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Sense making, futures work and the global emergency

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PurposeThe purpose of this paper is to discuss and take forward several themes in two earlier papers by Ogilvy and Miller. After summarising their main points it seeks to consider different approaches to "sense making" in the work of future-relevant theorists and practitioners; then to consider the case of sense making through integral approaches and then to explore implications through several themes. These include: a view of changes in the global system, generic responses to the global emergency, the critique of regressive modernity and how responses to "Cassandra's dilemma" (to know the future but not be believed) might stand in relation to the views of both authors. The paper aims to conclude with a view of the benefits to be obtained from the use of a four-quadrant approach to understanding and responding to the human predicament. Design/methodology/approachThis is a discussion paper that questions some of the views and assumptions of the earlier papers and explores some implications of an alternative view. FindingsWhile supporting the drive to improve upon the theoretical foundations of futures studies and foresight, the paper questions whether such developments are as central, or will be as influential, as the authors suggest. A different view of "how to approach the future" is recommended, in part through four "domains of generic responses" to the global predicament. Research limitations/implicationsThe paper presents an argument supported by evidence. Both should be reviewed by others in pursuit of extending the conversation beyond philosophical questions to implications in practice. Practical implicationsThe essence of a methodology to understand, approach and even to resolve many aspects of the global emergency is outlined here. As such the paper has many practical implications for the way that futures and foresight professionals operate and towards what ends. Social implicationsThe paper provides a substantive basis for qualified hope and engagement with a range of future-shaping tasks. Specifically, these relate to the necessary shifts from "overshoot and collapse" trajectories to options for "moderated descent". Originality/valueMuch of the work carried out on the perspective and issues discussed here has been carried out by those working outside of the futures/foresight domain. The value is both in affirming positive ways forward and extending the professional reach of futures/foresight workers to embrace new ideas and methods.
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Keywords: Critique; Forecasting; Forward planning; Generic responses; Global emergency; Global system; Human development; Regressive modernity; Sense making

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2012-08-24

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