You can download the flyer below to find out about what we plan to do this year and how you can get involved.
This report contributes to the Centre’s multi-year initiative Anticipating Futures for Civil Society Operating Space to strengthen the anticipatory capacities and future readiness of civil society professionals who are working to defend civic and civil society operating space. It is intended to provide a basis for further activities, especially in identifying gaps that require collective sector commitment.
The report is the outcome of an exercise to map the current landscape: the issues impacting civic space, the strengths and weaknesses of civil society organisations’ (CSOs) responses and their reflections.
In this episode, we speak with Philip Goodwin, Chief Executive Officer of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), the leading global international development organisation working through volunteers to empower communities in some of the world’s poorest and most overlooked regions.
Philip talks with Vicky Tongue, the Centre’s Head of Futures and Innovation, sharing insights and organisational experiences of uncertainty, strategy, leadership and narrative. We learn how VSO operates in framing strategy and action, using the principles of dispersed leadership, connecting logic, emotion and action as a way of aligning people, and above all being reflective in practice – constantly assessing what VSO is doing and how that might require the organisation to change. In this way, they have achieved a space where interactions, particularly across the wider global leadership group, maintain momentum and generate opportunity in meeting the organisation’s mission.
picking up on themes from two publications:
This conversation shared some exciting food for thought on leadership, which the Centre will be picking up on in our sector leadership convenings in 2022. We think it will inspire you as much as it has us, so please listen and enjoy!
Members of the Scanning the Horizon community recently met online to continue our exploration of ‘tools for inclusive futures’, engaging methods to democratise futures conversations in organisations, using digital tools which do not require previous experience from either facilitators or participants. These tools have been highlighted in our recent Sector Guide on Strategic Decision-Making in a Whirly World.
This time, we wanted to find out more about Futures Frequency, from the Finnish innovation and futures fund Sitra. The idea behind Futures Frequency is that it inspires thinking and action towards positive, preferred futures and can be ‘used and applied by anyone’. You can check out an intro video here.
We decided to use it to explore futures of human diversity, and felt that a group of 9-12 is a good size to allow the discussion parts to take place in threes. No advance preparation was requested from participants, just encouragement to join with an open mind, and be ready to ‘enjoy the ride’, go with the process and put their heads in a different, more creative and playful space.
Setting the stage
We started with some relaxed individual reflection about the big ‘what if’ question – in relation to futures of human diversity in 2050 – which occurred to us. Then we introduced ourselves and our big question in plenary and it was already really interesting to see the different angles which people had already come up with – from gender fluidity, to intergenerational working with people living longer, to racism being history, to humans being seen as just another part of nature. Just this initial sharing already encourages you to open up and expand your own thinking more.
First stage, challenge your assumptions about the future
Then we had to activate our imagination muscles more by moving into the first main stage of the Futures Frequency method, challenging assumptions. We were given an audio drama snippet to listen to individually and then as a small group, we discussed what assumptions we heard in the piece and how it connected to our own assumptions or what felt familiar. This was a really interesting process to go through, surfacing both small assumptions or questions but also bigger ones about when in the future the conversation was set or whether we were just defaulting to assumptions about things in this future were still working in a similar way to the present. From a facilitation angle, you could either use one of the many supporting resources which Sitra provides for this, or you could create your own snippet – audio or written – linked to the theme you’re exploring.
This process does highlight biases you weren’t aware of in your own thinking and how your brain tries to ‘fill in the gaps’ around incomplete information you have on a situation. It also helps you better understand and appreciate how those you are working with are also thinking. This would be particularly important in a very diverse group, or especially if exploring potentially sensitive topics together. This stage increases your awareness of why you think certain things, before you then move onto imagining preferred futures.
Second stage, imagine your preferred futures
In this stage, you again start with individual reflection to imagine what the theme – for us, human diversity – might look like, without boundaries, with new possibilities, and envision a mental snapshot of the future you personally prefer for this, trying to engage different senses to bring this image to life. Then moving into Miro or another digital whiteboarding space, each person in the group writes up their personal vision in one sentence on a post-it and shares it with the others in the group. Then you all work together to combine your (three) different visions into a new statement which integrates the main ‘spirit’ of each. We didn’t really have enough time for this as we were primarily exploring the method – rather than the topic – fully, but in a full session this stage clearly needs a good amount of time to complete. Again, all this has templates from Sitra.
