A glimpse of the future

Yesterday I ran a workshop for the Carnegie UK Trust social media project to delve a little deeper into the issues around the future of social technology and its implications for civil society associations. The idea was to gather as many smart people together as we could fit in the room, and then pump them for ideas for five hours. If you were one of the people who so very kindly gave up the majority of your day, thank you!

We started off splitting into three groups and considering the three (nominally) different types of changed mentioned in my previous post:

1. Predetermined driving forces
What forces appear to be predetermined?
What changes in the broader environment appear unavoidable?
What assumptions are these changes based upon?

2. Uncertain driving forces
What might happen over the next 15 years that would affect social technology?
If you could have any question answered about what will happen by 2025, what would it be?
How uncertain are they?
Which are becoming more certain?

3. Wildcard events
What type of unexpected developments could totally change the game?
What could undermine existing assumptions?

It has been pointed out, and rightly so, that the idea of predicting a wildcard event is, well, sort of impossible because if they’re predictable, they’re not wildcards! As I thought this was the most difficult of the areas to examine, I joined this group to give them a bit of moral support. We focused on change that we thought were either unlikely but possible, or small things that could have effects. It was suggested we use the PESTLE analysis, examining each of these areas in turn: Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental. I actually found that framework really helpful and may well use it again.

Once we got to the Environmental section, the discussion started to sound rather like a B-movie plot brainstorming session. Yellowstone erupts! A pandemic decimates the population! A comet destroys the Earth! Lots of fun, but I think we can probably leave most of those out of the final scenarios. If a comet hits the planet, we probably won’t be around to worry about how civil society uses social media.

Although I was nominally facilitating the event, and participated in the initial group discussions, I really saw my role as to ask a few questions and then listen very, very carefully. The result was a bit like what I imagine a Vulcan mind-meld might be like, and I’m still feeling a bit dazed from all those thoughts pouring into my brain!

It’s going to take me a while to fully process everything I heard, but in the meantime, here are the conclusions that each group reached. Please excuse some of the video quality. The great thing about having a Flip is that it encourages you to video everything; bad thing about having a Flip is that it encourages you to video everything without realising there’s a great big glass in the way! Thanks to David Wilcox for also videoing the discussion and letting me have his files.

Predetermined driving forces

Uncertain driving forces


And as per usual, I’d love your feedback and thoughts in the comment please!

4 thoughts on “A glimpse of the future

  1. Hi Suw,

    Wonderful work you’re doing here. Reading this and your last post about the project, I was struck how much you could benefit from using some the narrative capture techniques from Dave Snowden’s work with the Cynefin framework (yes, that’s a Welsh word that should have some resonance!)

    Your categories of predetermined, uncertain, and wildcard fall nicely into Dave’s concepts of the simple/complicated, complex, and chaotic domains. I can’t do the framework justice in a blog post comment field, but the methods have to do with the stimulation of narrative for the purposes of sensemaking a complex space. Software tools (SenseMaker) are then used to capture the results and allow us to analyze the narrative spaces and belief structures of the participants.

    You’ve already stimulated the narrative and captured wonderful stories. Now you need a series of methods to signify the narrative and make sense of the resulting patterns.

    Would love to share more or link you up with another CE practitioner. Dave’s articles on sensemaking are a good place to start…

  2. Suw – thanks a for a session that yielded lots of insights, and thanks too for the interview at the end, now posted on my main blog here http://socialreporter.com/?p=595
    I think it would be illuminating to complement the 15 year plus view with one from the the next five. Brian Kelly has some thoughts over here http://is.gd/AGzb

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