Hannah Kim Wins 2019 Student Recognition Program

It is a great pleasure to announce that just-graduated Houston Foresight Master’s student Hannah Kim won the Master’s category for the year’s APF Student Recognition Competition. She entered her Framework Foresight project on “The Future of Coffee in China.” The central question Hannah considered was: “What will the future of coffee look like for Starbucks in China?” Her work is always designed so beautifully, but perhaps my personal favorite from her work is this elegant cross-impact matrix.

Hannah will receive a Certificate of Achievement from the Association of Professional Futurists. She also has a choice of: (1) a two year Student Membership in APF, or (2) the registration fee (excluding residency) for one APF meeting within two years of the award.

You can also view the other excellent Houston entries:

Exploring the Built Environment for CII

Dr. Andy Hines, assistant professor and coordinator of the foresight graduate program led a team to explore “The Future of the Built Environment” over the fall semester. The research award was with the Construction Industry Institute (CII), based at The University of Texas at Austin. Team members include University of Houston alumnus, Maria Romero and four foresight program graduate students, Bes Baldwin, Hannah Kim, Collin Sledge, and Cindi Stuebner.

The team used scenario planning to explore possible futures for the built environment with the goal of identifying important emerging issues that the CII can research in service to its member organizations.

The scenarios shown in the figure are framed around the two critical uncertainties, the most important and uncertain factors regarding the future of the topic. These uncertainties frame the matrix, providing boundaries and focus for the set of four scenarios. The logic is to spend time thinking about the factors that are crucial to the future, especially those with least clarity or vision of how they might play out. This gives the organization the ability to design strategies, plans, and tactics that will enable it to strategically respond to whatever way the uncertainties unfold. This enables organization to feel confident that it is prepared for a full range of future possibilities

These options provide a robust list of potential research projects for CII to consider. They sort into grouped into three themes.

  • How business gets done: these options/issues revolve around the business of doing construction, how it’s done, and who it’s done with.
  • Technology: these options/issues centered on potentially disruptive emerging technology with a particular focus on how they might be applied within the construction industry.
  • Environmental: these options/issues consider how environmentally-related issues could have a disruptive effect on the industry.

— Andy Hines

Houston Foresight Spring 2019 Newsletter

As we close out the Spring 2019 semester, it’s a good time to reflect on some of the semester’s highlights ,as they were captured in the HDCS_Outlook_Foresight.

This issue includes:

  • Foresight alumna Anne Boysen to teach Data Mining
  • American Alliance of Museums establishes Strategic Foresight scholarship
  • Exploring the future of the built environment for CII
  • Exploring the future of the circular econom

— Anydy Hines

Student in the News: Mohammed Al Muhairi

A recent news story in Dubai featured the headline: Mohammed Al Muhairi prepares for the Master’s journey with passion! Dubai police is sending the first officer to study foresight in the US. We at Houston Foresight are very happy to see more students joining us the Gulf Region. We have students from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Oman at present. Below is the text of story about Mohammed:

With the support of the Dubai Police General Command, and in line with national efforts to train experts and specialists in the fields of designing the futures, Captain Mohammed Ahmed Bin Kirshan Al Muhairi prepares to study the future with great passion at the University of Houston in the United States. This exceptional specialization & degree MS in Foresight builds a new era of the field of looking forward “the Houston Way”  from a professional academic perspective. This will contribute to the formation of the advisory structure and the specialized national expertise. on all levels.

“I would like to extend a message of thanks and appreciation to His Excellency Major General Abdullah Khalifa Al Marri, Commander-in-Chief of Dubai Police,” said Captain Mohammed Ahmed bin Krishan Al-Muhairi. “This is a golden opportunity and once in a lifetime”

He continued: “Foresight is based on the knowledge of inter & trans-disciplines closely linked to arts  & sciences, and in line with the requirements of the era and all the latest technological developments, and at the University of Houston, longest lasting degree program since 1975 and its curriculum had ever since been nurtured & redesigned to meet an ever changing world, University of Houston’s Foresight capacity includes some of the prominent figures in futures studies, early founders of the field and most influential teaching futures research methods, social change, philosophy with particular focus on visioning and preparing professional futurists for the various market contexts.

