Coming Soon: Best of Houston Foresight 2015

It just over a month away to this year’s Best of Houston Foresight session at the World Future Society. This year it’s in San Francisco on July 25th from 2:15-3:45. It is an annual event that gives us a chance to highlight some of the best work coming out of the Houston Foresight program. It is always a tough choice to pick just three!

This year’s participants and topics.

Cowart_HeadshotAdam Cowart is a graduate student of Foresight at the University of Houston, a Senior Planning Manager for Loblaw Companies Ltd, and a writer. He holds an M.B.A. and an M.F.A. and will present on “Alternative Currencies: The Future of Societal Transaction.”




kugler_headshotJustin Kugler is a graduate student of Human Space Exploration Sciences at the University of Houston whose project was part of the “World Futures” course. He is also the business development manager for industrial R&D at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space. He will present on “The Future of Industrial Activity in Space.”



sahi_headshotOmar Sahi is a graduate student of Foresight at the University of Houston, who recently completed an internship with UNESCO. He is also an artist working with new media and sculpture.Omar has developed a keen interest around speculating on how people communicate in the future and will present on “The Future of News Media.”



This is always a popular session, so get there early! Hope to see y’all in San Francisco. Let me know if you’re going and we’ll keep our eyes open. Andy Hines

Faculty/Alumni Alexandra Whittington quoted on The Week

Alexandra WhittingtonThe Week magazine is having a serie of articles called America in 2050 presented by BASF, in which each week on the writers will choose a topic and explore how the US would be doing in 35 years from now around that topic.

On May 6th, Matt Hansen published a piece on the future of american tourists, where he explains Why the American tourist could become virtually unrecognizable by 2050 with the input or our faculty and alumnus Alexandra Whittington, who pointed out the increasing trend on single tourists and the how families could be using virtual reality technology to travel without leaving their homes.

Why the American tourist could become virtually unrecognizable by 2050

Alum Jason Swanson: Four Scenarios on the Future of Credentials

Alum Jason Swanson, Director of Strategic Foresight at KnowledgeWorks, invites our futurist community to explore four scenarios on the future of credentials: Certifying skills and Knowledge – Four Scenarios on the Future of Credentials. A baseline future, “All Roads Lead to Rome,” imagines a future in which degrees awarded by the K-12 and post-secondary sectors still serve as the dominant form of credentials. But there are many roads toward gaining those credentials, such as diverse forms of school and educational assessments. An alternative future, “The Dam Breaks,” explores a future in which the employment sector accepts new forms of credentials, such as micro-credentials, on a standalone basis. This leads to major shifts in both the K-12 and post-secondary sectors and to new relationships between the academic and working worlds. A second alternative future, “Every Experience a Credential,” considers what credentials might look like if new technologies enabled every experience to be tracked and cataloged as a form of credential for both students and employees. A wild card scenario, “My Mind Mapped,” imagines a future in which breakthroughs in both the mapping and tracking of brain functions have created a new type of credential reflecting students’ cognitive abilities and social and emotional skills.

Jason  invites you to  explore your own reactions on these scenarios by asking yourself:

Quote1How did you find yourself responding? Which elements made you feel hopeful? Which elements made you feel worried or fearful? Was there a scenario whose future seemed more likely? One whose future you preferred? Being mindful of your responses, what Quote2does your ideal future look like? As you develop your vision for the future, what strategies could you use to create your ideal approach to credentialing? Where might you be able to leverage some of the key drivers included in this paper to move credentialing toward your ideal approach?

Get into the discussion

Jason Swanson

Jason Swanson

Swanson also wants to encourage the community to participate on the debate by building an scenario and commenting below about the strategic possibilities. Here are some questions for reflection:

  • How might stakeholders foster meaningful linkages among the education and employment sectors?
  • How might employers change their hiring practices to include relevant credentials other than those currently in the mainstream?
  • How might we begin to explore new ways of assessing learning in order to ensure that current and future forms of credentials have appropriate meaning and value?
  • How might credentials diversify to reflect changes in employer needs?
  • How might education stakeholders track and credential informal learning?
  • What emerging forms of technology might help create new forms of credentials?
  • How might stakeholders extend the use of alternative credentials such as certificates and micro-credentials?

About the Author

Jason Swanson is the Director of Strategic Foresight at KnowledgeWorks, where he helps lead the organization’s research into the future of learning. Jason holds a BA in Public Policy from West Chester University and a MA in Foresight from the University of Houston and is an Emerging Fellow with the Association of Professional Futurists. Watch for Jason’s work in strategic foresight and follow him on Twitter.

