Thursday, August 10, 2006

Immersive futures for "Hawaii 2050"

My opportunities to post to The Sceptical Futuryst have lately become few and far between, in the labour-intensive lead up to the "Hawaii 2050" event in Honolulu on August 26th. This day-long summit, initiated by a committee of the Hawaii State Legislature, the "Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Task Force", is to launch a public consultation process revolving around the question of how to make Hawaii sustainable; ecologically, socially, and economically. It is planned as a kickoff for a series of community discussions about what I and my futures colleagues describe as possible, probable and preferable futures for the islands, all of which should culminate in A Sustainability Plan for Hawaii. (Woody Allen: "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." Couldn't resist.)

A recent article from the Honolulu Advertiser puts the event in context, and this response by an alumnus of the futures program highlights some of the challenges and limitations of using "sustainability" as a concept. My own views on sustainability lead me to wonder if an "alternative futures" frame isn't perhaps a better starting point for productive conversation around potentially massive social change than a straight-up "green" one. I have no quibble with the honourable intentions informing the language of sustainability, but for the most part it already has its ideological adherents and detractors, whereas a discussion of futures more broadly may be better able to transcend predefined political divisions, more accommodating of different perspectives.

Anyway, the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies is part of a University of Hawaii team that has been contracted by the Task Force to organise this event. Although there will be a dose of speech-giving and other ceremonial malarkey, the HRCFS team's role is to bring a futures twist to the discussion.

I don't want to give too much away at this point, as a degree of secrecy will help maximise the impact for those in attendance, but what we are contributing is the staging of four rooms -- Immersive Futures Workshops -- in which participants will get a taste of four radically different versions of Hawaii, nominally set in the year 02050. This project is, then, part of our Center's effort to concretise usefully and interestingly the various conceptions of the future that people might have, through the use of design thinking, artifacts from the future, and an experiential version of scenaric storytelling.

Our divergent "future scenes" have been elaborated using (HRCFS Director) Jim Dator's four generic images of the future -- each one being a different shape of change, based on different assumptions about how the historical process could play out. The four are continued growth, collapse, discipline, and transformation, and we're preparing spaces at the Dole Cannery Ballroom for actors and presenters to populate in what amounts to a kind of parallel theatrical presentation, where each group of summit participants is also cast in a future role when they walk through the door.

Stay tuned for more -- this promises to be very exciting!

2 comments:

patrick said...

I caught your interview on New Zealand's National Radio last night, and I'm very impressed with the work your team is pursuing. It seems to be a fun new way of policy making! Good luck.

Stuart said...

Thanks Patrick. The response to our efforts has so far been very encouraging. I'll keep posting on this theme as it develops.