Category Archives: Future Studies

Slower futures — not faster? One dog’s approach to community futures

Today’s blog is dedicated to my dog, Isabella, who passed away last week. As a puppy Isabella made me crazy, but not in the usual frantic puppy kind of way. She did everything in slow motion. I should explain: Isabella was an Italian Spinone, the bird retrievers of Italy. Since the Middle Ages Spinones have been one of the dog breeds of the Italian rural gentry, so there are hundreds of generations of dogs who are accustomed to long walks, warm evenings by the fire, and to having their people bringing them delicious meals.  This was true of our modern Spinone, I was treated more like staff than ‘owner’ or companion, and she also she insisted on long slow walks. Slow walks. Slow. I learned to slow down to her pace, even though it did make me crazy sometimes.

Focusing so intently on Isabella in these past few weeks, and thinking about my own process of slowing down under her tutelage, I began to wonder if maybe the whole world needs some Isabella time.

Why is it that we accept so much busyness in our lives? And why is it that when we think about the future it is so often layered with speed? With the assumption that faster is better.  Faster computers, faster cars, faster travel, faster production, faster education, faster meals.  But perhaps as futures thinkers we need to face this assumption straight on.

What if… our futures could actually be slower – not faster?  Does anyone really like doing things fast all time?  I guess, maybe, there are some people who thrive on a fast, multi-tasking, doing everything in as short a time as possible approach to life. But is this good for us, for our work, for those around us?  Carl Honoré, in his book, In Praise of Slow, describes his process in moving from speed reading a bedtime story to his son to a more joyful, leisurely read.

Research is now demonstrating what we all know in our hearts, and have probably experienced in our own lives, that when we are really busy we don’t notice other people’s (or animal’s) pain or needs as well – our levels of care and empathy decrease simply by not noticing or because we don’t have time for another thing in the hour/day.  And yet what our world needs is more empathy not less.  We need more caring, not less.

So as we do our futures-based work or community/organisational processes let’s challenge the speed assumption.  When someone gets all jazzed up about Moore’s law being broken because of even faster change, or some new computer that does things even faster, try responding with: Is that a good thing?  or Why is faster better?  or, Do you know whose bodies and labour is enabling our computers to go faster and faster? or, Do you know how much of the Earth is being mined to enable increased speed?  Perhaps our empathy for the workers of the world, and the body of the world, will be what finally has us question ‘faster is better’.

With consideration for our own bodies, and all that we are learning about sitting disease, maybe slow technology would be better?  For example, what if an internet search, would take 2 minutes, not 1 second, so you have time to enter your search item then stand up and stretch or make a pot of tea or go outside on your balcony, or porch, and say hello to the wind or a neighbour? I know there wouldn’t be immediate uptake on this particular idea, if ever, but you get my drift.  Why does the dominant system demand that we rush though our days in the present? And why do we want/accept more rushing in the future?

Maybe we could begin by being more purposeful in our present time by creating short breaks in the day? The short “pause” as Pema Chödrön and Tara Brach (among others) teach, to bring us back to what is important – compassion, love, caring, kindness –  in the present, and as we create visions for our diverse futures.

One of Futures Studies’ founders, Dr. Eleonora Masini, argued that futures scholars and practitioners need to look past the usual participants and include women and children in their futures-based processes.  I think this is very true. And perhaps we also need to include dogs, and other animals, in our processes?  Certainly it would be easier to envision nature in our futures if there were deer or okapi in the room, or to include non-industrialised farming in our visions if there were chickens or cows in the room.  And dogs could be there to remind us to value companionship, walking outdoors, and a slower pace of life in our futures visioning and action planning.

Isabella showed us that life should be at a pace that allows for kindness and connection. That seems like a great place to start to our futures visioning.

Further reading:

Pema Chödrön.  When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Tara Brach.  Radical Acceptance

Carl Honoré.  In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed.


Being visionary even when success isn’t guaranteed

Donella Meadows taught us that visions of desired futures “come from commitment, responsibility, confidence, values, longing, love, treasured dreams, our innate sense of what is right and good”.

