Reflection – The Future of Cities in the Asia-Pacific

Well, Happy New Year! I have to admit, I’ve delayed posting this reflection because I wasn’t sure we’d make it to a new b’ak’tun and what would have been the point? But I’m glad we’re all here, safe and sound.

The Future of Cities in the Asia-Pacific was our final round of the Foresight Epidemic before the Asia-Pacific Foresight Conference and the one we were most focused on. The whole run of these online sessions was initially motivated by the idea of doing something with social media for the conference, so we aimed the prior rounds at learning as much as we could. This one was actually aiming to engage the conference participants, so it acted as a chance to use what we’d learned.

I’m reviewing our planning notes for the round as I write this and I notice we wrote “Less Is More!!!” in big letters. This has been our big learning in general this year – as a team, we’re so keen to try things and use techniques we like that we often cram too much into a given workshop or online engagement. This round of the epidemic was not an exception.

Because José was in Singapore teaching during this phase, he offered to recruit some experts who spend their time researching and thinking about cities in the region. He succeeded in getting Johannes Loh and Taufik Indrakesuma from Asian Trends Monitoring Bulletin and Rita Padawangi from Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy to participate, all of whom were enthusiastic, insightful and generally wonderful. He also got a chance to talk to noted urban planner Professor Mike Douglass, who wasn’t available but who generously gave his thoughts in email.


We planned the round on the following phases:

  1. The pre-phase
    1. a Branch conversation, initially with the expert group who we were hoping would seed a conversation we could ask others to ultimately join.
    2. a poll which asks a couple of questions and allows participants to share an image – the same as we used in Futures of Childhood Education, because it seemed to encourage participation and images are easy to use.
  2. The expert phase – using a Google+ Hangout On Air to broadcast a live panel discussion where we ask the panel a set of prepared questions and also solicit questions via Twitter. This was a new tactic to this round and the aim was to increase the amount of expert information in the discussion and also entice some more engagement from potential participants (“Look! Experts! Come watch!” – José calls this the Panda Strategy, because that’s how you get people to come to your zoo. Not that we keep our experts in cages or anything.)
  3. The open phase – we open the Branch conversation up and invite everyone into a second Hangout On Air to discuss the topic. We planned to use Dator’s Four Scenarios method for the open Hangout. What we’re hoping is that the audience we build up in the first two phases translate into more participants in this last phase.

Our plan was to particularly solicit participation from the conference registrants and so the topic we picked was one of the focal topics at the conference.

How did we do?

The pre-phase did reasonably well. We received eleven responses to the poll – which in the history of the Epidemic is pretty good. The images are shown below, some of them refreshingly non-dystopian.


The Branch conversation between the experts saw contributions from each member of our panel, though not much conversation. The initial announcement went out to conference attendees and we saw some visible signs of interest – retweets, Facebook Likes and forwards.

The expert phase was fun. Google+ worked with no problems to connect our panel. We had some prepared questions to ask them and our knowledgable participants all had a bunch of interesting things to say. As they were talking, we live-tweeted quotable quotes to the hashtag #apcityfutures (all on 9 Nov 2012). This elicited questions from a couple of viewers, not the vast throng we dreamt of, but there were some nice moments of cross-media engagement. The video recording of this panel is here.

The open hangout was also really fun, but quite different to what we imagined. What we thought we were going to host was a live chat with people from the Asia-Pacific, perhaps some of them conference attendees, who were interested in the future of regional cities. Instead, we got three really engaged participants from the USA and the UK who really wanted to play with Dator’s four scenarios technique (and who had an interest in cities). We also had some viewers who watched the live feed.

It was a great session, everyone was really generous with their time and ideas. It was fiendishly difficult to coordinate – José was the facilitator who kept the conversation going, Gareth developed a Google Docs presentation as a live set of notes of the discussion – meanwhile I looked after all the other conversation threads: the Twitter stream, the chat tool in the Google doc, the other one on the Hangout and watched for comments on YouTube and Facebook, feeding any questions or comments from those threads to José and Gareth via a private Skype chat window. Here’s a screenshot of what my screen looked like during the session:

Future of cities - screen

All in all, the round was reasonably successful. We got reasonable engagement from a group of interesting people. We gathered and communicated some interesting information, opinions and perspectives relevant to the issue. We learned a little more about using our tools and engaging with people using social media.

