Ep.18 - Futures Thinking

November 1, 2023

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Welcome to this episode of the Responsible Disruption Podcast, my name is Sydney Johnson, your host for today and today's episode, we will delve deep into the world of futures thinking with our special guest, Jeny Mathews-Thusoo, an esteemed expert in futures thinking. Jeny is the Program Lead in Resilience and Futures at the City of Calgary and instructor at the University of Calgary's Advanced Social Policy in the Faculty of Social Work. She is a respected and innovative leader who inspires others to act around a shared vision, and she's dedicated to elevating voices of equity deserving communities through public policy and systems change initiatives.  Jeny uses creativity and future thinking to inspire social change. Thanks so much for joining me, Jeny.


Thank you so very much.

00:54 SYDNEY: So first off the bat, I think everyone is probably wondering what exactly is futures thinking and why is it important?

01:02 JENY: That's a good question. And so I was thinking how can I explain futures thinking in plain language versus using academic language. And so sometimes I like to think about futures thinking quite simply as how do we use images of the future to make decisions for today and so, and it could be images of different types and should be futures with an S plural. So how do we look at different multiple plausible futures preferred futures, immerse ourselves into those spaces. And then based on that, take actions today. What kind of policy actions or just even initiatives that we should be taking to be either resilient in those multiple futures or to create the preferred futures we want.

01:49 SYDNEY: So what is the difference between a plausible future, a preferred future, or maybe just the future that will happen if we do nothing.

01:57 JENY: So good question too. So plausible futures are like... we know we live in this vuca world. So really a volatile, an uncertain, a complex and ambiguous world. We know that multiple plausible disruptions could be happening. We just experienced that over the last three years and more. I think it was really evident to all of us. So when we think about plausible futures, we don't know necessarily what kind of disruptions could be coming our way. There are ways to know it a little bit, but more often than not, there are things like I always say, these little disruptions that happen that we're going along towards the future when the present we're moving towards the future, something happens and we suddenly deviate into a different type of future, something else might happen, and we start going into potentially another type of future. And so, more often than not, we only plan for one future thinking that what's happening today will just continue on into the future and that's the future we only think about. But we know in reality, living in a vuca world in this complex, volatile, uncertain, ambiguous world, that's just not the way society is. And so we need to start thinking about multiple futures. Plausible could be the good, the bad, the ugly. Like it could be features that, let's say, climate migration. I do a futures on climate migration. There's some good things and some bad things about this future scenarios that I do. And it makes us think, hey, what kind of actions would I take if I was living in that future and it could be anything? It could be based on different types of disruptions, shock stresses, whatever you want to call them. So it could happen. Plausible futures.

Preferred means the ones we want. And so plausible ones, not necessarily the ones we dream of. But I love the preferred future space. That's my space. I love being and I like thinking about, especially communities when we come together and say, hey, what is the futures? And they use S again, futures. We would love to have we dream about. And so I love thinking about, really transformative liberated futures. What does that look like imagining that with communities, I love doing this with my students. And then you think, what policies what practices, whatever you want to think about, what would get us there. And so that's to me the preferred or the liberated futures are really the spaces where we get to truly dream where we are at the center.

04:44 SYDNEY: Yeah, amazing. Amazing space to spend your time in.

04:47 JENY: Absolutely! And I would say that we are not spending enough time in those spaces.

04:51 SYDNEY: Yeah, absolutely. And is there a certain time periods that you find comes up the most when you're thinking about these futures or planning for them, is it 10 years, is it 50 years or is it anything across the board?

05:03 JENY: it depends on who you ask. And so I personally like to work in the 10 to 15 year space. I think most of my training comes from the Institute for the Future. And they recommend a 10 to 15 year time frame ahead. if you ask UNESCO, which I've done work with their UNESCO's team, they will go much more into the future, probably 50 years into the future. So there's some really interesting spaces there. And I know I don't mind playing in that space. However, I find that when I'm working with different communities or different partners, they have a really hard time in that space first. So maybe start in the 10-15 for me and then maybe eventually into the 50 year. And then there's some alternate realities that are 100 or 200 years ahead and that's where you really get to imagine something completely different. but when I'm doing my y actual policy work strategy work, I would say 10 to 15 years.

06:03 SYDNEY: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And just picking apart this a little bit more, how does it actually work when you're like, we're going to think of some plausible futures. Are we going to think of some preferred futures? What steps do you take to figure out what those are going to be?