Creating new visions of sustainable and just futures will require us to move past all the negative predictions  and business-as-usual planning.  Not that we should disregard the warnings, but rather that we see the projections based in present-day activities as opportunities to make change.  Creating meaningful  change requires us to be bold –  to create visions with passion, emotion, and conviction.  We also need to be risk takers – acknowledging that we won’t necessarily have the answers or processes in place to begin implementation nor guaranteed success.  This lack of guaranteed success can make the effort of creating a positive/desired vision hard to do, especially as there is so much to be concerned about in our world.  But in creating environmentally healthy and socially just communities we need to bravely, and collaboratively, face our despair for what is wrong and state clearly what we desire for our futures.  We may not get the actions right the first time, but the positive vision will guide us towards new paths.

Joanna Macy and Chris Johnston in their new book Active Hope remind us that we don’t have to be optimistic or be assured of a particular outcome to take actions for change. “Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for” even when facing the reality that we may not be totally successful.  We need to fly in the face of ‘being realistic’ and be boldly visionary.

The world and all beings need us each to be visionary leaders, in our ways, even small ways.  And when you align with other visionaries it gets joyful.

Look for ways to create fun and playfulness in the actions.  My friend, and community artist, Paula Jardine amazes me with her ability to create parades and beautiful events for our community, on hard issues like a death in the family or salmon habitat loss, that bring people together in loving, joyful ways with live musicians, storytellers, lanterns, and tea in real teacups.  And the DePave Portland folks work hard, but seem to be having lots of fun.  

Sustainability can be fun!



Who are you to be thinking about the future?

You are the perfect person to be thinking about the future. At least the futures of your community.

Envisioning our futures is not just the job of those with the conventional roles accompanied by institutional privilege or power. It is true, that we will need the politicians, the designers of buildings and cities, automobile and highway engineers, the technology wizards, filmmakers and the media — those who normally get a voice in futures thinking. BUT, if we are to create sustainable and just futures we need to involve a diversity of voices, and especially nurture the voices of women, and children, who are often not included in discussions of futures.

So often thinking about the future falls to those ‘experts’ in what we think of as ‘the’ future – those folks, usually men, who work with technology. But creating sustainable and just futures requires that we all get involved. Diverse futures based in ecological and social diversity, caring for one another, and where justice for all people and beings is honoured, will require all of our talents.  Sustainable and just futures will also demand that we have a strong sense of our community, our home place, including where our water and food comes from,  the natural spaces that require protection or restoration as well as the human assets and the parts of our human community that need attention and compassion.

Creating sustainable and just futures requires many things. As Donella Meadows argued creating sustainable communities begins with envisioning what we truly want, and desire, for our communities.  This visioning demands from us that we take a long, deep look at what is working in our communities — as well as what is not working.  Our vision then guides us in how to protect what is working, create more of that,  and begin actions to change or dismantle what is not working (or at least stop propping it up).

Our diverse futures will not just about high tech wonders, but for some people that will be their life, as it is now. There will also be children and elders to care for, food to be grown in healthy soil, festivals to be planned, beauty to be created, streams and wetlands to be restored, meals to be prepared, learning to happen, buildings to be built, new non-polluting processes to be invented, music to be made, healing to happen, conflicts to be solved using non-violence, democracy to support, and play of all sorts. We will all have a place in creating ecologically sound and socially just futures.

There is a lack of spaces to discuss ideas about the future, especially diverse, just and ecologically sound futures.  I will provide some of my thoughts here, as well as introduce some of the innovative futures thinkers and visionaries who provide pathways to flourishing futures. And I hope that you will contribute some of your ideas (no flying cars, please).


Karen Hurley, PhD is the lead writer on this blog, but the hope is that others will join in the conversation about futures, and what we want them to be, based on love for humans and all beings, and the Earth, including the trees, plants, water, soil, rocks, air.  We shall also keep in front of us,  Dr. Elise Boulding’s, vision for a world without weapons.