Libraries have been helping individuals to explore understanding, data and culture for millennia. The public library’s invention meant that more and more individuals had to use these collections and facilities. In the digital era, even the most distant community can be connected to knowledge and data networks by a public library.
Public libraries of today are working to engage marginalized groups as consumers; pioneering initiatives such as the Murri Book Club in Townsville are exploring methods of making the library meaningful to indigenous people. Despite all this, one region is underused in public libraries. Libraries can also assist us with future planning.
There is always a challenge in long-term planning. Collecting information from occurrences that have not yet occurred is merely impossible. Sometimes we may detect trends, but they may fall apart when we face turbulence, uncertainty, novelty or ambiguity under what some foresight specialists call “TUNA conditions.”
Think of someone attempting to predict that Wall Street debt experiments would lead to the worldwide economic crisis and the subsequent political ripples. Think of attempting to predict all the long-term effects of climate change today.
Enter scenario planning
That implies we had to discover fresh methods of looking at the unexpected future. Since the 1960s, when Pierre Wack pioneered Shell’s strategy, big business has been using scenario planning. People come together in scenario planning to imagine future settings that challenge how we believe at the moment. If it is likely to happen, you don’t judge the value of a scenario: its importance resides in assisting us to rethink our assumptions about the future.
Shell’s scenarios became popular in the 1970s when the firm effectively expected the post-Yom Kippur War oil crisis. Shell hadn’t anticipated the war, but had imagined situations where oil manufacturers in the Middle East operated as a worldwide supply control cartel. When those nations started an oil embargo, planning the scenario meant that Shell had already been thinking ahead of its rivals through this option.
Today, experts thinking about the future recognize both from the bottom up and from the top down the need for commitment. For example, the new “mission-oriented innovation” proposal from the European Union aims to focus all of us on solving the problems of society.
It is essential in turbulent times that we reinforce our capacity to imagine the future that awaits us at every stage of society – and our own future decisions.
What’s the function of libraries in this?
This chimes with studies at the University of Southern Queensland finding that public libraries are a grassroots connector of individuals, thoughts and resources in support of a fresh vision for public libraries: public library facilities are constructed on interactions, not just transactions; they are intertwined with the particular and deeply local framework of daily life in the societies they serve. Locally held scenario scheduling sessions, organized by groups in their government library, would take advantage of the current library’s ability to connect individuals–but this time with the objective of assisting us to rethink the future. Librarians would work to define problems with their local council that call for a long-term view. Should we invest in our tiny country cities in “intelligent” tech? How much should we in the large coastal towns depend on recycled water or desalination?
In order to create local situations, librarians would provide background research and host community workshops. People would begin to have deeper, richer conversations about the future: scenarios have been called “the art of strategic discussion” for some reason.
The method of the situation relies on bringing together in a trusted room a group of people with enough data to add detail and flavor to the situations. The public library is the location of confidence and data in a local society.
Just as government librarians use their abilities to assist job-seekers or promote the health and well-being of people, they would apply their talents to a fresh domain as scenario planners.
Talks that could transform politics
Playful activities that we conducted in cooperation with Michigan’s Ann Arbor Public Library to capture the attention of both kids and adults have started to engage local individuals with the concept of the long-term future. A more strict and substantive discussion is the next step.
If support was given to public libraries to provide their communities with strategic foresight, politics could transform. The electorate would be better informed, considering political problems more deeply and further ahead. Councils could make choices on the long-term implications with confidence that the community had been consulted.
Scenarios would give, already imagined and rehearsed, a playbook of prospective futures. For the previous half century, every Australian could have access to the kind of foresight instruments that have informed government and big business choices. Imagine the discussions we would have about our future as a nation if we were to democratize those instruments through the local library.
Article originally featured by The Conversation