Student Scanning: “Empowering Youth through E-books”

[NOTE: We will occasionally be featuring some blog posts from student scanning hits in World futures class.]. 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 is 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.

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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.

Plausibility cone_VFinal_Transparent-02 cropped

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.

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The Futures Company is hiring!

It’s always good to know the organizations are looking for futurists! A few of my former colleagues are at The Futures Company now and they are working on building up the foresight practice. The asked me to make sure the Houston foresight community was aware of the positions. There positions can be found by following the link — from internships to advisory services (supporting syndicated research) and consulting team as well. Here’s the link:

Alum Anne Boysen on Generations and Research

Anne Boysen

Anne Boysen

Alum Anne Boysen recently talked to student in the World Futures class on the topic of Generational Foresight: Sifting our Way to Generational Insights (Presentation Generations lecture UH). She notes that this was her sixth presentation on the topic in the last month – a very popular theme these days. Her message to students was, however, to be beware of some suspect work out there on the generations topic, e.g., watch out for the “click-bakes” from Buzzfeed. She focused her talk on “the real social science research stuff.” Many doing generational research take a linear view, but futurist can provide a more nuanced understanding mixing in scanning with social science research.

It is useful to start from the foundation of “what makes people tick”:

  • Genetic differences
  • Spatial differences, e.g., geography
  • Temporal differences

It is important to be aware that there are many influences or effects on individuals:

  • Period effects—everyone is affected similarly
  • Lifecycle effect – going to school, having a family, having kids
  • Cohort effects — Generations are about a cohort effect – it affects each generation differently

She talked about how surveys/focus groups to support generational findings are often not properly done; had a nice half-dozen points on common survey problems, such as confirmation bias (getting results that support the stakeholder’s mission) or biased generational narrative (larger generations typically get more press), or leading questions (“Would you rather save the world or make lots of money?”)

She foresaw that kids would rebel against over-sharing on Facebook, and would look to “hide,” for instance with Snapchat. Actually Snapchat could be an indicator for growing privacy concerns among kids….because it goes away. She feels that kids have very complicated views on privacy depending on the situation and circumstances.

Among the many interesting points she raised:

  • Xer’s were often described by what they were not – how they were not the boomers, rather than who they were. They didn’t really define themselves.
  • Over-sharenting” is when parents share everything about their children on social media.
  • A move to “resilience parenting” that provides kids more opportunities to learn on their own, as a reaction to being overly protective.
  • The greater use of images, leading to the “emoji sentence.”

It was a terrific learning experience for the students that also strengthen our foresight community. Our thanks to Anne for sharing with us.

Andy Hines

Faculty Jim Breaux the New Chair of APF Student Recognition Program


Faculty Jim Breaux the New Chair of APF Student Recognition Program

As many of you know the APF runs a very successful Student Recognition Program to recognize the work of students from PhD, undergraduate and graduate programs around the world.

This program was originally started by Houston Foresight alum Verne Wheelwright several years ago.  For the last three years Elizabeth Rudd has been Chairperson of the program, assisted by alum Jim Mathews as co-chair who coordinated the judging for the program annually.

During that time the program expanded to:

  • Adding undergraduate entries
  • Creating a new category to accommodate new media formats) (videos. I-book entries and design portfolios).

Assisting Jim as chair will be Charles Brass, who will coordinate the judging.  The transition is underway with this year’s judging currently in progress.

Foresight Students Ideate with ExxonMobil and Imaginatik

As part of our continuing efforts to provide as much real-world experience as possible for Foresight students, students in World Futures class were visited by a team from ExxonMobil being guided through a futures-oriented ideation session by the innovation services firm Imaginatik.

Imaginatik proposed the session to help the team from ExxonMobil open up their minds to future innovation opportunities by talking to Foresight students about the future.

Students came to class with a provocative (newspaper) headline of the world in 2040 and described how it was different from today.