06:20 JENY: That's a good question too. So let me give you an example of one that I did with the plausible futures, and then I'll do something with the preferred, because I would say that they're two different processes. I think they are anyway. So the plausible futures. When building the resilient Calgary strategy. I was leading the pillar of work for social resilience. And so we needed to come up with the strategy for that pillar. And so our question at the time was or a problem that we had identified was that institutions of power do not trust equity deserving communities. That was our problem. And so we were ultimately looking at as our domain question, is how do we build  trusted informed relationships? How do institutions of power build those trusted informed relationships with equity deserving communities? So that's where we started. And it was a really cool way. The first step is actually really understanding. What is it that you're trying to understand about the futures? What kind of futures do we want to explore and the future of trust, hands down, was the domain we wanted to work in. Anyway, I love to work with these large collaborations. I always say go big or go home. And we absolutely did that. And so this was a group of people who never worked in futures. This included community groups, people who worked in the not-for-profit, public private sector. IMAGINE that we got everyone together, it was cool. So one of the first things you would do is identify this thing called signals. Now I know that again, some groups don't use signals. I happen to love them. I think that we start looking at what are those little innovations, those little things that are making you go, hmm, what's going on there? It's like these little things that are happening around the world that are not mainstream yet. Nobody's really heard about it, but there's some kind of an invention that's going on right now, maybe in Switzerland somewhere. And so we were trying to think about... we did our research, we got our collaboration circle to start looking. We asked questions in the communities about what's been happening that has made you stay up at night or really excited that you weren't even thinking about months ago. So it moves beyond racism or sexism or ableism. It takes it to what are those little things or movements that are happening. So we identified well over 100 of these signals. So there was a lot and some of them are more trends I would say than signals, but that's OK.

09:13 SYDNEY: Can you give me an example of one or two of them? It doesn't have to be from there, but just an example of a signal that some people can understand.

09:21 JENY: See, it's interesting because my students just finished their assignments on signals, and what are the impacts to it? So one of the signals I talked about, which I would say back then a little bit more I should be able to give you more recent one, but for whatever reason... So U.N. are establishing these floating cities. And so, but floating cities where it's in response to climate, and to extreme weather conditions. So these floating cities that UN is pilot testing right now, I think there's one in Indonesia right now that they're piloting, and it's basically these movable pods that form a city just like a kilometer or mile outside of a shoreline. And if, let's say there's a hurricane that comes or something like that, they're able to move the city into a safer place. And so I use that signal actually on another project that I worked on, which I'll talk about later. Anyway, So you take these signals and you map them, or you put it up against a matrix. You're really looking at those signals, those weak, they call them weak signals that have that really uncertain amount... so they say high uncertainty. Meaning I don't know ... could this really actually happen? But if it did it would have huge impact. And so a lot of times signals member are not mainstream. Most people don't know about it. But what if it did become mainstream. Then what impact would that have? So you map that on the matrix, so we did. And remember this is the first time we were playing around in this space. So we had decided after doing all of this at the time, so this is about three or four years ago. That polarized society, it was just becoming more and more evident that we were polarized and that big tech companies were going to take over public service. So we were seeing that. I wouldn't say it was necessarily signals, but that was the thing that caused our group the greatest amount of concern. So you pull them together. So you mesh them together. You think about what is the opposite of big tech companies taking over public service. Well, our group decided. Well, maybe it's localism, maybe it's all public services actually done in the neighborhood. So that was the opposite and a polarized society, what’s the opposite of being a polarized society. Well, we said a pluralistic society. A society that valued many different perspectives and values.

You make a matrix on that and you develop 4 scenarios. I wish I could draw this out for you. It's hard to explain this but it's like a two by two matrix. On one side, let's say the horizontal axis you will have, let's say a polarized society and a pluralistic society. Then on the vertical axis on the top you would have a public services outsourced to tech companies, and on the other end, localism. And then basically you now created 4 squares and then you combine. So you'd have a polarized society that also has tech companies taking over public service, and you would create a scenario with that. And so what we did is we created 4 scenarios and these are the plausible scenarios. What would happen if these things came together? What would our society look like in 10-15 years? But we also wanted to embed a person like a character in the future. So we created 4 different personas working with different type of institutions in that society. So if you had a polarized society and tech company taking over, then what would that look like for, let's say, a new immigrant wanting to, I think it was Banali who wanted to vote in municipal elections. So I was working with a local government. We had another person with a disability who was looking to get a loan from a bank. We had another situation where we had a person who identified as non-binary trying to engage with the healthcare system. And the other one was an Indigenous individual who was engaging with the federal system. And so in these different scenarios. And then we looked at what are the challenges and opportunities in each of those scenarios. And we built out our outcomes for the resilient Calgary strategy for the inclusive futures pillar. So that was really exciting. So we imagined futures, the good and the bad in all of it. What were the opportunities? What were the challenges? I want to say always that no matter what future you imagine or futures, no one is ultimately utopic or dystopic. Because a lot of times people will think I'm creating futures that are completely utopian. That's not always the case. You're always looking at ways to mix it up. I know that was a really long answer.