Take action towards your preferred futures
The final stage involves thinking through actions which you can take towards bringing this vision about. First, we were guided through an individual brainstorm to come with ideas that would lead us to our vision. Time was the creative constrain here. In our small groups we were then tasked with coming up with a news headline from the future which captured what would have happened in the intervening period. We imagined we were living in 2030 and working as reporters for ‘Future News’, sharing our headline and a short explanation of the actions that had taken place and answering any questions from the other groups. And we could add visual images to represent the story as well.
Final reflections on the method
It’s recommended to add further methods to this final phase if you want to build out the process into more of a detailed action planning process. For instance, you could use backcasting or future literacy labs. But from a first experience, it really is a very useful way of getting the participants into a different space to share ideas and inspire others, appreciate the diversity of perspectives in the group and be encouraged to use your imaginations, within a simple but effective framework. It really does feel like a universal method which anyone can just pick up and use!
Foresight practitioner Krizna Gomez has written JustLabs’ new ‘Guide to Foresight in the Social Change Field’ and is a passionate advocate of why foresight needs to become part of the DNA of the social change field. In this episode, Krizna shared some of her insights from leading futures work with organisations in the social change field around the world, as well as activists and creatives, and why this new guide is needed to ‘demystify’ foresight. Krizna also presented some simple visual outcomes of applying these steps to look at the future of media and information, and the kind of areas of new exploration this can generate for social change organisations and leaders.
Krizna Gomez works as an independent consultant, using design thinking, foresight, systems thinking and other methods normally not employed in the social change field, to help partners tackle long-standing problems with a fresh perspective, and opening them up through working with experts from other disciplines such as neuroscience, tech, marketing, and design. She is a recipient of the Joseph Jaworski Next Generation Foresight Practitioners Award (Humanitarian Special Award) by the School of International Futures. See Krizna’s full bio here.
Find out about the Centre’s Scanning the Horizon civil society futures community here.
Mini Series: Exploring the Interconnectedness of Global Trends Mini-series – Episode 2
Irene Guijt and Filippo Artuso, Research and Publishing Team Oxfam GB, share insights and discuss their findings of a yearlong mapping of global megatrends
Producer: Julia Pazos
Global Megatrends: Mapping the forces that affect us all: oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstrea…d=yOxfam From Poverty to Power blog: Will the real megatrend please stand up? Insights from a scan of scans: oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/will-the-rea…-a-scan-of-scans/
Scanning the Horizon – icscentre.org/our-work/scanning-the-horizon/
Looking forward to 2020 might seem a bit short for a group of strategists and horizon scanners, but we’re pretty excited about the state of foresighting and futures in our sector at the moment. And here’s why: there’s some great work and resources that we’re seeing both done in and shared by some of the international civil society organisations in our Scanning the Horizon community at the moment.
First of all, there are some fantastic new resources around. JM Roche at Save the Children, with the School of International Futures, has just done everyone in our sector a fantastic favour and pulled together a compendium of 12 strategic foresight tools and techniques which they have successfully adapted for their own and partner use. The Future is Ours is out now and immediately essential reading for anyone involved in strategy, planning and decision-making in our sector.
This guide walks you through a number of tools, why you would use which and when, with helpful facilitation notes. Key tips overall include: being open to a range of possible futures, pay attention to weak signals, practice foresight regularly, and integrate and embed insights. Sounds like four great New Year’s Resolutions to me! You can also join us for a webinar with JM on 30 January to hear him introduce this in person.
This year, our Scanning the Horizon community did our first ever ‘deep dive’ on one of the most major influential megatrends, the rise of global China. We’ve just put out our Sector Guide of strategic recommendations for ICSOs, and hearing some great feedback from our community. Amnesty’s China Strategy Manager Heather Hutchings has already shared a bit of an informal reflection on ‘benchmarking’ itself against our findings, in this excellent blog in case you missed it.
You can also catch up on our webinars which feature our author and researcher Bertram Lang providing more context ‘meat’ to flesh out the ‘bones’ of the recommendations, and explaining more on where and why there was consensus and divergence among the ICSOs involved.