My domain after graduation will include Security, with its external influences over the years, ranging from simple changes and radical changes, both in terms of the environment or society, in addition to demographic changes, and my personal interest was mainly on the community side, studying patterns and Cultures and cultures of peoples and civilizations in the stages of their development and advancement, especially studying what sustain nations with positive images of the future. — Andy Hines

Spring Gathering 2019 Introduces the Future

Introducing the Future was the topic of the 2019 Houston Foresight Spring Gathering on April 12-12. Since we spend so much time and effort explaining what foresight is to people new to it, we thought it would be useful to spend a day reviewing our various approaches and strategies for doing so. The “big vision” of the Houston Foresight program is that “Foresight is a disseminated practice in widespread use.” To achieve that, we are going to have to explain ourselves…a lot, and we may as well get good at it! Here are some of the cool ideas participants shared as part of their elevator speeches for explaining foresight:

  • Historians study the past, journalism the present, futurists the future
  • We study change
  • The first time you explore the future it can be scary, like a horror movie. But when you watch the movie a second, and you know what’s coming, it’s less scary (I just used this…thanks Hannah).
  • Tie the future to what people know
  • It’s important to know what changes to ignore, so you can focus on the important ones
  • We help reduce fear of the future…movies have created negative images of the future
  • We study the future to influence decisions in the present
  • We help people figure out what’s happening now and use that to build into the future
  • The practice effect: Basketball great chris paul knows what is coming because he has experienced it all before
  • Ask people how they want to be remembered
  • We will help you ask better questions
  • Futures is “evidence-based creativity” (lots of oohs and aaahs on that one!)
  • Qualitative analytics
  • We tell stories about the future –humans don’t understand anything outside of a story

As always, we had a very interactive conference day with a wide range of activities, MC’d by Event Coordinator Kimberly Daniels. The Center for Houston’s Future hosted the meeting this year in their beautiful venue overlooking downtown Houston. We kicked off by asking participants to share their “elevator speech” of how they explain foresight to a new person. Mike Courtney brought down a vanload of “newbies” from Dallas and led them through a game of telephone in describing the cone of plausibility, which we learned is a new type of phone app. We also had a student explain their decision to switch their major to foresight to Mary Jane “Mom” Naquin, which was the comedic high point of the day. In the afternoon, NASA veteran John Charles led a candid and provocative discussion on the future of space exploration.  At the close of the meeting, the launch of the Association of Professional Futurists’ new online platform for member engagement was revealed (link), as well as plans for a ProDev event in Mexico City on September 10 in front of the WFSF Conference.

Here are the presentations (links available for those that can be shared):

Future Cities Index_Mina McBride & Kimberly Daniels (suggests how government and policy leaders could use a lexicon of futures in their messages that would help people and decision-makers decide whether to live in or come to their cities)

Don’t Forget Small Business_Verne Wheelright (how can we more effectively bring small business into the futures fold?)

Center for Houston’s Future_Brett Pearlman, Center for Houston’s Future (highlights from recent project work framing key issues for Houston’s future)

Design your agenda_Andy Hines  (table teams were given the task of designing a day-long workshop to introduce a group of newbies to the future)

Student Presentations

Games for Futures Thinking_Eric Kingsbury (table teams were given the task of using card-based prompts to create a story about the future)

Foresight for Marriage_Cody Clark (the principles of good futures planning applied to marriage)

On Friday, Kimberly organized a led a tour of NASA for our large contingent of out-of-town guests. We all then gathered at the Phoenicia market for a healthy and tasty dinner in the Discovery Green section of downtown Houston. After the conference on Saturday evening, Jim and Marci Breaux hosted this year’s party featuring an outstanding menu of Cajun cuisine and a bread pudding to die for. We finally got some people to go into the water this year, the key being it was a hot tub. — Andy Hines

Forest Futures: High Tide in Dorchester

I recently saw a documentary on Dorchester County (Maryland Eastern Shore) and how sea level rise has impacted it. The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1933, contains 45% of

Eastern Shore, from hightidedorchester.org photos

Maryland’s tidal wetlands and brings in $27 million a year in tourist dollars to Dorchester County. These wetlands are being threatened by sea level rise. Due to flooding, farmers will need to change to more salt resistant crops. Residents have had to move or build berms, dikes, or walls to protect houses. Nuisance flooding is a problem for tourists as well as the people who live there, affecting businesses and events such as the Iron Man Triathalon.