14:31 SYDNEY: That was perfect. I think it's a really concrete example too, and it makes me think of why this work is so important in places like public policy and government.

14:40 JENY: Absolutely. And I would say worldwide that is a great space to be in. One of the methods, called strategic Foresight to imagine multiple different futures and then what kind of policies initiatives do we need to be now putting into place to ensure that we're resilient in those futures. It could be, let's say, you think about United Way, let's use them as an example. Maybe we have these scenarios and they already have a strategic plan in place. Well, how well would it hold up in those different futures? And if you see indication that we're moving in that direction, how do we pivot?

15:16 SYDNEY: Before you’re there or you don’t know what you’re doing.

15:19 JENY: Absolutely. Versus us being shocked by a pandemic when we shouldn't have been. Anyway, that's a whole other talk. The preferred one is the one that I do … Am I supposed to still answer that question? I know I'm talking a lot.

15:29 SYDNEY: Yes, please, please go ahead. We want to hear it.

15:34 JENY: As I said, I'm really most excited about is the transformative liberated futures. So what I mean by that is, is that those kind of futures where we look at what's happening in the margins and we actually center that. So when it comes to our communities. Equity deserving equity denied communities whatever language you want to use. But it's really like, what would happen? How could we imagine a society where they are actually the norm? They determine what is normal in society. So you think the question I always ask myself. And I ask my students, so I do this more with my students. Is that if colonization that embeds white supremacy and patriarchy never existed, how would societies have evolved? And then imagine that. Imagine those societies. That to me, is super cool and it really gets us beyond just increased representation on boards. We need more of us, but we're still breathing the toxic air of colonization, patriarchy and white supremacy. So we need to get away from that and imagine what would have happened if we were never colonized in the first place. How would women be viewed. Like I always say, what's our Wakanda for those who love Black Panther, what is our Wakanda. Never a country for those who don't know. Black Panther. It's a Marvel comic and the premise is it was a country in Africa that was never colonized. And so they evolved the way they wanted to evolve. Imagine that, I think that's super cool. So that's one way of looking at the question. The other way of looking at the question is, is that what if we healed from colonization that embeds white supremacy and patriarchy? How would our societies then evolve and then trying to imagine that society? So I do that with my students using these liberated futurisms like Afrofuturism, disabilities futurism, feminist futurism, Indigenous feminist. What am I missing? I feel like I'm missing one.

17:55 SYDNEY: You said four. So they were all in there. [Laughs]

17:55 JENY: OK, good. Yeah. Yeah, good. [Laughs]

So using those lenses where truly we are the norm. So imagine if autism was actually the norm of society. That's the norm. How would society look? And then what I do is... my students are in it right now. And so we'll be understanding the past like how did our history of oppression and activism, because it's important to understand and respect our past. What are the signals that might indicate we could be moving towards that future and then actually dreaming of that future? And then their final assignment is to build an equity strategy to help us get to that future?

18:43 SYDNEY: Oh, I love it. I want to take your class. Where do I sign up? How do you feel like it lands with different folks that you're doing this work with, whether it's in the government or with your students. So I can imagine there's a range of reactions to it.

18:58 JENY: Absolutely depends on who you talked to. So I think let's start with at work. I think a lot of times people think I'm navel gazing, that this is just this dream world. Jeny is in her utopian, but it's not real. It's not possible.

19:16 SYDNEY: Yeah, that's not what's going to happen.

