In February 2013, the book “Negotiating our Future: Living Scenarios for Australia to 2050” was officially launched by Her Excellency Governor-General Quentin Bryce at the Australian Academy of Science. Kristin Alford was lead author and rapporteur for Chapter 3 of this volume and a co-author on Chapter 4 of Volume 2, focusing on social perspectives to on sustainability and equity. A summary of the inquiry was written up for a series on the book launch in The Conversation:
These publications were the culmination of more than two years work by more than 30 researchers and participants seeking to answer the question “How might we consider pathways to an environmentally sustainable and socially equitable Australia?”
Constructive conclusions emerged in thinking about social perspectives, resilience theory and modelling, but those charged with developing the scenarios struck some interesting problems. They agreed on a range of, sometimes contradictory, assumptions that Australians seem to make and a range of key factors that might affect the nation. But they had difficulty agreeing on what particular issues the scenarios should focus on. They also argued that we need a way to help Australians from all backgrounds and walks of life engage with science but also bring their own knowledge, beliefs, values and hopes into their thinking about possible futures.
While a set of ‘living scenarios’ could support a richer national conversation, there are many challenges in developing such scenarios. By living scenarios we mean shared, ongoing explorations of how the future might unfold, leading to evolving visions for the future that are plausible (consistent with natural laws), acceptable (consistent with aspirations for human wellbeing) and workable (agreed to the extent necessary for action).
So how might “living scenarios” be developed?
This question lead to Phase II of the Australia 2050 project, a workshop for a small group of Australians to engage in short, intimate conversations through four scenario archetypes to explore a process, surface their own assumptions and develop broad narratives. The archetypes framing the discussion emerged from by Hawaiian futurist Jim Dator, who observed that stories of the future could generally be grouped into themes of growth, restraint, catastrophe or transformation.
Our observations on the challenges of developing living scenarios, and initial narratives emerging from the workshop have been published:
- “Helping a nation think about its futures” in Solutions Journal, and
- “The Challenges of Living Scenarios for Australia 2050” in the Journal of Futures Studies
We are currently preparing a public document to encourage others to adapt this process and draw on insights to continue this national conversation about our future.