Faculty/Alumni Alexandra Whittington’s four scenarios on the Future of Infant Feeding

Alexandra WhittingtonFaculty/alumni Alexandra Whittington writes about Exploring the Future of Infant Feeding: Scenarios About the Future of Parenting, Infant Nutrition and Consumer Habits in The United States of America, which she summarizes as:

Four scenarios of infant feeding offer strategic insights about American culture and social patterns by generating implications for the future of the family, nutrition, consumers and gender roles. The study involves careful examination of two critical uncertainties about the future of infant feeding: the outcome of cultural tensions among American mothers, known as the “Mommy Wars” and the fluctuating role of the American household as either “producer” or “consumer.” The scenarios portray a range of alternative futures to address possible socio-cultural change in store and raise awareness of the important role of breastfeeding to infant survival and human development.

Whittington also offers a simplified graphic version of this forecast that you can take a brief look at below, but if you prefer to see the extended version please click here.

Future of Infant Feeding

Alumni Catherine Cosgrove joins RES PUBLICA Consulting Group as Chief of Staff

1506618_10152557252712624_9221274896318399867_nWe are very proud to announce that as of alumnus Catherine Cosgrove took on the role of Chief of staff to the executive team of RES PUBLICA Consulting Group on April. RES PUBLICA is a Montreal-based holding and management company, owning NATIONAL Public Relations, Canada’s largest PR firm, as well as Cohn and Wolfe | Canada, another PR industry leader.

She’ll be working from the Toronto office initially, and relocating to Montreal end of May.

We would like to congratulate Catherine on her new position and wish her the best of luck in Montreal!

Students Needs 2025 Final Report

We are pleased to release the Final report on The Future of Student Needs: 2025 and Beyond. It has been reformatted to meet the design style of Lumina Foundation.

Today, college students are encouraged to find work-life-school balance. In 2025, such a concept will be obsolete because work, life, school, and play will be one in the same. This is just one of the provocative takeaways that emerged from our Student Needs 2025+ project.

lumina alternative futures

Key themes

Following our Framework Foresight method, we identified baseline and alternative scenarios, which we then analyzed for cross-cutting patterns. Four themes were identified:

1.  A shift in balance of power from institutions toward students. The balance of power shifting toward balance for blogstudents means they will increasingly be dictating what needs to be “produced” rather than the institutions doing so.

2. A “blurring” between the six domains that makes them difficult to distinguish and thus difficult to addresblurring for blogs in isolation. As Cody Clark put it, “it’s all play” in 2025. Work, play, and school will all intersect and rely on one another.

3. An emergence of IT/AI technologies that are both parto f the “problem” – that is they drive change – and thIT AI for bloge “solution” – that is they offer great potential for addressing student needs. The growing capabilities of a vast array of information and communication technologies are the single biggest driver of change across the six domains. Put simply, in looking at how student life is changing, there is no bigger driver than the growing influence of information technologies

4. A set of “social” or non-technological issues must be “dealt with” for the alternatives to occur as described. The teams questioned their assumptions and looked for ways that the growing influence of information technology might not happen, and found little to stop it beyond economic collapse. There are social issues, such as personal security in cyberspace or the security of the Internet itself related to technologies that could slow progress, but they are not likely to stop it.

The emerging needs

We generated more than 300 needs using three different approaches that then went through several rounds of combining, modifying and clustering. We separated out historical and current needs and focused on the future, in order to arrive at this final set of nine emerging needs:

  1. Re-skilling: students need to know what skills they will need and how to master them
  2. Mentoring: students need personalized guidance on what to do next and on other life lessons
  3. Continuous and real-time feedback: students need to know how they are doing so they can continuously improve in order to “keep up” and move forward
  4. Frameworks (for navigating new uncertainties): students need to know what to do in various situations, particularly novel ones
  5. Credentials: students need to document knowledge, skills and experiences acquired
  6. Experiences:  students need contact with people and the world that teach by doing
  7. Personalized instruction: students need the means to acquire relevant knowledge and skills customized to their individual style
  8. Spaces, tools, and templates: students need physical and virtual supportive environments and tools for pursuing and acquiring knowledge and skills
  9. Differentiation: students need to find and communicate their personal value proposition that distinguishes “who they are.”

There is much, much more. Just a few tidbits to whet your appetite. Andy Hines

Student Scanning: “Empowering Youth through E-books”

Joe Murphy Librarian UH Foresight[NOTE: We will occasionally be featuring some blog posts from student scanning hits in World futures class. This one is from Joe Murphy]. Partnerships are key in a future connected by ebooks. The White house unveiled a plan on April 30 to provide $250 million dollars worth of eBooks to the nation’s less affluent children in partnership with major publishers through an app developed in conjunction with the NY Public Library. It leverages existing technology pathways and existing partners in a new way to expand reading and learning. It provides free e-books to US children from low income families in partnership with publishers, libraries, and schools. This new plan is an indicator of an expected future scenario in which equity gaps in content access are narrowed. It suggests that access to content can be a catalyst for meeting social needs through partnerships with technology players and our civic institutions.