The Sector Guide has been a cumulative process throughout the year, building on interviews and experience-sharing with global and China strategists, as well as country or regional management, from most of the top international ICSOs working both in and beyond the boundaries of mainland China. We’ve incorporated additional insights from ‘China watchers’ from academia and philanthropy, and highlighted some of the priorities and need to engage with local community-based organisations.
This has been a huge topic to explore and make more navigable in practical ways for our sector. We worked carefully with our community to find the right way to break it down into key sub-themes and entry points for strategists. While the recommendations might not all be straightforward, they lay out an ambition and signpost some directions of travel, which can help steer organisations in these unpredictable waters. What this collaborative exploration proved most though was the enormous value of bringing the major and diverse players in our sector together to share their different experiences and capacities. We have seen again the enormous power in co-producing new knowledge and insights, which can then be shared with the rest of our sector.
At our recent Global Perspectives conference in Addis Ababa, we were very excited by a presentation from Plan International on the scenarios they have been using – looking at the combination of climate change and nationalism in different future world’s scenarios, and what each might mean for the organisation’s place in the world.
We also heard how Oxfam International’s recent global strategy process included meeting with a ‘critical chorus’ of external voices, some of which told them some challenging things, but triggered a range of important and reflective conversations to guide thinking of the different roles the organisation may have in future.
And IFRC’s new 2030 strategy has clearly put climate action as the main priority for its programmes and appeals. The other key challenges it has identified are crises and disasters, health, migration and identity, and values, power and inclusion.
We look forward to learning more, together, about these and other exciting developments.
Taking inspiration from these developments, and also what we’re seeing from outside the sector, our annual meeting in May 2020 will bring our community together to explore more how the global trends influencing our work are interconnected and intersect to bring about different potential futures, and how to better integrate this analysis into organisational strategic planning.
We will have a collective check-up on the trends we’re all watching as organisations. We will explore tools and practical processes for intersectional approaches and take a look at the detailed scenarios ICSOs are seeing, with a special emphasis on climate change + (one or several trends). We will invite input from beyond the sector, with private, public and academic sector insights. And, with funding, we will deliver another Sector Guide this time next year summarising our insights for the sector.
Our monthly newsletters throughout 2019 have been packed with new resources from within and beyond our sector, but there are so many things we just can’t keep out! A lot of careful curation goes into what the Centre and Direct Impact Group summarise and share with our community each month, and we’ll continue these efforts to keep bringing you the best throughout 2020!
Throughout 2019, the Centre’s Scanning the Horizon futures community has explored the implications of China’s growing global influence on the future work of internationally-operating civil society organisations. Following a well-attended cross-sector meeting in Hong Kong in June, we have published a new Sector Guide of practical entry points for senior civil society leaders to summarise the key themes and implications for our sector. It provides strategic guidance for organisations to think through their current strategies and capacities, and further develop future engagement and adaptation approaches to be better prepared for this major trend.
To accompany the launch of this Guide, we invited this guest blog from Amnesty International’s China Strategy Manager, Heather Hutchings.
The rise of global China is impacting human rights.
In the increasing number of countries in which China is investing and operating, much-needed infrastructure and employment can help to fulfil the human rights of the people living there. But all too often their rights are abused as China fails time and again to consult with and address the concerns of communities affected by its overseas ‘development’ projects.
Furthermore, an increasingly assertive China has worrying implications for the human rights system as a whole. We see China operating from within the UN Human Rights Council to shrink the space available for the UN and civil society to hold states accountable for their human rights records, as well as making efforts to reframe human rights as a ‘cause’, as opposed to a state’s legal obligation to its people.
But China’s ascension to the world stage is a paradigm shift that is both driving and reflecting a new world order and balance of power. As this excellent new International Civil Society Centre guide notes, this is ‘widely regarded as one of the top global trends influencing the trajectory of other major megatrends for decades ahead’. This means, in other words, we can neither ignore nor resist global China.
Amnesty International vs Global China
I’m pleased – and relieved! – to see that Amnesty International’s global China strategy responds to many of the recommendations in this guide, while some others set us challenges to meet and aspirations to fulfil.
Amnesty views global China as a complex problem, or ‘VUCA’ for those who enjoy military acronyms!:
China’s impact on human rights abroad is not a simple problem that can be solved. So, Amnesty’s aim is not to bring an end to China’s global reach in a concise campaign timeframe. Our aim is to build capacity across Amnesty’s movement of more than seven million members and supporters to influence global China, now and over time, and adapt as global China itself evolves.
