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A Conference on Anticipation

January 17, 2018

It was amazing.

Anticipation 2017, a conference on a topic that is not taught at undergraduate level at any university in the UK, held at University College London, with several 100 participants, over three days.

The brief was “a unique, radically interdisciplinary forum for exploring how ideas of the future inform action in the present. It brings together researchers, policy makers, scholars and practitioners to push forward thinking on issues ranging from modelling, temporality and the present to the design, ethics and power of the future”.

Who was there? Computer scientists and physicists, social scientists, town planners and architects, futurists and strategists, educators and risk managers —-

The conference was organised into multiple streams with titles such as Foresight and strategic ignorance, Modes of foresight in informing public policy and decision-making, Education and anticipation, Making futures matter: materialising anticipation, Innovations and their consequences – a very broad spectrum of participants and approaches. I dipped in and out of as many as I could and emerged with a few impressions, some of which are below. The proceedings are to be collected on the web site

First, high energy and enthusiasm from speakers and audiences so that many sessions ran over into heated debate as conversations spanning across disciplines rolled out into the hall ways – and a varied demographic in terms of age, ethnicity and global location of “the day job”.

Second, the crucial importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in the western economies since WWII, now in developing countries, and the need for reframing STEM education for the post carbon era. STEM education was seen as needing a new language and purpose – to provide skills in thinking about the future – as we face the anthropocene. Once people are exposed to the ideas of accessing different futures, there is then the difficulty of building images of the future such that individuals can relate to them.

Third – to my shame I had not come across the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities at the University of Bergen, Members of the Centre (from Italy, Canada, Netherlands, and Norway) presented an entire session covering an eclectic range of topics under the heading of “The old is dying and the new cannot be born”, on the future of governance. Contributions covered the ethics of scientific publications, governance issues raised by contention over fishing rights in the Canadian Pacific, how can questions about the sense or otherwise of ongoing expenditure on cancer research be usefully discussed.

One of the outcomes of the conference was “to convene a group who are interested in teaching Anticipation Studies at undergraduate level. If you would be interested in getting involved in such a group – sharing ideas and curricula, developing joint activities, then please email Lucy or Katherine at this email address ( with ‘Anticipation UG’ in the subject header so that we can involve you as this develops. Please flag what you might want to get out of and contribute to such a group.”

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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