I wanted to share some thoughts after a day and night of energetic discussion.
I might ramble a bit here. What I want to do is reflect on three days of intensive thinking with dozens of people around the world, wrangling with complex ideas across multiple domains. That will take some unfolding. I am also, as some of you know, exhausted for unrelated reasons having to do with a family member’s health crisis. One should blog with a clear mind, but sometimes needs must.
Today was the third day of our experiment in distributed design thinking, the FOECast ideation week. It began this morning with a blog post setting up the day’s prompt, “What shape should a new effort take?” That followed Monday’s query, “What needs did the Horizon Report meet?’ and Tuesday’s, “Which forecasting methods should we consider, moving forward?”
Most of the FOECast discussion has by now settled on the Google Doc, which has grown to impressive heft and admirable sophistication. We launched a poll about methods (still open, until 1 pm EST March 1!) to take people’s temperatures and quickly gain more data. We also hosted a 40-minute videoconference, which took off like wildfire.
We began with a quick summary of ideas surfaced so far, including: a continuous data stream; a living document, tracking present and future information; Edge-style deep future questions (for example); design thinking drives like this one or 10.10.10; different scales of people involved; a concentric circle of experts.
The consensus was that whatever we come up with, we should make it community-oriented and participatory.
Then we started making things more complex. We wanted different levels within whatever FOECast produces, like abstract and concrete, small and large (what Veronica Armour described as “an overall snapshot – think picture of the Earth from space”), big picture and local nuance, breadth and depth, micro and macro. Something that would let us connect with individual practitioners and big ideas, that could more quickly lead us to the adjacent possible for innovation. Something that would let a user quickly get data and a snapshot. Laura Pasquini approved of “the idea of prototype, testing, rethink, etc. to play with the abstract and make it a reality.”
This led us to visualizations which would encompass these levels. Diagrams… some thought of heat maps and scatter plots. Ruben Puentedura pointed us to a prescient 1991 book. Tom Haymes made an inspired connection to Robert Heinlein’s vision of 4-dimensional humans as pink worms. I thought of planetary atmosphere models.
Then I nudged people back to the prompt. Could we go beyond visualizations? Could we imagine a product or project structured like those visualizations?
We brainstormed furiously, and imagined something complex, deep, and synthetic. Perhaps a combination of an ongoing data stream (in a wiki or Drupal site) with multiple narratives built upon and across it (through audio, video, VR, etc.). No narratives would be privileged – there would be no minority reports, just… reports, or stories, experiments, showcases, and other objects drawn from the data. (Perhaps Mark Wilson’s self-designed study path, a cross between digital humanities and open education, is an example of this)
This lack of a single, controlling narrative would also welcome a multi-sector population. Maybe a focus on learning rather than education would encourage that silo-crossing and professional plurality, bringing into play businesses, governments, the military, emergency services, and others beyond academia.
Perhaps we were thinking of a kind of deep, ongoing archive. Not just a 2d document, but a 3 dimensional matrix. An environment to inhabit and explore. A living, ongoing environment from which we can extract and share meaning.
Vanessa Vaile offered this evocative vision: “pilots that others pick up to test, conversation along the way, internal reports among futuring gang. then take a few likely prospect to translate into mugglese”. Tom tried to wrap it all into a federated structure. Maya spoke of identifying streams of meaning, which we can trace to practice.
In a sense we recapitulated Vannevar Bush’s foundational prophecy in “As We May Think”. We reinvented the memex… or the web itself, a space (ideally) of living documents and many ways of connecting them.
So would code name FOECast point to creating something new, or taking advantage of the sprawling web we now inhabit and cocreate?
For the former, we’d need to dive into information architecture and look for appealing examples. Could it be a combination of a wiki with an innovative front end? Should it instead aim for a virtual/mixed reality setting, wherein 3d engagement is the default? Perhaps it would involve an unusually large and interactive display, like a video wall.
Meanwhile, the project would require a lot of information gathering, storage, and organization. The amount of work could well approach something between what we saw with a decade+ of Horizon Reports and a massive database of technology current being used in learning. Would partnering with a preexisting effort like the Campus Computing Project be a practical way forward?
On the other hand, we could see the web as already offering such a deep, living, ongoing matrix. We could take that for a start, then build something on top of it, in a very web fashion. For example, Shaping Tomorrow analyzes forecasts made on the open web and builds a great deal of forecasting into that. All kinds of visualization become available then. We know from history that all kinds of projects can dive into, work across, and generate new stuff from the web.
So, create a new archive or identify one from the web?
Back to the structure question: what kind of organization supports such a matrix? The “concentric circle of experts” would have a lot of technology work to do or arrange. This could take the form of a multi-institution collaboration, drawing on the resources of different sites (academic institutions; nonprofits; companies; governments?). It could be distributed worldwide, with contributing nodes located on various continents, as with the Millennium Project. That transnational team – or collaborative – would be responsible for arranging and supporting that deep, living archive, along with the projects built upon it. Just how big a project are we talking about?
Ahead, that’s a tall order of planning, funding, and operations. But that’s ahead.
Because this moment sees FOECast in ideation mode: dreaming large and deeply.
The next step in our week’s exercise: addressing scope. Ah, now we have to carve this giant vision down, or at least talk me down from my imagining in this late night, brain-befogged bloggery. We must create contours and outlines for the final step of the week: creating plans and prototypes. A helpful blog post is coming shortly.
But before all of that, I must first recognize this awesome group in our Zoom sessions. These are tremendously creative and bold thinkers, as well as generous colleagues. It’s an honor to dream together with them.