2040 Headlines

· The New, New Deal: Ten Is the New Forty (work week)· Tobacco Free World by 2040

· Wearables

· Nano for Cancer Cure

· The People are the Cities (people as nodes in smart city networks)

· Antigravity and Hovering Technology for Transportation

· Manufacturing Comes Alive (biological inputs)

· Floating Cities…(on water as a response to climate change/flooding)

· Orbital Solar Power  · Household Waste Taxation

· Landfills Obsolete

· Translating Consciousness into Physical Objects Individualized Learning (using mentorship networks)

· Robots Help Elderly in Nursing Homes

· Major Changes in World Economic System Challenges Political Order

· Nicaragua Still Struggles with Access to Clean Water

· No Need to Vote – Smart Cities Anticipate Needs


These headlines and their descriptions were used for facilitating deeper conversations around topics of interest for the client.

Imginatik closed the session by asking students what was needed to guide the transition to the futures that the students had envisioned. The students centered on three themes:

  • A sense of optimism (we can build our preferred future)
  • Greater awareness of the future (among the public)
  • Positive image of the future (to guide what we do in the present)

It was good experience for the students and the client seemed to get the kinds of provocative thinking they were looking for. I hope we can do more of these kinds of sessions. Andy Hines

Sara Robinson: “All politics is about the future”

On March 12th, Sara Robinson, Futurist and journalist focused on the American political and cultural landscape, visited World Futures students to talk about those things she’s learned to look at when she looks at politics.

She started the lecture with a revealing truth:

All politics is about the future

She explained that all politics end up at what is our collective preferred future and how best to achieve it. Including the decision making on who’s in and who’s out, or more importantly, who get to decide how to share the budget.

Robinson continued her lecture adding that the greater degrees of coordination and complexity, the greater is the tendency to lead to more goods to be delivered.

After this introduction she presented her six rules of thumb on how to look into a political system and uncover it’s structure and behavior:

  1. The complexity of the system/society: For example, when tribal order begins to breakdown at some point and democracy emerges as the system continues to get more complex. The main reason is that complexity of the system eventually breaks it and a new order needs to emerge. Spiral dynamics is a useful model to understand this approach.
  2. Do people trust their government: The lack of trust in their government would make it harder to legitimized and support its decisions. Is the case of the unification of Europe, where there’s not enough trust between all the participants governments to make political decisions. Also, Robinson has noted that there is a cyclical element to trust.
  3. Do participant share identity and common vision of the future: This one is some how related to trust but between the people and if they feel like they belong to that system/society. One issue here is that the Internet has cut into our shared civic culture, bringing values from other cultures into ours. For example, America has had periods of division but then it reunites again: revolution, civil war, new deal/ww2, and now at this point again with factions with widely divergent viewpoints. A crisis will happen that requires us to come together, and we’ll need to drop everything and come back together, maybe climate change could be the driver.
  4. Social mobility: Democracy requires a broad-based middle class to survive, but we see a hollowing out of the middle
  5. What is the source of wealth: who controls it and how sustainable is it? The need to look at the sustainability of the source of wealth it’s a clue to political stability — for this point she recommends Thomas Homer-Dixon’s The Upside of Down.
  6. Who in society uses force and do they use it fairly with good rules: Because if not, that may suggest potential for revolution or other serious problems. Examples for the US include WikiLeaks and Ferguson recent events. Gun control is still an ongoing debate around this issue.

There was a vigorous Q&A the climaxed an excellent lecture. We are grateful to Sara as an alum giving back to the program – thank you!

Countdown to Technology Acceleration

It’s hard to believe that we’re just a shade under four weeks away from the Spring Gathering, featuring “Technology Acceleration” on Saturday April 18.

So, out-of-towners, time to make your reservations if you haven’t already. For hotel, we’re suggesting the UH Hilton, which provides convenient access to our social meeting spots and is a short walk from the conference in the Cameron Building on the UH campus.

For those who like to read ahead, the conference leader, alum John Smart, recommends Leadership of Tech Change, which includes a technology brief exploring possible, probable, and preferable futures – what “could”, “will” and “should” happen, in ten key technology foresight areas.

The conference will provide us an opportunity to really dive into the technological advances that will be shaping our future and discuss their implications with futurist colleagues – a mix of students, alums, faculty, and prospects (and do feel free to bring a guest).

Of course, we’ll do dinner and margaritas at Goode’s Tacqueria, followed by a visit to a local Hookah place on Friday — and close the weekend with a pool party/BBQ at Andy’s on Saturday night after the conference. See all the details and agenda here: Houston Foresight 2015 Gathering Flyer.

Please RSVP (or ask questions) to Hines