It is expected that sea level around the Chesapeake will be 2.5 feet higher by 2050 and 5-6 feet higher by the end of the century. Sea level rise is drowning forests – healthy upland forest habitat has converted to tidal marsh; tidal marsh floods drown out tidal marsh plants, and eventually the marshes convert to open water. Salisbury University comparing aerial footage of the refuge from 1938 and 2006 found 5000 acres of intertidal marsh had converted to open water in those 68 years. It’s not just marsh to water; sea level rise has drowned forest habitat, which has converted to marshes, leaving standing dead trees. Farmers have had to adapt from salt water intrusion and have converted from corn and soy beans to more salt resistant crops, wheat and sorghum. A few inches of sea level rise in the bay will go inland hundreds of yards.

So, what does this have to do with forestry? The 2003 storm surge from Isabel brought in salt water which eventually poisons the hardwoods and kills off the pines. Then the forest canopy thins out, allowing more sunlight which should encourage understory species, however, those species that are adaptive to grow with the increased sunlight cannot handle the salt, thereby allowing invasive species (phragmites) to flourish. Salt marshes are important to the environment because they act as a buffer and take energy out of storm surges. This loss of forests is not unique to the Chesapeake Bay. University of Florida researchers have been investigating this same forest decline and salt marsh replacement since the mid 1990s , and New Jersey has a similar issue with salt water creeping inland, converting forest to marsh. — Llody Chesley


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August 2019 “Certificate XXII” Foresight Seminar Registration is OPEN!

Over the past year we have experienced extraordinary growth in interest in the UH Strategic Foresight Certificate Program. Our April “Certificate XXI” session sold out in record time, with a waiting list of 18 people. This unprecedented demand for our 5-day seminar has prompted us to open a 3rd session in 2019 — “Certificate XXII.”

We are pleased to announce that Registration for our August 19-23 certificate seminar is now open. You can register online here.

The seminar will be held at the Hilton University of Houston, on the UH Main Campus. Registration cost is $3,000.

We look forward to seeing you in August!

Forest Futures: Drones in the forest

How are drones being used to help manage forests? Is it local or world-wide?

First, let’s distinguish between drones, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or whether they can be used interchangeably. UAVs, while the term currently used most frequently, is not the official term used by many countries’ aviation agencies so most likely will eventually disappear from common usage in favor of Remotely Piloted Aircraft System, RPAS. Drone is the term used by many french speaking countries, who are the pioneers in setting regulations for commercial unmanned aerial vehicles. Often used in a military context, ‘drone’ is also ubiquitous in day-to-day common usage. While drone and UAV describe the aircraft itself, UAS is used by the US and UK to describe the system—the aircraft, the control station and the data link. Acknowledging that there are also differences between the various types of drones, for simplicity, this blog will use the generic term ‘drone’ to include quad-, octo-, tri- and hexacopters, Micro Air Vehicles, small UAS, etc.

So, how can we use drones in forestry? Grind Drone lists uses of drones, such as for:

  • forest mapping and biodiversity
  • extent of canopy cover and gaps therein
  • estimating number of trees
  • depth of snow in forest
  • extent of carbon storage within a forest
  • aerial surveys of fire damaged areas and rainforests
  • monitoring illegal quarrying and logging.

SmartPlanes adds:

  • detecting and managing outbreaks of pests and diseases
  • mapping weeds and other growth.

The U.S. Forest Service has been exploring the use of drones for several years and has tested different platforms during controlled burns and non-fire situations. Since drones are considered the same as manned aircraft, U.S. Forest Service must abide by the same FAA regulations to fly these drones. Members of the U.S. Forest Service have obviously considered drone usage, as their FAQ page delineates, for forest management, watershed, soil and air management, forest health protection, fish and wildlife, research, and others. The Service also owns at least three small platforms, but has no plans to operate them, even though the usefulness was shown in 2013 to provide real time information during the Rim Fire in Northern California.

