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«OECD Innovation Strategy ORGANISATION FOR ECONOMIC CO-OPERATION AND DEVELOPMENT The OECD is a unique forum where the governments of 30 democracies ...»

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The event is arranged around listening to “voices”, which are important in relation to the topic. 3-7 persons are chosen to represent each voice and the facilitator interviews them individually while the audience listens. So talking and listening is separated in order to enhance listening and inner dialogue, following the ideas of Bakhtin (2002). The task of the facilitator is to help the voice articulate itself, to be heard.

The facilitator tells that in some strange way we are transported to the future, say, two years ahead, and positive things have happened in the issue at hand, like getting actors involved in innovation. How far the leap is made in time, depends on the issue and many other factors. The Good Future Dialogue does not attempt to be futuristic, or utopian, so a leap of ten years might be too much.

The facilitator asks three basic questions from the voices:

1. Now that we are in the future, and things in innovation have, from your viewpoint, progressed positively, what are you particularly happy about?

2. What did you personally do to help this positive outcome materialise, and who were your key partners in achieving this?


3. Were you worried about something two years ago, and what helped to alleviate those worries?

The questions explore the perception of the future, the subjective commitment and position, the network (partners) and worries (obstacles) of the interviewee.

The task of the facilitator is only to ask questions, not to give advice.

S(he) only makes small follow-up questions, and sometimes slightly rephrases the words of the respondent, trying to get an as concrete answer as possible, using questions like “could you be more specific?”, “what did you actually do?”, “when did this happen?”. Interviewing a voice with around 5 representatives in this manner takes about an hour, so in a day, with reactions from the audience, and with breaks, maximum of about 5 voices can be heard in one day. Endless variations are of course possible from this basic design.

The facilitator asks, the voices respond, others listen. The listeners are having an inner dialogue with the respondent and with themselves. Instead of preparing for a comment (and not listening) they are free to reflect. They are suspending their judgement, an important factor to facilitate dialogue emphasised in the dialogue discourse. In remembering the future, the respondents are telling miniature stories about the(ir) future. Telling and listening stories is a natural, resonating way for people to communicate, and can be helpful in dealing with complexity, as pointed out by Denning (2001) and Weick (1995). In between the voices the floor is opened for the audience to share what they “remember about the future”. So “dialogue is realised in the overall running and structure of the workshop.

The dialogue starts with an assumption that good things have happened.

This is following the cue of solution oriented and family therapy (de Schazer

1988) that starting from a (positive) solution and optimism helps to tackle the obstacles and anxieties later, and to avoid regression at the very start. In the face of complex, and controversial challenges, like innovation, there is a definite danger of regressing into a “problem-mode”, or “who-is wisest”, which would stifle communication and creativity, especially concerning newcomers, like customers and citizens in the broader approach to innovation.

The aim in the Good Future Dialogue is to reach a positive and creative platform in the dialogue, so that the inevitable problems and obstacles in reaching the positive outcome could be better negotiated and tolerated. The make-believe of moving into the future elicits creativity and imagination. It also invariably elicits humour, when people struggle to “remember” what


they have done, and help each other in doing this. This creates a friendly ambience, reinforcing dialogue.

Notes are taken from the dialogue, and, with identification of voices and themes, given to all participants as feedback, and used in the (possible) succession of workshops, to provide a backdrop for reflection.

To some extent Future Dialogue resembles “futuring” (Cornish 2005) but it is not “predicting” the future, or extrapolation from well known facts and knowing exactly how to deal with the situation. As Tsoukas (2005) points out, in situations where there is a high level of knowledge for anticipating events, and a ready “stock of knowledge” to draw on for undertaking action, we can use forecasting, and then make a plan to realise it. Future Dialogue is more useful in diffuse and open situations. The emphasis is not on forecasting, but building social capital and exploring possibilities for joint action.


–  –  –

Arnkil, R. (2008) Remembering the Future: Future Dialogue and the Future of Dialogising. In: Lehtonen, J. (ed.) Dialogue in working life research and development in Finland, Peter Lang Publishers, Labour, Education and Society, Volume 13.

Bakhtin, M.M. (2002) The Dialogic Emagination. University of Texas Press. Austin.

Cornish, E. (2004): Futuring: The Exploration of the Future. World Future Society.


Edguist, C., Luukkonen, T. & Sotarauta, M. (2009). Broad-Based Innovation Policy. In Evaluation of the Finnish National Innovation System – Full Report. pp. 11-69, Taloustieto Ltd, Helsinki Denning, S. (2001) Storytelling – How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations. Butterworth-Heinemann. Boston.

de Shazer, S. (1988): Cues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy. W.W. Norton & Company. New York.