Amnesty’s 16 Regional Offices and 68 national entities position us well to respond to China in and from countries where it is active, and to do so in partnership with local civil society (recommendation 3). As Strategy Manager, I draw together the relevant China expertise from our East Asia office, the local knowledge and connections of our staff in or from countries in which China is active, and Amnesty’s thematic specialists (recommendation 6). Through this network, we add value to work already identified as important by our colleagues across the movement – easily done, given the many ways in which China is showing up in Amnesty’s work around the world (recommendation 1).
Complementing this action-oriented network is a web of horizon scanners who regularly share their views of China from locations as far afield as Buenos Aires, Brussels or Bangkok (recommendations 7 and11). Their broad, light-touch insights about China in the world help deepen our analysis of China’s foreign policy and practice and better equip us to anticipate developments, spot trends and see entry points for our human rights work.
We recognise that we don’t have ready-made solutions to apply to the complex challenges arising from China’s presence abroad. We know we can only influence change together with others by forging partnerships with civil society to engage China in their countries and communities, to negotiate their interests and protect their rights (recommendation 12). And we also need to engage Chinese audiences, inside China and the diaspora of Chinese living overseas, as change agents and in solidarity with human rights defenders in countries where China is active. This is critical if we want to target Chinese state actors and corporations that perpetrate human rights violations abroad, without isolating and vilifying all Chinese people.
Challenges and aspirations
Key to Amnesty’s approach in this ‘VUCA’ context is learning and adaptation, as we actively test our theory of influence and make adjustments to strategy and action.
Learning from our experience to date, we know that the critical approach to human rights in China coming from Amnesty’s base in the ‘Global North’ serves an important watchdog function, but is readily dismissed by Beijing as hypocritical and an attempt to ‘contain’ China. Hence, we have chosen to focus on south-south engagement – influencing China with and through civil society and governments of the ‘Global South’ – and moving beyond ‘naming and shaming’ by not (only) pointing to problems. This approach – which departs from Amnesty’s usual practice – is challenging us to frame advocacy messages (recommendation 14) that propose practical solutions and, where appropriate, encourage China’s leadership to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.
Amnesty also deliberately adopts an ‘outsider’ strategy (recommendations 4 and 11). The price of our freedom to criticise China – harshly when and where deserved – is that our channels for dialogue with Beijing are few, country access for Amnesty staff is extremely limited, and our website and social media channels are blocked inside China. Understandably, this does not always make us the partner of choice for ICSOs with in-country offices (recommendations 18, 19 and 20).
Even as Amnesty aims to establish an ‘insider’ position with some Chinese actors abroad on issues of mutual interest – and indeed we have already seen promising outcomes through exchanges with Chinese companies and industry bodies – recommendation 16 is, I hope, an aspiration of the not-too-distant future when ICSOs will bring together our complementary ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ strategies for greatest impact.
For Amnesty and across the sector, we need not only to develop a specific, organisation-wide global China strategy now. But also to continue developing and evolving our organisational responses over time, so that we may continually adapt ourselves to better influence the impact China has on the landscape for human rights and development. And thanks to the Centre and our sector Scanning the Horizon community, we now have a guide to help us do just that.
The timing of the Scanning the Horizon Annual Meeting 2019 in June coincided with the huge demonstrations against the Extradition Bill in Hong Kong, which created strong fluctuations in every citizen of Hong Kong, including myself. What was happening beyond our air-conditioned meeting room coincidentally matched with the main theme of our discussions, China’s global role. While we were taking advantage of this space, our discussion served as a timely and meaningful start for exchange of experiences.
We shared with each other the context, the analysis and the strategy in dealing with the changing and emerging role of China in overseas investments, in global governance, philanthropy and other areas. China’s technological innovation in particular is one of the most interesting trends which might have big implications for inequality and poverty issues around the world. As it will have an impact on our work, this will need to be considered by many INGOs, including Oxfam.
The most timely and valuable overall message from the meeting was the importance of structural reflection on a regular basis. We shared and understood each other’s constraints in operationalising different strategies and approaches. Practitioners were meeting with a whole range of challenges and might deal with them in a practical way, for example, by stopping certain areas of work or not using particular approaches to avoid risk. However, more structured and regular reflection can help us learn lessons and explore how we could work differently.
