Applied Foresight Network

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The Applied Foresight Network (AFN) is a global web of university-based centres connected by a network of forums for professors, students, teachers, and concerned citizens. The AFN supports informed discussion and social action on issues of critical importance to the future of humanity. The Applied Foresight Centers and the AFN Forums build on Futures Studies traditions of multidisciplinary perspectives thinking and enhance this capacity with transdisciplinary dialogue supported by the latest in academic research.

Working on two levels, a key objective of the AFN is to support professors, students, teachers, and other concerned citizens to think globally and act locally. Autonomous Applied Foresight Centers will set their own local agendas and collaborate with the Network on a strategic set of global issues. Given the applied nature, and its bridge between the arts and sciences, the AFN is expected to become an important research resource and pulse taking tool for the development of public policy at local, national and international levels.

With representatives from the University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria, the Pacific Research Institute, and Simon Fraser University, the Applied Foresight Network coordinating hub is in the Humanities Department at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. This AFN Coordinating Centre expects to manage start-up and ongoing operations, become a research initiator and repository for forum topics, and catalyze further social action, both individual and collective. The coordinating hub leadership fully expects to develop a key role for the AFN in the development of public policy at all levels. As well, it is exploring both Clearinghouse and Futures Studies educational program and issues research needs.

Background[edit]

As new scientific and technological knowledge developed in the early 19th century, academics were being forced to choose between traditional education in the arts and humanities or in scientific and technological areas (Wyllys,1996). Indeed, by the 20th century, this trend had produced what Sir Charles Percy Snow called a social divide of The Two Cultures (Rede Lecture, 1959). During 2002, Yale University professor Wendell Bell asserted that “the rampant hyper-specialization and decomposition of developed disciplines into specialties and sub-specialties leaves little room for [the] much needed holistic approaches” of campus futures studies and adult education.

This funding proposal seeks new approaches to research relevance. It has the potential to build trans-disciplinary bridges across the solitudes (Bell, 2002, Burton, 2002) and respond to noted futurist H.G. Wells’ urgent call, in a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio program on November 19, 1933, for professors of foresight to use their knowledge in socially responsible ways.

At the same time, while the world is characterized by rampant change, and there have been efforts such as those of American Council for the United Nations University (2004), the World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS) (2003) to assess both the positive and negative impacts of these burgeoning developments through expert panels and chat groups, this is not enough. According to Slaughter (2004), “It is one thing to articulate futures issues and problems and to enter into productive futures-related discourses with similarly equipped people. But it is quite another to operationalize the insights so gained.”

In the Killam Annual Lecture (Oct. 24, 2002), Dr. Martha Piper, President of the University of British Columbia further echoed this gap when she said, "If we are to live in one small, interconnected world, we must assume and fulfill our responsibilities as global citizens... Interdisciplinary research in the human sciences is critical not only to advance our understanding of some of the most pressing social problems we face as a nation, but also to provide the basis for good legislation and informed public policies that are translated into effective social action" (p. 10).

To do this, the principal investigators for this AFN proposal plan to build on their experience and connections to create a global network of university hubs linked by a digital web of academic collaborators. Building on the advice of leading academic futurists and public decision makers, the principal investigators plan to further consult on the nature of the AFN, create a small secretariat, develop an operational plan, budget, and prospectus for funding, and develop and maintain the AFN website and professor, student, teacher, and concerned citizen forums.

Call to action[edit]

"The power of one becomes the force of many."

The Challenge: In a British Broadcasting Corporation radio program on November 19, 1933, noted futurist, Herbert George Wells challenged members of the academic community to use their knowledge for the betterment of humanity.

Wells talked about how unprepared the world was for the motorcar. He said that, “the motorcar ought to have been anticipated at the beginning of this century. It was bound to come. It was bound to be cheapened and made abundant. It was bound to change our roads, take passenger and goods traffic from railways, alter the distribution of our population, and congest our towns with traffic. It was bound to make it possible for a man to commit a robbery or murder in Devonshire overnight and breakfast in London or Birmingham.” He further said that while we could have, we did nothing to work out the potential impacts of the motorcar before our roads were choked, the railways were bankrupt, and the police were dealing with the likes of Bonnie and Clyde (World Future Society: Futures Research Quarterly, 1987).

Since that BBC broadcast close to eighty years ago, specters of global warming and uncontrolled population growth have filled our newspapers; scientists have put a man on the moon, mapped the human genome, cloned Dolly the sheep, crossed a strawberry with an Arctic char, created weapons of mass destruction, and advanced artificial intelligence, robotics, and nano-technologies; and the world is dealing with numerous threats to peace, the global commons, and to humanity itself. [We have] never experienced the convergence and, in some cases, the collision of global forces of such magnitude and diversity (John L. Petersen, The Arlington Institute).

But at a time when Yale University Professor Emeritus Wendell Bell asserts that “the rampant hyper-specialization and decomposition of developed disciplines into specialties and sub-specialties leaves little room for [the] much needed holistic approaches”, the need has never been greater for cross-disciplinary academic discourse on issues of critical importance to the future of humanity.

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