. Aubrey received her undergraduate degree from UCLA in Los Angeles. She founded her own business in 2004, a successful 10,000 sq ft. interior design showroom in Honolulu, Pacific Home, which she sold last year. Aubrey and her husband Brady helped to found the Hawaii chapter of After School All Stars, a non-profit serving Hawaii’s at-risk middle school youth by providing free after school enrichment programs. She also currently serves on the board of Kanu Hawaii, a grassroots social change non-profit. Recently, her futures consulting work has been expanding. She has co-facilitated foresight workshops for the State Office of Planning, West Maui Neighborhood Board, the Hawaii Futures Summit, Samsung Corporation, Kamehameha Schools and other businesses. She is currently a writer for the foundation Sustainable America, which seeks to create food and energy security in America. In her scant free time, she enjoys writing for Green Magazine Hawaii, working on her fine art photography and relaxing with her family in Kaneohe on the island of Oahu.

Why Futures Studies? An interview with John Sweeney from Jose Ramos on Vimeo.

John A. Sweeney is also a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where he also serves as a Researcher at the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies. John’s interest in urban creativity centers on the political and affective presence of street art, which served as the focus of a paper on representations of hijab in European street art published with Continent: A Topology of Thought (continentcontinent.cc). Linking street art with the performative aspects of religious identity, John’s research examines the nexus between political economy and political theology in both present and future(s) contexts. Additionally, John’s research examines the ways in which media technologies affect experiences of urban space, and this trope served as the central theme for an article centered on Google’s myriad products and urban space published by ctheory.net. John received his Master’s degree in Religion in 2007 and instructs courses in World Religion, Contemporary Religion, Christianity, Buddhism, and Indian Religions at Kapiolani Commuity College while finishing his PhD at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where he serves as a lecturer for courses on Media and Politics, Political Design and Futuristics, and Introduction to Political Science. At present, he is also a principle researcher on a grant project analyzing the impact of communication technologies, from the impact of the printing press to the advent of social media, upon power relations across various socio-cultural contexts with an emphasis on the affective and material assemblages mutating experiences of urbanity. He graduated magna cum laude from Kennesaw State University in 2005 with a major in the History of Ideas and a minor in Philosophy. John’s keen interest in the two things one is not supposed to talk about at cocktail parties—politics and religion—stems from his somewhat hasty decision to drop out of high school at the tender young age of 15, which rather than cementing him as someone without a future ironically put him on a decidedly circuitous pathway towards becoming a futurist. He tweets regularly about his research and various other things using the handle @aloha_futures.

Introducing Shermon O. Cruz and the Center for Engaged Foresight

I met Shermon O. Cruz through my capacity as the consulting editor for the Journal of Futures Studies. He wrote an excellent article on the futures of liberal arts, something of keen interest to me, my B.A. was in comparative literature. I’ve been horrified in Australia over the past decade to see one liberal arts program after another slashed because it couldn’t compete financially with engineering/business/technical programs bloated by full fee paying students from abroad. An article showing a resurgence in liberal arts, not only in the West, but around the world, was certainly worth taking notice of. Shermon also challenged the hegemony and dominance of the Western framework for liberal arts, showing that it indeed has diverse civilizational manifestations. Here is the abstract for his article:

This paper peers into the futures of liberal arts and articulates numerous contexts engaged in shaping the futures of liberal arts. It sought to answer the following questions: Is liberal arts likely to face extinction? Are there other liberal arts contexts other than the Western liberal arts model? Is there such a thing as a non-Western framework of liberal arts education? And can it be renewed, reinterpreted, redefined or translated in the context of the other, beyond the Western tradition? If so, what are its nuances, constraints, intricacies, hopes, and futures? What are the futures of non- Western and Western liberal arts models?

Debates and discussions about the future of liberal arts have been going on mainly in the net and its future is being seen in the way that its Western proponents want it to be – a liberal arts that is useful in the workplace and promotes individualism and freedom of choice as well. Non-Western academics, however, see different patterns and values as liberal arts now becomes culture bound. Additionally, they insist that it must go beyond the current view and accentuate liberal arts that cultivate one’s identity and nurtures skills for life.

Last year when I attended the mini WFSF conference in Penang, Malaysia, I was fortunate to catch up with him and we had many good discussions. I was able to catch him for a video session as well and just finished editing it:

Shermon O. Cruz and the Center for Engaged Foresight from Jose Ramos on Vimeo.

Shermon is professor of political science and public administration at Northwestern University and Northern Christian College in the Philippines and served as a policy consultant and chaired several technical working groups in the formulation of key legislations in environment, investment, poverty reduction and teacher empowerment at the local government level. He also served as a policy and project consultant in the areas of environment, community development and agriculture in various non-government and government projects. Prior to joining the government, he was global secretary for the Volunteers for Social Services, A UN NGO based in India and is currently a member of the International Advisory Board of the PROUT Research Institute of Venezuela.

The three important themes that come out for me in his vision for futures studies are:

  • the need to indigenize Futures Studies toward the needs and characteristics of the Philippines. Indigenization of futures studies / research is an emerging theme I’m tracking from a variety of advocates.
  • compassion for communities and people being overwhelmed by economic globalization, and the need to envision and enact alternative futures that respond to the needs of the majority world.
  • the importance of creating new narratives for who we are and for where we are going, which are both indigenous (e.g. Philippines) and which address deep structures of colonization / neo-colonization

Over the past few months Shermon has hatched plans to create a Center for Engaged Foresight. CEF aims to promote futures studies in the Philippines and South East Asia and pioneer new narrative development practices for the region.  I’ve been supporting Shermon with some basics, and he has already pulled together an impressive advisory board. CEF was:

Established to advance a spectrum of futures strategies and methodologies, the CEF aims to intensify the aptitude of persons, systems and society’s to respond to the challenges of the 21st century. The CEF believes that by engaging and exposing individuals and collectivities to engaged foresight, the present can be reinterpreted and the future reinvented. The CEF posits that when more time and effort is invested into understanding and conceptualizing alternative and transformative futures, the wealthier and healthier our options and collective futures will be.

Shermon and I invite all those interested in joining the circle of  friends of CEF make contact.

Why Futures Studies: An Interview with Jim Dator

Why Futures Studies? An Interview with Jim Dator from Jose Ramos on Vimeo.

I had heard so many things about Dr. Jim Dator, professor of political science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The ‘father of futures studies in north america’, one of the ‘pillars and inventors of the field’, that it felt intimidating to be about to meet him on my trip through Malaysia in late 2011 (the WFSF mini conference). Would I meet an arrogant man who would snub his nose at a mere mortal such as I? Would I be grilled for any theoretical inconsistency I naively express?

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.

I had decided I would do a series of interviews with WFSF members at the WFSF mini conference in Penang on ‘Why futures studies’ – short snippets on what FS is and why it is important. I was totally demoralized when all my computer equipment was stolen from my hotel room at the YMCA Penang on the second day of the trip. Fortunately, I had my canon 7d with me on my body the first day of the conference as my goods were looted from my room. So despite being rather distraught, I still had the technological wherewithal to continue. After licking my wounds for a few days, on the last day I finally mustered the energy and focus to do some interviews with whoever was left.

And I am really glad I did, because Jim gives the most concise and powerful 8 min articulation of ‘Why Futures Studies’ I’ve heard in a while. It made me want to study in the field yet again! So a very personal thanks to Jim.

So here I kick off the ‘Why Futures Studies?’ series with Dr. Jim Dator. There are about 4-5 more to come in this series over the next month of so. All short but sweet. Hope you enjoy.