Measuring the Unbalanced Future

IN many developed countries in western hemisphere, both of the government and the companies have extended and applied the future studies approach in their policies making process and national development and business planning. This stand creates more distances between the developed and the developing countries.

Well, seems that these terminologies are not avoidable every time we discuss the current situation in the contemporary capitalistic world.

The second week readings provide quite distinctive works on future study project mostly in the developed countries. Some are looking back to the past and reviewing how future had been studied in the past. Some others are trying to develop new approach in new circumstances as we see in the case of future studies in the post-reunification Germany, and the case of the new members of European Union. One reading is about the technology foresight as a new approach in future studies that have been extended in Korea and China. Another reading is about the use of future studies in business. So far only one reading is taken from the developing country, i.e. Egypt.

Reading on Manoa School of Future Study is also interesting since it again clarifies that the object of future studies is not the future itself, but the images, many images, of futures that might be happened in the years to come. Since it is talking about “images of futures”, something plural, we can understand that there are many alternatives of future based on one’s understanding of the past and the emerging events, plus the methodologies and research tools that are used to draw the images of futures.

However, when most of governments in the developing countries in Asia, Middle East, Africa and Latin America are still fighting with poverty, unemployment, food scarcity, corruption, dealing with environmental damages, trying to develop infrastructures and provide better public services, etc., or, when the people of those countries are fighting against the corrupt government (some of them are proxies or puppet officers of the developed countries), rubber stamp and selfish parliament; in another hand, the governments and companies of the developed countries are moving forward and catching up the high class, fantastic and luxurious futuristic ideas about the future, such as creating the global market, controlling the climate change, subjugating the outer space, or even providing cyber democracy, and robotic apparatus.

From this feature we can understand that basically the developed and the developing countries, both of their government and people, have totally different agendas and needs. As the developed countries are now producing necessary equipments and tools to reach and “subjugate” the future or what they have planned would be the futures; the developing countries are struggling with present time daily life problems merely and simply to keep them alive. Busy with daily life agenda, makes some of the developing countries do not have any kind of future and futuristic approach in their mind, and without the concept or consciousness of the future, they might concludes that futuristic discourses are useless if not needless.

Quite contrary, we all witness how at this current time sciences and technologies are highly improved and enhanced, and spread rapidly worldwide. This is the fact that cannot be avoided. Lately seems that information and communication technology (ICT) companies have crossed the boundaries and touched the most remote area in the poorest countries in the world. Seems that the ICT companies operated worldwide, together with the influences of governments of the developed countries, have formed global cultures and values.

Based on these new circumstances, governments everywhere in the world are required to have more understanding on this emerging situation and use it as stepping points to project what will be happened in the years to come. According to Hariolf Grupp and Harold A. Linstone , these latest circumstances encourage governments of every country not only to predict and to forecast, but more than that to foresight their national policies so that they can match up with the unstoppable development of ICT and meet up its challenges. In their study, Grupp and Linstone portray foresight is “equivalent to a bundle of systematic efforts to look ahead and to choose more effectively. Thereby, foresight takes into account that there is not a single future. Many futures are possible, but only one of them will happen.” While in practical level, foresight is defined as the “process involved in systematically attempting to look into the longer-term future of science, technology, the economy and society with the aim of identifying the area of strategic research and the emerging generic technologies likely to yield the greatest economic and social benefits.”

The government is encouraged “to give more emphasis to direct intervention in research matters (e.g., by financing specific R&D projects in industry) or to more indirect support (e.g., tax reductions for R&D projects or subsidies to those companies hiring new scientific and technical staff).” Nevertheless, Grupp and Linstone see that companies be more enthusiastic in applying the futuristic study approach in their researches since they have more interest with the market spreading of their products.

Concerning to the huge development of ITC, in his 2006 paper for Finish Parliament, Clement Bezold of the Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF) promotes the idea of Cyber Democracy that involves the use of ICT to support governance. Bezold defines this newly developed political system as “a collection of new processes and old habits, of aspirations and fears, of specific detailed improvements in government services and enhancements in human evolution, of tremendous promise and terrible risk. Cyber Democracy focuses on the information and communication mediated aspects of democracy.” In practical level, Cyber Democracy has at least five activities, namely cyber administration or e-government, cyber voting, cyber participation, cyber infrastructure and cyber agenda setting.