19:18 JENY: Exactly. Jeny, what are the risks associated with it. So we automatically think about how that future could not be like that's where we tend to jump to which makes me sad. So a lot of times in those formal institution spaces, they think that this is like sci-fi. That's what I get all the time. Jeny, you're just thinking about sci-fi, and that's all it is. So that's, a lot of times, institutions, formalized institutions. Community. So you get 2 responses. One totally excited? They finally are in a space. It's not like the typical conversations we're having focus groups and interviews and token consultations about imagining our vision because they haven't had really a chance to truly imagine, be creative in terms of what their futures could look like. And So what an exciting space to be in. And they want to play in that space. So you get a lot of people and once they figure out what I'm talking about and they're in it, they're like, sign me up. Then you have the other group that I get a lot too is saying, well, Jeny, that's great and all, but we don't have the capacity to dream about the future. That is really only meant for those people in positions of power. Like the Elon Musks of the world, they're the only ones that can really truly impact or influence the future. So why are we doing this? We have no agency to actually create the futures we want. Number two, we don't have the time. We're trying to put food on the table. We're trying to survive. We're trying to deal with all of the oppression that they're experiencing, whatever they are, wherever they are. Yes. We don't have time to sit and dream about what we would like the future to be, and I think a lot of times that's what makes me sad is that I want to change that. I want to change it so we democratize the future for all how we have created futures where only the powerful really determined institutions determine it. Why we feel that way as community is impact of colonization. Because our communities were told that our futures are predetermined. And so because they're predetermined, you have no agency? You just, the future is what it is. You have to accept it and we've been fed that message. And so we don't believe we can actually influence a future that we want or futures that we want. So that's in the community.

Students are scared at first I think. I think that when they hear about what I'm asking them, I always get that whole, what do you want us to do? Because it's very different than the classes that they take. They've just finished their signals assignment, which is they have to start identifying these weak signals. And it was amazing. Some of the signals that they came up with that are related to equity, the future of power, the future of social justice, liberation. And they, as I said, they get nervous, but then they can't get out of that rabbit hole of starting to learn all these really neat things, and it's just like, Oh my God, I never learned about it, never knew about this. And yeah, we need to be on top of some of these innovations that are happening. And now they're just finishing learning about Afro futures, like the liberated futures. And so I'm excited about hearing their thoughts, this upcoming class I teach on Thursdays, but more often than not, they are surprised that that type of thinking even exists and it's different than just thinking about anti racism, equity inclusion, belonging diversity strategies, it takes it well beyond that and really imagines a liberated future, not an anti something future, something we don't want. But it's imagining a future we do want and so pushing them to thinking beyond representation on boards as they think that's the goal. That’s not. We need to change the way governance is even viewed, the values and principles of governance as a whole. We need to challenge our assumptions about what is good practice or what is this best practice, the word that I hate the most. We need to challenge our assumptions about where those come from. And then once you challenge those assumptions, what is, what could that future look like?

23:57 SYDNEY: Yeah, I mean, even your question before about what would happen if what would the future look like or what would our society look like if these things had never happened already makes you think of 1,000,000 different things that could be. How do you inspire the folks that feel like this isn't for them, but they maybe want to engage or they feel like they would if they could, but they're just for whatever reason they don't see it.

24:27 JENY: Sometimes you just accept that.

24:29 SYDNEY: For sure.

24:29 JENY: Yeah, sometimes I've learned that there's two ways I take it. Sometimes there's a state of readiness. And you know what? If people are not ready, they're not ready and that's fine. I accept where people are at and when they are ready. I always say when people are ready to come and play, the door's always open. It's that perspective the other way I do it, I love taking people or immersing people in future scenarios. Ones that have already been established. I've created my own and I'll maybe potentially talk about it later. I don't know. But there are these really interesting futures scenarios that are out there. The Institute for the Future, I'm a big fan, as you can tell, have developed out some really neat ones and so I will go into conferences or whatever people that may or may not understand what the heck this thing is. And I'll immerse them into that future and they get to play in that future. What actions would they take, how are they feeling? Like all of these things. But they watch either a video or they see an artifact of that future because it's easier to be in something when it's laid out for you. They live in that future for whatever half an hour, an hour, and then we come back to the present and we decide what do we need to do about it, and what I find is, is that more often than not, people will come to me afterwards and say, wow, I never thought of that, but now what is it that Jake Dunnigan says, it's better to be surprised by simulation than by real life. And then they're like, you know what? If something like this happens, I've already thought about it and so I find that more people who are maybe the naysayers are not really sure what this thing is about. Once I do these multiple plausible different type of futures and gamify some of those futures like create it as a game, people then want to come back and learn more.

26:28 SYDNEY: Yeah, of course, if you get a chance to try it out a little bit, then you can see the impact that it can have.

