The AC-UNU Millennium Project
Jerome Glenn. 1.*
- unedited transcript -
How can we improve our ability to think about the future? We know thinking ahead is the right thing to do; we know not thinking ahead is not a smart thing to do. But we're now no longer isolated little entities in a village somewhere; we're now part of a very complex global system so that we as a human species have to learn together how to think better into the future. One of the ways the Millennium Project has approached this methodologically is by identifying leading thinkers across the board-be they right-wing, left-wing, up-wing, down-wing doesn't matter as long as they're a cross-section of the thinking in public. We're not doing a general opinion poll; we're not interested in the middle of the bell curve; we're interested in advanced thinking across the board. We send out questionnaires, and they're translated through nodes; we have eleven nodes around the world-from Tajaran, to Beijing, to Tokyo, Buenos Aires, and various places around the world. They identify the leaders in those areas of thinkers and translate questionnaires to them and ask them, "What are the developments that in your judgment are the most important things that we ought to pay attention to that could change the nature of the future, be it positive or negative? We rate these in terms of who should take the leadership, what action should be taken on these; and then we bring these back to the nodes around the world and they identify policy-makers who have the responsibility to address these developments, and ask them for their judgments? These become one-on-one interviews that are almost like personal briefings: This is what the rest of the world thinks, Mr. or Miss Decision-maker, about an area that you're concerned with; this is what they think ought to be done; what do you think about that? So, it becomes both a collection device on judgments from around the world from policy makers, but it also becomes a briefing for them. So, it's a two-way process. All of this then gets put together in our annual State of the Future reports, given back to all of the participants, be they futurists, scholars, or policy makers so they can see how their though related to everybody else's. We also use this information into organized forms of scenarios: here is how it can go with these dynamics from what people have said; here is how it could go if things work. Therefore, we do normative scenarios as well as exploratory scenarios. And, through our nodes around the world, we keep track of change in various forms and make it available on our website: www.acunu.org. And it has even a section on information we're collecting in terms of main domains of socialization from economics, to technology, to governance, and environment, and so forth. And then, what are their issues? What are the opportunities? What are the developments? What are the various actions? What are the scenarios? And we have a whole category going across these. So, this becomes almost like a sort of a periodic table of what's important to understand about the future in global change. So, we basically collect this information, analyze it, feed it back, analyze it, feed it back, and make it publicly available on an on-going basis. And this is our methodology for trying to improve how we think about the future.
A unique part of the methodology of the Millennium Project in dealing with all this complexity is the decentralization of our system into nodes. Nodes we have defined as groups of individuals and institutions that do the work on the project in that given region. When they do interviews, they're doing it within that regional cultural format. They self-organize themselves in how they work slightly differently. In the South Pacific-which is a pretty large area-they have telephone calls once every month or two for coordinating their activities. In other parts of the world they're clustered into like one city like Buenos Aires or Tokyo, so you're a closer-knit group. I bring this up because it has been very popular to talk about chaos theory-the idea of tractors and self-organizing nodes and new groups. To some degree we're doing experiment here: instead of the normal hierarchical system, we have these nodes that have emerged--through the original three-year feasibility study, by the way-of people who wanted to do more for the project than simply answer questionnaires. They have created their own nature; they're creating their own relationships to some degree; and take on some of their own future studies where they are. So this is, in a sense, the idea of self-organization of human-ware around the world. It remains to be seen how well it works. Ideally, we have each of these things self-funded and self-organized, but right now they're funded through an overall mechanism: the Millennium Project, which is under American Consul for the United Nations University. The other part of the methods that I would like to stress is that we have written a book, essentially, a 500 page book, that's now on CD ROM for easier access, that has eighteen chapters on methods, futures methods, thinking about the future. I mentioned two of them previously. One was a scenario; and the other was the questionnaires and also environmental scanning. But there are, in our book, sixteen categories of futures methods-everything from systems modeling to cross-impact analysis, futures wheels, and other methodologies. It has an introduction giving an overview of futures thinking methods, and then, a concluding chapter of where we think methodology may be going in the future and the integration of methods. Each chapter explains what a method is, how it's used, where it came from, how it can be used in combination with other methods, and speculation about the future of that method. Half of the sections are written by either people who invented the method, or historically significant in the evolution of that method. We now will be sending this out to people who will be critiquing it, reviewing it, and we're going to upgrade and improve that methodology. So there'll be a version 2.0, or so, eventually, soon. So this, in addition to the overall Millennium Project of the human-ware inter-activity and thinking together about the future, will also enter the same interactive process of making the methodologies improved as well. This is our approach so far in how we think we can improve the capacity of humans to think better about the future in terms of being able to shape it, and to anticipate it, and to act accordingly to improve the human condition.
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