Weick, K. (1995) Sensemaking in Organizations, Sage. London.

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The rise of uncertainty The challenges facing society are increasingly complex and intractable.

This is the nature of a globalised world in which connectedness “scales up” the problems we face and at the same time obscures the levers that we can pull to change the course of events in a positive way. The multifarious and often obscure relationships between cause and effect and the fact that local happenings seem to be shaped by forces and events occurring many miles away, creates a heightened sense of uncontrollability.

This overwhelming feeling of uncertainty is increased by what is happening around knowledge. The authority of science and of expertise more widely, has been undermined by growing public awareness of the contingent nature of scientific truth. This is highlighted in everyday life by claims and counter-claims from scientists and experts on a whole range of issues. As Giddens (1990) points out, in these circumstances, scientific truth no longer equals certainty since we can never be sure which element of that knowledge will be revised in the light of new “facts”. Instead, “reliable’ knowledge (the hallmark of science) is being superseded by socially robust knowledge. In the eyes of many scientists, the social space in which this transformation is taking place is most notable for the public contestation of science. But it is, in fact, a result of co-evolutionary trends that mark both knowledge production and socio-economic change.

1. Tree Aid is a UK-based charity supporting families and communities in Africa’s dry lands to tackle poverty and protect their environment using trees. The views expressed in this piece are those of the author.


The blurring of boundaries in knowledge production and consumption It is a strange contradiction, that whilst “expertise” has never been either as widespread or in such demand as today, public willingness to challenge that expertise has also never been as high (Nowotny 1999). In the light of the overwhelming uncertainty described above, people seem to want to develop a new sense of assurance based in part on a re-appropriation of knowledge in the social sphere. In short, they want to have a say in what knowledge is generated and how it is understood and applied.

This trend is enhanced by the increasing co modification of everyday life where public thirst for innovation around consumption is unprecedented.

People want what they want, exactly how they want it. They are increasingly demanding and discriminating. In the higher income economies, this seems to be as true for consumption of public as much as private goods. As a result, the boundary between experts and the wider public has become blurred whenever one speaks of users and producers of knowledge (Nowotny, 1999). Increasingly, the interaction between experts and public is considered an important precondition for technological and social innovations to occur.

So what we might call the “customer” for knowledge is increasingly moving from being a passive recipient of innovation to active in the demands they make of it. At its most extreme, the “customer” is increasingly a supplier of innovation through all kinds of participatory frameworks. What is being created is a new public space where science and society, the market and politics, co-mingle. More and more, the desires of both consumers and citizens are articulated here alongside the voice of expertise.

Spanning boundaries – dealing with “wicked” problems

But it is not just public demand or the co modification of everyday life that makes the blurring of these boundaries so important. In Rittel and Webber’s (1973) terminology – many of societies’ problems are no longer “tame” – to be solved by hierarchical or technocratic models of leadership, management or knowledge creation. Instead they are “wicked”, requiring knowledge and action to be developed across boundaries of culture, discipline, sector and business model.

In defying hierarchy, “wicked” problems require a model of leadership and conditions for collaboration that develop solutions not based simply in the lab, in the company research and development department, or in the policy think tank but which are socially reflexive and negotiated in the public space.


As Keith Grint (2010) highlights, a wicked problem “cannot simply be removed from its environment, solved and returned without affecting the environment. Moreover, there is no clear relationship between cause and effect”. Such problems actively require new approaches to find solutions. It requires the art of engaging communities in facing up to complex collective problems through collaborative processes (Grint 2010).

Such overwhelming complexity involves bringing together not just the public sector and government but also increasingly, business and the nonprofit sector to find solutions. There are many different approaches to generating such cross community, collaboration (see, for example, Nambisan 2009 on exploration, experimentation and execution). A critical requirement, however, is the ability to span boundaries both horizontally – across disciplines, sectors, communities and countries - and vertically – across hierarchies, bringing together establishment actors with nonestablishment and emergent players.

Spanning boundaries – generic principles, diverse tools

Essentially, this is a cultural interaction that seeks to integrate perspectives and voices – up, down and across – transcending boundaries in the pursuit of a way forward.

Institutionally, there are at least three critical factors necessary to lead or

facilitate this process:

• an understanding of the many actors involved and mechanisms to uncover or reveal those actors who are not readily identifiable;

• an institutional framework that has the convening authority to bring together networks or create networks across the relevant “communities”;

• the establishment of credibility, legitimacy and trust as conditions for that convening authority.

This is a tall order. Not many institutions have this kind of convening authority either locally or nationally and certainly not internationally.

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