26:34 JENY: I love it when people say, Oh, I never thought of that. Like, that's really neat. That could actually happen, Jeny. Yeah, it totally can, like it could. I'm not predicting the future. Look, this stuff is not about predicting the future but it is thinking about multiple plausible futures. The Institute for the Future did a pandemic more than 10 years ago. So all the people who played in that scenario at the Institute, were not shocked when the pandemic came their way. They were already prepared to know what kind of actions that they would take during the pandemic.

27:07 SYDNEY: I was going to say more than not shocked. They're like this is what I need to do. Yes, I'm ready.

27:13 JENY: They need to get toilet paper. [Laughs]

27:15 SYDNEY: Yeah. that's a signal in and of itself. [Laughs]

27:20 JENY: And well, even like the whole masking, the issues with masking like that shouldn't have been such a shock to us that people would resist masking or they wouldn't follow the rules around public spaces or faith institutions, weddings, funerals, any of that stuff that people would try to break. That that was all discussed 10 years ago, that people would feel really uncomfortable with masks, so if we as government as our various institutions knew that then we would have probably been able to alleviate some of those concerns before it hit us. We would have been prepared for that.

28:00 SYDNEY: Fascinating. I really love thinking about all these different projects and listening to the ways in which you've thought of these different futures. I'm interested as like a podcast where we are obviously in the space of the social sector. If there's any examples of projects, either that you've been a part of or that you just know of where future thinking has been used for either good or bad.

28:25 JENY: I wish. I wish. I haven't seen it yet. So I think that's probably my lack of awareness, but here in Calgary, I haven't seen it in the social sector. Now the project that I'm going to be venturing into, I'm hoping it will bring it into the social sector more and I'll tell you a little bit about that project. But yeah, just basically to answer your first one, I haven't seen evidence of too many social sector organizations in it that have really embedded futures thinking into their practices. And I would love to see more of that. So let me tell you one of one of the projects that I'm working on and so please cross your fingers that this all works out. That's what I'm asking for and send all the positive energy towards UNESCO. So we are here in Calgary applying for a UNESCO chair in future studies, social resilience and inclusive governance. It's going to be, I think, pretty awesome and I get to work with Doctor Aleem Bharwani at the University of Calgary and we are going to be creating this program. So the chair is really not a person, it's more of a program. Here's my dream. So my dream is, is that we actually democratize the future and we actually start imagining these transformative, liberated futures in community. And wouldn't it be pretty awesome that the social sector had the capacities, the futures thinking, futures literacy capacity or capabilities to start imagining those futures with community and actually creating this movement not only in Calgary, but this is going to be spread further. But let's just talk about Calgary for now, but my dream is that we start creating these public spaces where people start imagining these liberated futures. I think that would be amazing, and I always imagine students... I'm at the Faculty of Social work, so part of it is what if we created a practicum program at the Faculty of Social work, let's just start there, there's other practicums. But what if we started a practicum program with social workers where they are working in the social sector but train them up on futures literacy. Hopefully they can work with people in the social sector who are connected also to community. And we start building first how to start imagining these possible futures. Just getting them to think creatively, imaginatively, about what the futures could look like and then start going into that liberated futures. And we would have the social sector involved. We would have, as I said, students from the university involved. We would have community involved to start, imagining what are those and then thinking about what are those values, what are the principles of those type of futures that we're seeing? And then my colleague, who's working with me in this space is really interested in inclusive governance. I am too, but we've been talking about what if, after all, that we're getting all these groups, imagining these transformative, liberated futures? And it doesn't have to be about governance, just about what society could look like and what if we looked at all of those values and identified, are there some shared values of collective liberation? I hope there is, but could we actually identify what those could be and then take that and use those shared values of collective liberation to create an inclusive governance frameworks. That'd be cool. And then could we use those frameworks for local government, for higher academic institutions and I think ideally also for the social sector. That would be one of my dreams.

32:21 SYDNEY: I'm sure you're not the only one after people listen to that that will have the same dream. I will cross all my fingers and toes. And everything else I think on that note. I'm sure there's people who are going to be listening right now who are like I'm bought in. I get it. I want to try. Where would someone start if they are working, whether they're working in a connected space or not, but they want to start to integrate futures thinking into their processes. They want to just try. What would you recommend they do?

