Future Summit 2006 Reflections

Just got in the mail my invitation to register for the Future Summit 2007 conference.  I thought it would be timely then to post my reflections on the previous conference that I attended in Brisbane last year.  This is an excellent event with some great guest speakers but unfortunately, insufficient analysis and synthesis of the material at the time and no follow-up engagement of participants afterwards.  A lost opportunity for a serious discussion of the future of Australia amongst learned and interested people.   I documented these reflections earlier for the VPSCIN July newsletter.

The Future Summit, Australia’s premier platform for the discussion of strategic trends and directions, is an initiative of the Australian Davos Connection.  The 2006 conference held in Brisbane in May was their third summit following from the success of the Sydney and Melbourne summits conducted in the previous two years. Along with many other fellow Victorian Public Service staff escaping the impending cold of a southern winter, for two days I was immersed in the anticipation, excitement and sometimes impending doom of the unfolding future. 

The theme of the 2006 conference was “Re-inventing Australia in the Age of Asia” and explored issues including Australia’s national identity, public health and international security, adapting to emerging technologies, sustaining prosperity in a warming world, talent for a knowledge economy and the globalisation of Asia. As the summit was run using concurrent speeches and workshops, it was impossible to get around to everything that participants wanted to see.  Personally, I concentrated on just three of the themes.  One highlight included a great presentation of different aspects of Australian national identity from looking back to the past (traditional, assimilationist), through the Lucky Country (mateship, value past successes), to theme parks (tourism, Steve Irwin, Brand Oz), to innovative Australia (green, culturally aware and adaptive) to glocalised (mixture of global and local, GPI and non-religious spirituality) identity to one of a future oriented no identity (the global village that is technology connected and where my identity is me).  This demonstrated that identity is not fixed and always multiple and that there are winners and losers whenever we talk about identity as its nature is exclusionary.

A short article like this cannot do justice to the myriad of issues explored by the expert speakers and futures facilitators in the workshops.  Perhaps the lead facilitator, Richard Hames, in his closing plenary summed it up best when he stated that the future is uncertain and that anyone who speaks with certainty of the future belies the truth.  We are currently in a transition between the ages of industrial economics to an era that is more humane, inclusive and integral.  While our identity is important, what is more important is to shift the focus from identity to intentionality, not who we are but on how we create value, difference and worth in the world. 

Looking at the structure of the
Summit, it fell into the trap of having too many experts discussing their own problems and insufficient attention paid to a whole-of-system perspective that examines the convergence between different areas and identifies strategic leverage points to take
Australia and the world forward with confidence and humility.  As a futurist myself, while it was great to be in the room with hundreds of others interested in the future which is often at odds with the approach of the majority of Australians who only rarely contemplate beyond the shorter term, it was somewhat disappointing that a greater engagement and structured dialogue could not be obtained.  The summit report is well worthwhile reading though.

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One Response to Future Summit 2006 Reflections

  1. Chris says:

    Hey Luke

    Gotta say, I agree with your reflections on the 2006 Summit. Having just attended the 2007 Summit here in Melbourne, I’m sad to say, it was even less coherent in terms of a knowledge design that invited participants to consider any of the issues discussed with even a modicum of depth, the workshops were removed and only experts lecturing (mostly bored themselves) was on show, less time and invitation for questions and no sign of actual futures thinking – even 101 futures grammar.

    On the up said, sustainability was a constant touch-stone issue through practically every session, both Rudd and Downer spoke (and answered questions!) and the ideas of systems thinking, a persons interior development and a notional commitment to longer term thinking/considerations were in evidence – taking these from sketched ideas into considered thinking, discussion and further into reviewing actions, well, perhaps next time.

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