Drones are also being used overseas, for instance in helping save Myanmar’s Mangrove Forests; in Portugal, Brazil and possibly world-wide for biomass mapping; studying tropical forests; and managing the financial incentive of carbon offsets. While regulations to ensure drones do not hamper traditional flying craft (airplanes, helicopters), interfere with emergency responders, or affect personal privacy are still being developed, it is clear that drones could be of much use to forest services around the world to help with managing health and well-being, mapping, and detecting illegal uses of the world’s forests. — Lloyd Chesley

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Book Review: Envisioning Real Utopias by Erik Olin Wright

Envisioning Real Utopias by Erik Olin Wright is a book about conceptualizing and creating a post capitalist society. Rather than a strong advocation for any single particular system to replace it, Wright gives a pragmatic evaluation of several. He devotes about 50 pages to a basic view of where capitalism falls short, which is helpful, although most of its readers will likely already be aware of most of them. Even if that’s not the case, the book is still a quality introduction to post capitalist thought. It makes a point to distinguish between capitalism, statism, and socialism, and the fact that all 3 are hybrids of the other two to some extent. If that was all the book had to offer it would still be a marked improvement to political economic discourse.

As far as specific systems Wright’s evaluations include but are not limited to; social democratic regulation, associational democracy, social capitalism, cooperative market economy, and social economy.  Common themes are words like social, democratic, association, cooperation etc. and true many of these systems are similar and are not mutually exclusive, but they are still different, and Wright does a good job of laying out the specifics. Each system has differing origins, and varying levels of historical precedence.

Probably the most interesting parts of the book were the sections on real life empirical evaluations of present and historical anti capitalist systems. Standouts include; Quebec’s social economy for child and eldercare, solidarity funds to invest in small businesses that train and treat employees properly, and the Mondragon Worker Co-op in Spain.

Once we accept the premise that capitalism presents very dire and more importantly very avoidable problems and that there are viable alternatives to be realized then comes the hard part. How do we successfully and sustainably change the system for the better?

Wright addresses the fact that capitalism despite what Marx predicted has ostensibly not become weaker over time, but in fact has become stronger, deeper rooted, and more adaptable than expected.  In fact even movements that start as havens to protect people from the harsh realities of capitalism are often simply co-opted by capitalists and used to gain profit and to increase capitalism’s ideological hold. For example the Fair Trade movement was started in order to improve standards and trading conditions for developing nations.  As time has passed some organizations have dropped the label due to a perceived dilution of standards, pulling the movement further from its initial goals and closer to a marketing ploy.

Wright is also somewhat of a rare case in that he simultaneously recognizes three non conflicting concepts. First the desirability of a post capitalist system, second the viability of such a system and third, the high level of difficulty in transitioning to such a system. “capitalism is sufficiently secure and flexible in its basic structures that there is no strategy possible that immediately threatens it.  The strategic problem is to imagine things we can do now which have a reasonable chance of opening up possibilities under contingent conditions in the future.” (327) There are gaps in the social reproduction of capitalism, but they have to become wide enough for alternatives to fill them.  The three main strategies of threatening capitalism are ruptural, interstitial and symbiotic.

Ruptural strategy is the traditional revolutionary anti capitalist strategy. A direct confrontation with the bourgeoisie that would likely end poorly. Wright suggests they may have their place periodically on small scales, but he sees it as a largely outdated and ineffective strategy.

Interstitial strategy is more oriented towards providing alternatives to capitalism around the fringes of society.  Ignore the bourgeoisie for the most part with direct confrontation only on a small scale when necessary. A benefit of interstitial is that these alternatives show potential changes and could gain support steadily for more democratic egalitarian solutions in larger and larger portions of society. This strategy seems slower than ruptural of course, but could actually be quicker than intuitively expected due to the possibility of tipping points in public opinion that create positive feedback loops and rapid social change.