32:53 JENY: I think one of the easiest things and very plausible or I guess easy ways of doing things is to start with signals. Just start getting comfortable with possible futures and one method is learning how to identify these neat little inventions or disruptions or movements or things that are happening there in the world and then what I do is I'm a part of a number of listservs or e-mail lists, newsletters, whatever you want to call them. I'm a part of a ton of them, so probably every week I must get about 5 or 6 emails from different places. The World Economic Forum, the Institute for the Future, Copenhagen. They have a futures institute... there's just different groups and it's just getting to be aware of what are these neat little things that are happening out there, that alone opens up your imagination. If I always say if there's one thing that people should do is actually create a signals practice for themselves and potentially for their organization. And so when you learn about these little inventions. The question really is, is that there's a couple of questions. I guess you could think about, it's not mainstream, clearly. So what is the current situation without this signal? Or what could the future look like? If this signal actually comes to become mainstream. So that's the first question. What if that signal floating cities, for instance, becomes mainstream. Then the next question is what would society look like in 10 years? So the signal has now continued onwards for 10 years, and it's evolved. Then what could our society look like? And so every time I get signals in my inbox and I get, probably 100 a week. So I don't read all 100. I can't keep up.

34:41 SYDNEY: I was gonna say how do you manage that?

34:43 JENY: Yeah, I can’t even manage my own emails, to be honest. Yeah, exactly. I hate it. This is where I need AI, anyway. But I just quickly scan. I look for ones that pop out for me. And then I think, geez, what if this becomes mainstream? So if it became mainstream, and then as I said, then I imagined 10 years and this is just in my head, but if you have a practice in your organization, then maybe at your staff meetings. Maybe you have people come to your staff meetings, maybe you should need to decide for your next staff meeting. You're in charge of finding a really interesting signal that you've gotten. Then bring it to a staff meeting and talk about what are the implications. What could it look like if it becomes mainstream? Well, what would it mean for our organization, for our team and just have a discussion and what actions would we take if that actually happens? What actions should we take now to be prepared for that potential mainstreaming of a signal and then maybe next week or whenever you meet next, come up with another one. You could just have something as simple as that.

35:52 SYDNEY: Building that muscle overtime.

35:54 JENY: And what I find it helps me become more imaginative. It helps me be more creative in those spaces just because I'm already aware of a lot of these really cool things that are happening out there. Not everything is bad, when it comes to the future. There's these really neat inventions, but it also makes you think what are the good things and what are the not so good things, the implications.

36:14 SYDNEY: Yeah, even with any invention, I imagine there's different futures that it could go, some of which are more preferred than others, shall we say.

36:22 JENY: Absolutely. And I have to say this semester I have received, I think two or three emails from my previous students that they have actually included signals as part of their own personal practice. And so then I get these emails from some students of last year saying, Jeny, I just learned about this really cool signal I just wanted to share it with you. Tell me that that's not cool, but for me, I love that. So it means that there are already people who've embedded that into their professional and personal practice.

36:53 SYDNEY: That's amazing. What do you think some barriers people might face if they start to bring this to their organization or they start to practice in this way? Maybe it's on an individual level and how might they get around that or from your personal experience and in doing this in a lot of different spaces basically?

37:14 JENY: I think I told you before, where I think a lot of the barriers are people think this is navel gazing. This is just Star Trek sci-fi type thinking. And so people would rather just deal with the now. And so we function in a society that's very short term like that. What is it, short termism? We only think about what can happen within the first year and depending on if you work for government every four years and so all of our decisions are really based on things we think could happen within four years and we're not really set up, in my opinion, to think in long term. And so we have individuals who are in decision making roles more often than not that are in positions that are continually based on the election cycle. Or we have to respond to people in this election cycle. I have a real issue with the way our governance system is set up. We are in many different crises right now, climate crises and equity, these crises and decisions are being made by people who are elected every four years. I have a struggle with that and I think governance things change that actually people who are making decisions should be thinking when we talk about generations ahead, who actually has the mandates to think generations ahead versus just four years? So I think that's a problem that we face, is a lot of times we are in situations where people only think that there's one future. They base it on the trends of today and they think that it's just going to continue onwards and they don't know how to imagine possibilities and they see that as risks. I think we're really poor at this. I think that's one of the struggles is that people think it's a nice to have, not a must have. So how we are when it comes to budgets, all this other stuff? Well, that's nice and all, but it's not important. So we can cut that, but we'll make sure that we have the other services that we deliver. When in fact I think futures thinking helps set us up so that we would be, let's say, an effective government, would we be effective sectors, academic institution, we would be responsive to what the world could be like but we don't think. I find the biggest barrier is people think this is a nice to have versus a must have. How do you get around it? Sure, if I'm the best person to respond to this because more often than not... it depends on who's hearing this podcast... I go ahead and do it anyway. So then yes, maybe it's on the side of my desk, but I'll do it. I will find the time. I will get around. I will go underground. I will do whatever it takes because I actually believe we need to be futures orientated. I'm not saying we shouldn't respect the past. We should absolutely learn and respect the past. But if our communities, if we want resilient communities, then this is necessary. And so I have a lot of connections and so I just go ahead and do it anyway.

