Monday, October 27, 2014

Filipino futures thinking

It’s been a busy month for me and I would like to share some of the insights I got from the meetings, conversations, workshops and research presentations I had recently to advance futures literacy, futures research and strategic foresight in government reforms, city futures, social innovation, learning and leading in an Asian century.
The task in these conversations was to unpack the Filipinos ways of imagining and knowing the future and to develop new tools and techniques or to modify some of the most impressive foresight tools to suit local nuances, knowledge, worldviews, languages and creativities.

To facilitate these conversations I used the futures triangle method and scenarios, a deceptively simple tool, to explore the Filipinos futures landscape and map the drivers of change (how the present is understood), their visions (futures – their hopes, fears and aspirations) and the structures and thinking habits that prohibits people and institutions (the weights of history) from realizing their alternative and preferred future.

I was able to get a bigger and clearer picture on how Filipinos perceives and re-perceives their future.

Filipinos imagines their future in different ways and are informed by these drivers, insights, assumptions and questions. Some were personal and some were even systemic driven that is the environment, nature and culture drives our collective future.

Family. The Filipino thinks that the family is the essence or the diwa (heart and soul) of human existence. Like the Chinese, the family is a non-negotiable unit of society. While it is the core of the Filipino way of life, they also recognized the dangers of a “family only” personal and social outlook. A family-centered worldview or way of knowing could endanger the future of a community or a civilization. A family only driven political or economic enterprise is a weight of history. These families tend to restrict or prohibit wealth creation to occur. The interests (political, social, cultural, economic) of these families have shaped the current contexts and inner stories of our cities and may likely drive our collective future in a used, default and disowned future scenarios.   

One prominent participant argued that the “second and third generations political and corporate families could make or break the future of this country.” In 20 years and if the trend continues, it could lead to a worst case scenario that is a fragmented republic in 2030.

A student leader at the Ateneo De Manila University said “as in nakakainis na talaga at kailangan ng magalit” and a former congressman and governor argued that “we really need to get angry and get even” to change the trajectory of this country. “If Thailand could do it, why can’t we.”

Beyond the family is the community, the nation, the region and the planet. Ibn Khaldun’s concept of the asabiya (the sinews that bind) and Sarkar’s sama-sama tattva or the samaj (Indian and Malay concepts of coordinated cooperation) and Neo-humanism (expanding the concept of family to include the others like plants and animals) could be used as alternative discourses of leadership, community and governance.

Learning and leading should be values-driven. Indigenous values and concepts like buddhi (the awakened intellect), bodhi (conscience as the voice of God at kailangan itong pakinggan), karma (kung ano ang ginawa ay ito din ang balik ng tadhana), hanap-buhay in a positive context (the search for joy and life) and damdamin (the heart could guide us to the right path; the future is felt at the heart level and radical optimism is needed to create the preferred future today) should be the context of Filipino leadership, learning and governance.

A professor of public administration at Miriam College suggested that values must inform our ways of leadership and decision-making. We need to create a system that enables people to experience and express these values.  Learning and leading is all about creating new meanings and stories that inspires.  “We can change our stories if we let our inner spirit guide us. Changing ourselves is crucial here.” Another one said that “magaling lang tayo sa pag-aanalisa ng sistema at pagpapanday ng batas ngunit mukhang mahina naman tayo sa literatura, sa arts at polisipiya na siyang nagbibigay ng lakas ng loob sa bawat tao”.

The insight was that content creation is imperative to governance futures.  A seminar and action learning workshops on “Karma, Konsensya at Kinabukasan” should happen at the local government level and this could change the habits of the heart and priorities of elected and appointed government officials. 

Focus on social innovation and global perspectives. We must re-focus and invest more on social impact investing and global integration. The world is getting flatter and social investment is crucial to the future of poverty, wealth generation and local prosperity.

Methods work and action-learning must be our pedagogy. Concrete experimentation and participation of all stakeholders is a must if we are to make the long-term the foundation of the present. Strategies should be forward looking and futures methods are crucial to creating future-proof development plans (otherwise the future is merely used as a political propaganda; all words but no content).

As Inayatullah notes the future is an asset, a resource and a narrative waiting to be employed. Thus, the future should be the arena for our actions today. Methods could help Filipinos gradually shift from being a short-term oriented society to a forward looking one.

Long-term orientation. Traditions, conventions, power hierarchy, emphasis on quick results, leisure time, spending and the belief in the absolutes, a strong past-orientation (the past drives their imaginings about the future) are drivers of learning and governance in the Philippines today. Geert Hoffstede’s notes these values as short-term oriented values. Long-term oriented societies like China, South Korea, Singapore and Japan considers perseverance, personal adaptability, being thrift, savings and pragmatism as long-term oriented values.

In a nutshell, the Filipino perceives the future with different images, myths and metaphors.

The family, bayanihan, values, sustainability, wealth creation, creativity and the arts, health, karma, kapwa and conscience as crucial drivers or “pushers” to creating alternative futures or to borrow the late President Ferdinand Marcos words “pamalit na kinabukasan”. Political dynasties, corruption, propaganda, diseases, “groceries” (the Filipino style of consumerism), climate change and short-term oriented values could lead, again, to used (gamit na kinabukasan), default (status quo) and disowned futures.   

The Center for Engaged Foresight (CEF) in the last three years, which I co-founded with some folks and professors at the National University of Singapore, Tamkang University of Taiwan and the Universiti of Sains Malaysia, had so far engaged and introduced futures thinking to around 5,500 participants in the Philippines. CEF have provided workshops and futures thinking courses to around 125 organizations in the public and private sectors here and abroad.   

Recently, I have been collaborating with some folks at the National University of Singapore, the University of Hawaii, the Finland Futures Research Academy and the World Futures Studies Federation to design some creative and imagination driven foresight tools to spur creativity and imagination in the government, private and non-government sector. So far we’ve got a number of local government, national government agencies, governance and research institutes, higher education institutions, corporations and philanthropists funding and supporting our two-year futures literacy and foresight program for learning, leadership and local government reforms.

Some of our output was presented at the 2014 Philippine Society for Public Administration on Governance Reforms and Innovations in the Philippines International Conference organized by the UP-NCPAG and the UNDP and supported by the Korea, Thailand and Japan Public Administration organizations held in Davao City.    

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