On rare sunny Saturday in May, 20-odd people met in Brussels at the King Boudewijn Foundation. The topic of the meeting was ‘Society in 2030′, and the group assembled were asked to draw from their rich personal and professional experiences to cast a light on the future of our increasingly complex world. This was a scenario exercise – the second I am participating in in less than a year – and it appears to be the tool en vogue in policy maker’s attempts to capture the needs of the undefined 21st century Earthlings.
The specific purpose of the day’s meeting is the Future Perspectives on Learning and Education in Flanders, and it forms an inherent part of a larger sequence of consultations aimed at shaping the approach towards the next generation’s educational requirements. The participants are as eclectic as they are thoughtful – ranging from an elderly care coordinator over an arctic explorer to an innovation centre researcher – and the resulting discussions were a genuine open-minded joy. For a moment, you could be forgiven for imagining yourself part of a legacy of Parisian salons, British clubhouses and Viennese courts. This salon, however, was goal-oriented, time-managed and meticulously structured.
The result of our day in dreams was slightly more predictable than the imaginative setup might suggest. This is partly due to the rigid structure of the schedule, but in part also to the lack of a narrative warranting us to actively shape that society. As society gets portrayed as a passive element withstanding the tides of time, these future visions quickly became centred around the collective response external influences would provoke. Between concepts such as globalisation, social sustainability, and sherwoodisation seems to lie an individual citizen that can barely keep up. Yet that is not necessarily the case.
A TED talk of a business leader I follow quite closely recently mentioned that the challenge of this age will be to ‘thrive in ambiguity’, to succeed even when information is fragmented and overwhelming, and when grand theories and predictions stand for nothing. And be it Syria or stock exchanges, that is very much the world we live in today. This also resembles the line we developed in one corner of this scenario-exercise: when the future is this unclear and complex, the priority will be to educate for adaptability, for personal soul- and skill searching, and for multilayered identities.
Invariably, technology is mentioned at every turn is such discussions, and as a social media consultant, it was also my ticket into the event. Yet digital technology is merely an instrument in all this. Very often it is the sounding board on which we test and mould the many elements of our identity and their interaction with the world, and feel reassured that there is a record of it somewhere. The network is an interactive audience to this, and the medium an intermediary rather than an established cause or effect.
When it comes to the future, I believe the most important lesson will be to empower individual citizens to consciously and resiliently design their lives and societies, much in the same way we now give so much thought to designing our online identities. Technology has made us all active participants, so the future will – more than ever before – be of our own making.
De school als leer- en werkplek in 2030 Toekomstperspectieven op leren en onderwijzen in Vlaanderen Verslag van de scenario-oefening over de samenleving in 2030 – 22 juni 2013
On scenario exercise read also Visualising Europe’s futures and their impact on European citizenship