What we didn’t get, that surprised us a little, is much involvement from the participants in the conference (apart from Marcus Barber, who was a stalwart participant – thanks, Marcus!). Perhaps that is an exemplar of a general issue we think we’ve noticed – that an audience in one medium or community doesn’t move well (or sometimes at all) to a different medium or community. Facebook members don’t go to Branch. Branch conversants don’t come to the Hangout. Hangout participants don’t answer the poll or keep the conversation going on Branch… and so on. Each tool feels like it touches a distinct group of people and those people are non-portable.

Gareth gave a great presentation at the APF conference which summarised what we learned from the whole Epidemic, so perhaps he’ll add some more in the comments here or in a new blog.

Thanks again to everyone who participated. We’ll be back with more in coming weeks. Stay tuned!

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Reflections – The futures of Childhood Education

We’ve been away a while haven’t we? We’re also couple of reflections behind, this one will cover the Futures of Childhood Education and Tim will post one up for the Future of Cities. Then we’re going to take a break until January and bounce back refreshed in the New Year….!

After the Futures of Work we decided to make several changes to our approach by making the methods, timetable and aims more explicit. We also wanted to try using some other tools such like the poll and google hangouts.  Behind this was a realization that we needed to attract people who were interested in the subject and wanted to explore it for themselves, rather than people who were happy to assist us on our exploration of a topic.

We had some great input from the poll, enough material to work with not so much that we were overloaded. The images and backing comments were great and we only managed to explore some of this.

The Google hangout was great, we had loads of fun and hopefully the participants did too.  Everyone was genuinely interested in the subject.  Our intention was to collect a few words for each image then use groups of images to generate the scenarios all in one session.  This was not to be.. there was a lot of interest in exploring the images in much more detail than we intended and my facilitation probably wasn’t tight enough from the outset. So we ran overtime, fortunately everyone was interested enough to volunteered to come back for a second session.  In this session we generated the scenarios from the groups of images.  It was really interesting to see how the deeper exploration altered the image grouping compared with the provisional groups I’d guessed at before the exercise.  We felt there were some nice themes that came out and we were very excited about going into the next stage using Branch to discuss and elaborate on scenarios.

And at this point it fell over in a big heap. We had Branch problems (again…..) with people unable to login and add comments, there was a bit of a delay in getting the scenario data up and we added 4 scenarios streams so it was extra hard for people to know where to post. To add to this the youtube video of the session is in its raw format, so whilst fun to do, a bit long and for people to look at. This made it even harder for someone who wasn’t involved in the hangout to make sense of the scenarios, how they were constructed and what to add to them. Thanks to everyone who commented on this – its given us plenty to think about how we manage increasing the entertainment factor.

So it all fell flat and died….so we learned a particular we were thinking about:

  • What are we trying to facilitators, participants,  a combination, something else..?
  • Noticing that Tribe Sourcing rather than Crowd Sourcing can be useful
  • But then how do you manage the transitions crowd to tribe to crowd…?
  • To get the ‘stickiness’ we’re looking for, we need to think about how to entertain more.
  • And as always what other media can we use..

Thanks to everyone who participated, gave us feedback or posted a comment. You were awesome..! Cheers Gareth

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Open Hangout on Futures of Cities in the Asia-Pacific

The working notes are here.

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Futures of Cities in South East Asia

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Registering for the Open Hangout on the Future of Cities

We’ve had some problems with using Google+ events to handle the RSVPs for the open hangout, so if you’d like to attend, please register either as a participant or as a viewer here:

We really regret any confusion you might have experienced in trying to use the other link, hopefully it hasn’t dampened your enthusiasm!

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The Future of Cities in the Asia-Pacific

Hi there,
In a couple of weeks we’re off to the Asia-Pacific Foresight Conference in Perth where we’ll be talking about the Foresight Epidemic and asking for feedback from our colleagues about what we’re up to. One of the themes of APFC this year is the Future of Cities, so we thought for our last round of inquiry before we get there it would be interesting to explore “the Future of Cities in the Asia-Pacific” as our topic.

Gareth, José and I have planned a fun and engaging round, learning from what we’ve done so far and extending things just a little, so we hope you’ll reflect on your own ideas about city futures and join us.


José is in Singapore teaching strategic foresight at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the moment and meeting a lot of people, so he’s arranged a group of experts on cities in Southeast Asia to join us for a conversation about the futures of cities in this region. First they’ll be sharing their thoughts on Branch based on a couple of questions we’ve put together. Then its your turn to ask the questions on a live Google+ Hangout session! We will also take live questions via Twitter during the hangout, so you’ll be able to be part of the conversation.