The included content comes from the Digital Public Library of America’s publicly available content as well as around 10,000 ebooks from the following publishers: Bloomsbury, Candlewick, Cricket Media, Hachette, HarperCollins, Lee & Low, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. The app is to be released “in the coming months.”

This initiative has the potential to open new impactful futures. For instance, one plausible future outcome sees US youth empowered through the provision of ebook content (access to information) as a driver for success in the social and economic areas. ‘President Obama said in a White House video broadcast from a DC public library, “No matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you’ve got, you should be able to access the world’s knowledge and information…”

The strongest new future element revealed is that partnerships are the driver of change. This is happening because parties came together to create a new overlap in outcomes that supports but stands independently from each of their individual goals.

One interesting difference to note is the diffusion of technology development. It is the New York public library, not a technology partner, that produced the mobile app. It also represents a strong future for mobile applications with their new emerging role of background platform and not being the news of note itself.

Read the rest of Student Scanning: “Empowering Youth through E-books” »

New Framework Foresight Graphic

It’s been great to have a little design help in order to better communicate what we do at the Houston Foresight program. We published our Framework Foresight method in Futures back in 2013 and had been teaching it for several years before [download graphic] A key change in our approach was the evolution from the original “Framework Forecasting” created by Peter Bishop to “Framework Foresight” in which we more explicitly and expansively include “influencing the future.” In particular, we developed a revised approach to Implications Analysis and added in pieces on Issue and Opportunity Identification, and Strategic Responses. We also salted in elements from visioning and strategic planning.

FF slide version

Our goal was to expand the method to provide basic guidance “all the way through” foresight project, and well as suggestions for different ways that each of the activities could be carried out. We have played with various ways to visually represent the process, and finally found what I think is a neat visual developed by our Spring GA Maria Romero.

A quick summary of the flow: We frame the project by mapping the domain (topic). We explore its history and do a current assessment, while kicking off scanning for the signals of change. We develop a  baseline future that assumes present trends will continue and present plans and projections will materialize. Recognizing that that rarely happens, we develop several alternative futures, including a preferred future for the client where applicable. Then we identify the implications of the futures for the client, which provide insight into strategic issues, new offerings, or new designs policies, etc. We finish up by identifying the indicators to track for the alternative futures.  — Andy Hines

Foresight Jeopardy 2015 Champ: Adam Cowart

At the conclusion of  the Foresight “field” module in our capstone Professional Seminarjeopardy class, we played our annual Foresight Jeopardy game. The module explores the field the students are about to enter. We have created lists over the years of practitioners, books, organizations, movies and the like, and we usually start with that material. The categories of the game include futurists (past and present), books (past and present), foresight organizations, and movies about the future.

It’s interesting to note that in the era of Google, rote memorization is certainly less needed, but we feel it’s still important to know the field, for instance, in order to network effectively with other professionals (who is that Peter Bishop guy? [ha ha, just kidding Peter]). As a teacher, I’m concerned that a prospective employer would say, “that person graduated from Houston and didn’t know about, say, The Art of Conjecture.”

Oh, and of course, the moment of truth: Adam Cowart seized the crown as the 2015 Foresight Jeopardy Champion. It was right down to the wire with runner-up Mike Phelan. Congratulations to Adam for joining last year’s champ, Karl Irish, as Foresight Jeopardy champion. Andy Hines

Recapping the 2015 Houston Foresight Spring Gathering

Photo from Jim Breaux

Photo from Jim Breaux

The annual Houston Foresight Spring Gathering On April 17 and 18 was the perfect mix of fun, networking and learning — our brains hurt, but in a good way! (See flyer for overview and agenda for the weekend.) We started out Friday evening at Goode’s Taqueria for some food and margaritas and then band of hearty souls braved a torrential downpour and flash flooding to continue the party with some hookah at Byzantio.

The group reconvened Saturday to spend a day with alum John Smart. He spoke to us on “Technology Acceleration” and essentially provided a sneak preview of a summer elective he is teaching for us (also called “Technology Acceleration.” [See slides here])

Graphic from John Smart

A foundational concept of the day is John’s concept of “Evo Devo” -evolutionary development-. Indeed, Social Change students would recognize that we cover each separately — John has blended them together. While evolution presents unique options and choices, development is driven by predictable “intrinsic” trends, such as:

  • Accelerating intelligence, Interdependence, and immunity (resilience) in global socio-technological systems
  • Increased technological autonomy
  • Increased intimacy of human-machine and physical digital interface


Graphic from John Smart

He observed that the future is an interplay of the Evo and Devo — of uncertainty and predictability. Those in the Houston Foresight program would recognize the “predictable/probable” piece as corresponding to the baseline and the uncertainty pieces corresponding to the alternatives.

Read the rest of Recapping the 2015 Houston Foresight Spring Gathering »