40:26 SYDNEY: There's a life advice piece in there. I'm interested in if an organization gets on board, I can imagine this scenario and they're like, do this futures work and then they're like, what happened? What was the impact? What do you say in those moments where you're trying to show people what it meant to be able to do this work or work in this way.

40:53 JENY: I think going back to the resilient Calgary strategy probably helps me the most in explaining. I think while we were doing the process, there was a number of people who thought again what the heck are we doing here like this is never going to work, Jeny, like never going to work. And I'm like, Yep, accept that this is messy. We're going to pivot and we're going to just adapt as we move forward and so we did this for seven months and I know in the beginning people didn't know if this was just an exercise of fertility. What are we doing? By the time we ended, we not only created truly created a strategy together. And what I loved about it was, is that people were excited. It was a completely different process to develop our strategy, the outcomes, they were part of all of it. And then they were bought in and you can have a lot of fun in these spaces too. And I think we get into too many head heavy heart heavy work, which it is, but we can also have fun and creating these things together. But one of the things is I never have to sell futures thinking. I don't have to sell the inclusive futures pillar to anyone because they were part of creating it. And they were part of imagining these different futures, which they never were a part of before. As I said and I get the whole, Oh, my God, Jeny, we talked about a pandemic. We did, actually. We talked about these various things. The bombing of the parliament building. What we had a future history and all of a sudden I've been getting the, Ohh, we actually talked about this and now we're better prepared. So that's the impact is that I think people actually are much better prepared for whatever could be coming their way. They know how to to pivot and to respond accordingly.

42:41 SYDNEY: Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. And even just the example about the pandemic is such a powerful one, I think we can all hear that and you're like, oh, they knew someone knew it would have been cool if I knew. So I guess maybe I should start looking at some signals.

42:55 JENY: Absolutely. And just being better prepared for these multiple plausible... like ChatGPT everybody was like ChatGPT, where did that come from? What do you mean, where did that come from? Three or four years ago, I can't even remember but those were conversations that were happening. It's only now that we're starting to freak out, like academic institutions, government institutions, are freaking out, what are we going to do about it? Well, if we were paying attention, we would have known about how people would use the applications, what are the ethics behind it or not and how we could use it more effectively.

43:31 SYDNEY: Absolutely, I'm totally with you. I'm thinking about and I'm wondering if there's any risk because clearly your futures practice includes lots of diverse thinking. You were thinking about afro's futures and feminist futures, disabilities future, Indigenous futurism. Is there any risk of someone not including those sorts of perspectives in their futures practice and and how can practitioners make sure that they do?

43:58 JENY: I would argue that most people don't. So I think that's what makes our work quite interesting, especially what the City of Calgary is doing and the University of Calgary is doing. I think that us thinking about liberated futurism is not common in most practices. I think that people do the very traditional strategic foresight processes. I'm not putting it down, but I mean it is. It's a very valid process. It tends to be the same players, people in leadership roles that are determining what the futures could look like. And I think that's the risk is that we're again, we're leaving the future to people who are in positions of power and we're not bringing it back down to community. And so more often than not, organizations will bring their subject matter experts that they deem to be in the sector and they don't actually involve communities who are actually impacted, who actually live in those futures as well into imagining those spaces. So I think that's a huge risk. And I don't see that practice very often. I think that's there's work, amazing work that's being done in the states in Africa as well, from an Afro futurist perspectives, there's some pretty cool things like Oxfam International takes a feminist futurism space perspective, which I think is super cool. But there's not too many that do.

45:28 SYDNEY: So all the more reason for us to keep going with it.