The panel includes people with deep, on-the-ground experience in urbananization issues – our guests will include:

Rita Padawangi has a background in Architecture (Parahyangan Catholic University, 2000), Urban Design (MA (Urban Design), National University of Singapore, 2003), and Sociology. Her research interests are multidisciplinary topics that span across architecture, urban design, and sociology. Through the support from Fulbright scholarship, Rita got her M.A. in Sociology from Loyola University Chicago in 2005 and later obtained a PhD in 2008. She is currently a Research Fellow at the Institute of Water Policy – Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in National University  of Singapore, where she focuses her research on community participation, urban sociology, social movements, and civic spaces.

Taufik Ramadhan Indrakesuma works as a researcher for the Asian Trends Monitoring Bulletin at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, where he is currently doing in-depth research on the future of urban poverty alleviation efforts and innovative development trends in Southeast Asia. Taufik holds a Master in Public Policy degree from the Lee Kuan Yew School, and a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Indonesia. His personal research interests include urban development, behavioral economics, and sustainability issues. Aside from his research work, Taufik also writes blog posts and op-ed pieces for Indonesian news sites such as The Jakarta Globe.

Johannes Loh works as a researcher for the Asian Trends Monitoring Bulletin at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. His research work is focused on urban poverty and innovative development trends in Southeast Asia. He holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Hertie School of Public Policy in Berlin, and a Bachelor of Arts in Integrated Social Science from Jacobs University Bremen. His previous research experience includes aid governance, visual political communication and public sector reform in developing countries. Prior to joining the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy he has also worked for the United Nations Environment Programme in Geneva, Transparency International Nepal, and the Centre on Asia and Globalization in Singapore.

To be a part of this conversation, just check back to our blog ( – where we’ll post the live stream – and have your Twitter client open. The Twitter stream will use the hashtag #apcityfutures – so tweet your questions on there and we’ll make sure the panel see them.
The expert panel hangout will be live at:

Sydney Singapore London San Francisco
Fri 9 Nov
Fri 9 Nov
Fri 9 Nov
Thu 8 Nov

(Global times are here:

What Do You Think?

Alongside the expert panel, we want to start a conversation among us all about the futures of cities in the AP. First, we want to invite you to post an image which symbolizes the futures of cities in the Asia-Pacific and to talk about why it does. We’ll gather and summarise the images that result to bring into the later conversation.

Post your image anonymously here:

Branch Conversation

We’re asking our experts a couple of strategic questions in a conversation on Branch this week and we want to invite you to join the conversation to start exploring some of this with us.

Join in here:

We’ve had a few problems with people being able to log into Branch, so please go to the conversation and ask to join using your Twitter handle. If you have any problems (including not having a Twitter account), please email us at – and ask for an invitation to the conversation.

Open Hangout

Lastly, we’re inviting you to a live conversation about everything we’ve discovered in this round. We’ll talk over the results from the poll, the Branch conversations and the input from the experts and then use Jim Dator’s “Four Futures” scenario approach to quickly develop a set of scenarios. This final Hangout, just before people head of for APFC is our chance to collaboratively analyse, synthesise and make sense of this topic.

If you’d like to know more about Jim’s approach here’s an interview with him José recorded recently:

You can register for the Hangout here: [EDIT:  - this didn't work (despite our testing). Please register here:]

The open hangout will start at:

Sydney Singapore London San Francisco
Tue 13 Nov
Tue 13 Nov
Tue 13 Nov
Mon 12 Nov

(Global times are here:

Conference session

If you’re also at APFC, please come to see Gareth present our reflection on the whole of The Foresight Epidemic so far and give us your feedback. He’s presenting just before lunch on Saturday.

Key Dates

We’re packing a lot into the next two weeks, so here’s a handy calendar to keep the key dates straight.

Thu 1 Fri 2
poll & Branch start
Sat 3
Sun 4 Mon 5 Tue
Wed 7 Thu 8 Fri 9
Expert panel
Sat 10
Sun 11 Mon 12 Tue 13
Open Hangout
Wed 14 Thu 15 Fri 16
APFC starts
Sat 17
Presentation at APFC
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The Futures of Childhood Education

Where are we at….?

  1. do a poll collecting images of the futures of childhood education – Done! and thanks to everyone who responded so generously
  2. run a recorded google hangout session where we analyze the images and make them public – Done! Twice! And huge HUGE thanks to Bryan, Elizabeth, Tamas and Marcus for giving their time, energy and ideas (we had lots of fun).
  3. elaborate on the themes that emerge using Branch, hopefully coming to some understanding of alternative futures of childhood education
    - Just started and you can be part of it! Join us on Branch over the next few days as we try to expand on the 4 scenarios developed in the video session.


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