This idea has been developed in 2001 by Alternative Future Associates (AFA), which has affiliation to the IAF, and an extension of Alvin Toffler’s Anticipatory Democracy in 1970s as “a process for combining citizen participation with future consciousness.” Toffler believes that a new form of political system must be invented to welcome the political future shock.


Egyptian Ibrahim H. El-Issawy, strongly encourages government in the developing countries to start using the future studies approach, or what he called as long-range perspective studies, in their national development planning, despite the fact that the theoretical apparatus and empirical research tools of this approach have been developed in western hemisphere and developed countries. Applying future studies approach into account “enables people not only to prepare for the future might happen, but also to control their future and to make it better than it would otherwise be, had they ignore the future or waited passively for it.”

There are at least two fundamental reasons, according to El-Issawy, why the developing countries (such as Egypt in his study) need to apply future studies in every aspect of their national planning. The first reason he addresses is related to the feature of development process itself, as it does not take place overnight, or as easy as switching the palms of our hands. Yet development “involves time-taking institutional and structural change, and therefore could not be tackled by short time measures.”

The second reason why applying the futuristic approach in national development planning is needed is more about the way to deal with the unequal power structure of the world. It is really important to the developing countries to plan their own preferred futures and to draw all possibilities that might happen in the future by using their own vision based on their native values. At the same time, the developed countries together with the multinational companies (MNCs) and transnational companies (TNCs) operated worldwide include the developing countries as parts of their future project. They treat the developing countries as an object that has to be influenced and controlled.

In his own words, El-Issawy emphasizes that, “the big powers compete to re-shape the future of the Middle East and North Africa, and they are eager to incorporate the Arab countries in Middle Eastern or Mediterranean ‘cooperation’ or ‘partnership’ schemes.”

This situation brings us back to the fifteenth century when European divided the rest of the world and claimed certain parts including its population as their belongings and properties. And bring us back to the Berlin Conference held in Berlin, Germany, in 1885-1886, when European major powers sliced the Africa and occupied the lands that they considered were their new territory in the newly founded world. There was a kind of “futuristic approach” behind the European major powers’ imperialism.

Indeed, as an English historian J.A. Hobson mentioned it in 1902 , imperialism is an integral part of Europe’s economic expansion. Moreover, colonialism facilitates this expansion by ensuring that there was European control. It simply means that European powers need to secure and subjugate the indigenous lands and populations.

So then, back to El-Issawy, “an indigenous futuristic study from the standpoint of Arab countries (as an example) is necessary for envisaging future images with and without such schemes, and for guiding decisions as to the development path that best serves their security and economic interest and preserves their cultural identity.”

Egypt itself has started to apply the futuristic approach in national development planning back to 1950s and 1960. Nevertheless, the most serious project had been developed in 1970s. In 1990s the Third World Forum (TWF) Middle East in Cairo have started the project of Egypt 2020 to improve national decision-making capabilities and creating an intellectual climate that would be conducive to innovative solutions to Egypt’s problems by constructing a number of alternative scenarios. The project then draws five social political forces scenarios for future Egypt, namely business-as-usual scenario, neo-capitalist scenario, neo-socialist scenario, an Islamic-state scenario and popular/solidarity scenario.

El-Issawy admits that it is not an easy thing to apply the futuristic approach in designing the preferred futures for Egypt. The process needs more time to provide participatory nuances since its successful is measured by whether there is an enough space for all parties to contribute their ideas, or not. Another problem is related to the lack of budgets. Nevertheless, despite of those technical problems, the most fundamental barrier is perception among government circles, and even some of researches and intellectuals that seeing the futuristic study as a luxury and gigantic idea that could not be afforded.

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Born in Medan, lives in Jakarta, loves Indonesia.

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