My main points of reflection, especially in the context of constrained civil society space in developing countries, are:
It is now a critical moment to reflect on the role of international NGOs in this vibrant context. Whether we stay relevant depends so much on our capability of comprehension and reflection as an organisation. We look forward to continuing to share our experiences and lessons with other organisations on this important topic.
In a world becoming increasingly dominated by geopolitical issues, authoritarian rule and populism, the role of international civil society organisations (ICSOs) has perhaps never been more threatened, or more necessary.
At the heart of many of the discussions on these issues is China, and its rise as a global power. China is no longer a minor voice in development that can be ignored. It now presents the potential to be the biggest influencer in how the development sector changes in coming years.
It is clear that China’s increasing role in global development is done through a very different lens and approach to the traditional western rules-based order that has been evident over the last 50 years or so. It is challenging the status quo.
Whilst we often portray the international civil society sector as a somewhat dissident voice to the predominantly western approach to global governance and development, it reflects and reinforces much of this approach in its work and structures. The sector’s background in the western liberal way of thinking is creating some real challenges as ICSOs look at how they engage with a new participant with a different values base and approach.
It is clear is that China is here to stay as a major player in international development. This has been recognised by governments and the private sector, and the civil society sector must also recognise this, and identify how it needs to adapt to be relevant in this changing environment it works in.
So how should the sector, and the organisations working in it, respond? Here are my reflections from the Scanning the Horizon Annual Meeting in June, where we met to explore these questions:
• Focus on the central vision and adapt to the operational culture
The vast majority of ICSOs were founded to meet a deep and deserving need. They are an embodiment of a vision for change. This vision gives them purpose and meaning and must remain at the heart of all they do.
However, vision shouldn’t drive rigid adherence to approach or operations. Organisations who want to remain relevant in disruptive environments need to be agile and adaptive in their operational model. To work with different values, different approaches and different cultures, you need to be willing to invest in understanding them, how they think and work and how you can work with them. Engaging with China, and others, should be a part of every ICSO’s global strategy.
• Focus on building relationships
We work with people we like. What we do is not a transaction, but a relationship. This is especially true in working with the Chinese, who value understanding and relationship and think in a much longer timeframe than many of us in the West. Engaging with Chinese development partners will need a long-term approach and investment.
• Build real cross-sector partnerships
The traditional development model is being replaced by a much more diverse approach which includes increased engagement with the private sector. Much of this work is happening in sectoral silos at the moment, including the work of Chinese state and private organisations. Building capacity within ICSOs for real cross-sector partnerships, including creating the right culture for these to be a success and developing or recruiting the right skills, will be crucial to ensuring civil society can increase its influence and reach.
• Look to opportunities
ICSOs work in communities where there is an identified need. With the expanded development model, many more opportunities exist for partnerships that will enhance the effectiveness of the work being done by all involved. Whether it is partnering for economic development, environmental gains or acting as a constructive watchdog and community advocate, many new opportunities are presented through cross-sector partnerships.
This creates increased opportunities to influence the delivery and effectiveness of projects by Chinese organisations.
• Understand the risks and mitigate them where possible
Engaging with new partners who have different values presents real risks that can’t be ignored. Be realistic about these. Look to mitigate them wherever possible. An agile and informed operating model will help this immensely. However, if mitigation isn’t possible, don’t enter into partnerships that undermine your vision and values.
• Identify ways to engage in the new funding landscape of loans and grants that flow to the private sector
Organisations that have invested in understanding, in building relationships, who are open to cross-sector partnership and have an agile operational approach will be well positioned to engage in new models of funding. The final part is to look differently at how they can add value and where this will benefit both the community and the other partners in delivering better impact.
This has particular potential in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) where partnering with implementing contractors to make BRI projects more effective through community engagement and development, or with local communities and governments to build negotiating capacity, are both areas where ICSOs could add real value.
In summary, China is one of many disruptors influencing ICSOs today. It is here to stay as a dominant player.
The implications of not adapting how the sector engages with the various Chinese development organisations and initiatives are large and serious.
The benefits of making this a strategically important focus are potentially larger.
What is required to deliver this is what is required to build the future of ICSOs.