Symbiotic is the most common strategy. Collaborate with the Bourgeoisie and try to find common ground or positive sum games with capitalist class.  I would argue this was achieved in the post war decades of Keynesian Economics. High consumer demand and minimal economic crises are in the interest of all, but thus far history has shown that social democratic gains are largely temporary as the capitalist class must always seek to increase their share at any cost.

All in all whether skeptical or fanatical, new or experienced I’d recommend the book to anyone curious about post capitalism. The book is available at Amazon. –Collin Sledge

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Student Work: Crossroads for Opportunity in Front of Nations with Declining Populations

Image Source: Jo Di Graphics (using United Nations data)

Declining populations have become the norm in a number of countries in the last few decades. There are of course the occasional cases of war, disasters, and other extraordinary drivers, but there is a number of countries, mostly in Eastern Europe the demographics of which have a systemic decline. Other cases include Japan, which is the front runner among the most developed nations and started experiencing the phenomenon quite early. If the current trends continue, it will be joined by Germany and other Western European nations in the next decades.

Many of these countries share similar drivers and current dynamics. So what are the common potential futures ahead of them and what are the decisions they can make to influence which path on the crossroads they take? Before we answer that, let us look at the common factors and drivers.

There are two immediate drivers in this domain – lower birth rates and migration outflow. What typically stands behind the first are economic and socio-cultural factors. What typically stands behind the second are again economic, but then more open border control and lower immigration/emigration barriers globally. The cases where both drivers are in full force experience the most negative growth (the Baltics and the Balkans). Some of these early cases of population decline can serve as laboratories for countries expected to register declining populations in the future (even China is expected to experience that starting in the 2030s).

There are four typical scenarios (based on the Houston Foresight archetype approach adapted from Jim Dator). Taking Bulgaria as a concrete example, these are:

The Ongoing Slide Down (Baseline/Status-quo): The population of Bulgaria continues to decline with stable or slight smaller rate, with the economy continuing on its current slow but stable convergence path with Europe. This includes a variety of sub-fields such as healthcare, education, and technology sector.

The Irish Scenario (Transformation): The population of Bulgaria reverses the on-going decline and enters a prolonged and continuing increase, with the economy experiencing a similar expansion and boom period, quickly converging and surpassing the EU average. A booming tech sector, remote workers, healthcare and social system immigrants from more developed nation in charter cities prop up the population.

The Stable Populous (New Equilibrium): The population of Bulgaria reverses the on-going decline and enters a stable phase, albeit below the maximum it had in the late 1980s, with the economy experiencing a healthy growth significantly above the EU average. However, long term age pyramid structure problems remain.

The Demographic Catastrophe (Collapse Scenario): The decline of the population of Bulgaria enters into overdrive, with significant additional emigration outflow, deteriorating economy and social systems (healthcare and social security) as well as compounding negative effects of shrinking populous (lower tax base, economic drag).

None of these are a priori good or bad – even the Demographic Catastrophe one could be a desired preferred future if it brings economic prosperity, renewal of arts and entrepreneurship (as in the case of Detroit, MI in the US), or as part of a global sustainability and matching the carrying capacity of the planet. The question in front of decision makers and the general public is how do we prepare for and work towards the most desired future and its alternatives. Answering it is beyond the ambition of this post, but here are several topics that can serve as starting points:

  • How can openness and readiness for charter cities impact the scenarios? How will that in turn impact the education needs as well as the construction and housing industry?
  • Is it possible to generate an inflow of Foreign Retirees from wealthier to less wealthy countries? How will that in turn impact investment needs in public healthcare institutions, facilities and technology or stimulate private healthcare, and what security and liability policies to regulate a supporting robotic industry would be needed?
  • Can a focus on a third-child family policy generate the desired output? How will that in turn impact the population pyramid over time, and what with the be the interplay with potential negative tax and basic income programs?

Efforts of all nations – emerging and developed, poor or wealthy, with declining or growing (but in the future declining) population – should be directed towards exploring this rising trend and how to deal with it in a sustainable manner, while optimizing the wellbeing of the populous. These early cases present a great opportunity to examine that and pioneer solutions on how to manage the process. This will show which path on the crossroads will lead where and ideally inform nations on which one to take. — Ruslan Skomorohov