45:33 JENY: Yeah. Look, I think there's value in both really being resilient to multiple plausible futures. We should be resilient to multiple plausible futures but we also need to imagine our liberated futures as well. But there's some people who don't see themselves in those. I have a project that I'm working on right now to challenge our assumptions on good governance. It's part of the Resilient Calgary Strategy. And so our futures artifact, not sure if I've told you, but we are imagining a matriarchal local government. So what would we talk about, the patriarchy? But what if we started to imagine a matriarchal local government? What would that actually look like? And so understanding the values of matriarchy, how would that show up in local government and how we make decisions? I think it's pretty cool and we've created this video artifact and we're updating it right now as we speak and it's taking, as I said, a very matriarchal, but a global matriarchal perspective. So we have different Indigenous perspectives throughout the world, the African diaspora, the LatinX, the Asian ones. And we're trying to see what are the shared values and matriarchy and how can that show up in local government? So we're doing that right now. I presented this last year at a couple of places and one of the first questions was what can you imagine the first question to be is, well, where are the men in this? Is that a joke? Like what? That was the first question. What about the men? I'm like, what about the men? I go, women live in a patriarchal society, number one, but number two, nowhere in there did I say women were ruling the world. Never said that. The values of matriarchy is not about one over the other. The values are about cooperation, about moving from the pyramid to the circle. You think about Mother Earth carrying those values of the matriarchy. But nowhere in there did I say that women were going to take over and make all of the decisions. We’re not in the Barbie movie. That's why I hated the Barbie movie. Because I think people thought that that was a way of moving away from the patriarchy And I said no, that's still the patriarchy. It's flipped in that, like, women are still using the principles of competition of ruling over and that's not what matriarchy is about. So if you look at what are the values of matriarchy, thinking seven generations ahead, really caring for the environment, natural law. These are our values of the matriarchy. That's what we're talking about. So of course, men are a part of that, but I'll get push back right away. Where are we? You're absolutely there. You have played meaningful roles just as all genders do in these spaces. Anyway, I just found it fascinating.

48:37 SYDNEY: Yeah. And I mean, I think we see that all the time and when there's any sort of initiative that's for a different group, might say, well, what about me? That doesn't necessarily mean that everything has to be about everyone either.

48:53 JENY: Yeah, and I always find it interesting that we just assume that like as I said, women are in the patriarchy. We've had to adopt the values of patriarchy in order to succeed in today's society. But it doesn't mean that that's a good thing. We're still there and just offering a different way of thinking about governance, different set of values. What if we just thought about this from just a different set of values then and again, it's not a utopian society because people have asked me, Jeny, is this your utopian society? I'm like, no, not claiming this is a utopian society. What I'm saying is, could we start challenging our assumptions about what is this best practice in governance? And I'm offering another model. Now what are the good and the bad? And what are the implications or economic implications, social, environmental. Let's talk about if we adopted such a system as a government, well, what would society look like? And then there's going to be some good things and not so good things. OK. So how do we amplify the things that we like? And maybe not amplify or maybe try to minimize the things that we don’t.

50:04 SYDNEY: Yeah. And to your point earlier, it's futures, it's not future. Yeah. See, I'm learning. I'm learning.

50:07 JENY: Absolutely.

50:11 SYDNEY: See, I’m learning, I’m learning. Is there anything else you would like to leave our listeners with or anything we missed when we were chatting today?

50:17 JENY: When I think about futures, one of the things I love about the space is I feel more optimistic about our futures. I think before I got into this space, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and pretty depressed with the way things are going in this world, I think, Oh my God, do my children will my future grandchildren or great grandchildren even have a life? Ever since I've been in futures thinking, there's a couple of things I've seen. One I feel more optimistic, and that's probably because I have been working through these multiple plausible futures, and I'm already starting to think about what I would be doing. So that's cool. Number two, I love the liberated space. I truly love that space. And so to really use our imagination, not just our logic side of things, but to start, I love imagining what that world could be. Or worlds could be, again, coming from my sci-fi. And I love my comics. I love all of this. I am full on both Marvel Comics and DC and sci-fi. And so this always taps into that love for mine, so I think there's that. The other thing is that let me be clear, communities actually, there are so many people I have been working with in communities that are ready. There's some people who are not, but I can't stress enough that people really do want to start and we may not have 100%. We may not even have 50%, but who cares? My whole thing is let's get started with the people who are ready to play in these spaces. And as we're playing in these spaces and creating and imagining different futures, more and more people will come and join us, and then I just hope that we actually create some pretty spectacular visions of what our futures could look like and then actually take actions to get there.

52:13 SYDNEY: Yeah. Amazing. I mean, I think we can all use a dose of hope and optimism much needed. Thank you so much, Jeny, for joining me on Responsible Disruption today. It's been a really thought provoking conversation. I've loved learning more about futures thinking, I'm sure our listeners have as well and thanks to our listeners for tuning in. Hope you start that signals practice soon. I know I'm going to.

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