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Embodying Strategic Self-reference in a World Futures Conference

Transcending the wicked problem engendered by projecting negativity elsewhere

Embodying Strategic Self-reference in a World Futures Conference
Self-reflexive attention to conference processes
Thematic streams and their integration
From poster sessions to stellar futures via aesthetic visualization
Encycling wickidity in the light of polyhedral viruses and their mutation
Concluding antithesis

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Creative review of the 17th International Futures Conference on Tackling Wicked Problems: where futures research, education and action meet (Turku, 2015), more conventionally summarized otherwise by the organizers


The following is a scenario-building exercise using the contents and processes of a conference on so-called wicked problems in order to elicit further insight into the nature of such problems and the possibilities of engagement with them. It follows from earlier exercises in conference reinterpretation (Gardening Sustainable Psycommunities: recognizing the psycho-social integrities of the future, Findhorn, 1995; Transdisciplinarity through Structured Dialogue: beyond sterile dualities in meetings to the challenge of participant impotence, Arrabida, 1994).

As a conference dedicated to future insight, the event was naturally preoccupied by the requisite evolution of conferencing processes -- transcending the tendency to replicate structures and processes which were characteristic of earlier decades in the 20th Century. How indeed is a conference anticipating the future to integrate future possibilities into conventional processes -- rather than simply replicating what has tended to prove so unfruitful in the past? What would be the implication if a futures conference of 50 years hence were to be perceived as little different to that of today?

In such terms the Turku event was remarkable in explicitly recognizing that framing wicked problems as negative externalities was unfruitful -- if the strategic reflections and contributions of the participants were simply understood as the preferred positive device for responding to such externalities. This characteristic of so many fruitless conferences, was reversed in Turku, consistent with arguments that any conventional conference process was typically a problem in its own right, even a wicked problem (Future Conference Organization as a Wicked Problem? Self-referential upgrading of obsolete conference processes inhibiting emergence of integrative knowledge, 2015).

A conference could even be construed as posing an elusive transformative question (World Futures Conference as Catastrophic Question: from performance to morphogenesis and transformation, 2013). This understanding drew on a self-referential analysis of the programmatic content of the 1st International Conference on Internet Science (Brussels, 2013) as discussed separately (Internyet Nescience? 2013). With respect to engagement with futures research, this followed from a previous exploration (Self-reflexive Challenges of Integrative Futures, 2008).

The challenge addressed by the Turku event was therefore how to engage self-reflexively with its own internal processes -- whose conventional neglect effectively constituted the essence of problematic wickedness. Self-reflexive mirroring was "re-cognized" as a catalyst entraining fruitful strategic change elsewhere. Introductory keynote addresses therefore deliberately stressed the need to be exclusively positive about externalities, thus engendering the requisite engagement with the internal negativity of the conference process itself.

As a scenario-building exercise with an aesthetic emphasis, the process led (fortuitously) to recognition of an as yet unexplored degree of correspondence between the icosahedral ordering of both psychosocial mega-problems and of the micro-problems constituted by viruses. Inspired by biomimicry, this suggests the value of exploring virology as offering a "pattern language" with regard to antigens and antibodies as these might apply to the operation of possible "viral antigens" that could be developed to constrain wicked problems. This raises the question as to whether the most hazardous viruses offer a valuable mapping template for exploring the wickedest global challenges. A wicked problem can then be usefully framed as a form of viral pandemic like influenza -- whose potential future emergence is an active concern of WHO. Pandemics include non-viral forms like the plague, epitomized in Europe by the dramatic consequences of the 100 million fatalities of the Black Death.

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