Forecasting Long Term Future Events, Conditions and Developments in Technology
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 20 December 2013
The Jisc has recently announced a job vacancy for a Futurologist. The details provided on the Jisc web site are worth publishing in full:
This role will forecast long term future events, conditions, or developments in technology and analytics that will allow Jisc to plan, present and develop innovation in support of research, education and skills.
They will develop a vision and generate high-quality intelligence to inform Jisc long-range strategic planning that creates/meets the needs of our customers and their customers.
The prime purpose is to track developments across the whole field of technology, analytics and society as they come over the horizon, figuring out where it is all going next, and how that will affect our customers.
Another crucial aspect will be to carry out blue sky thinking and develop an understanding of how macro trends impact technological evolution through a demonstrated ability to data mine socioeconomic, technological, geopolitical and cultural trends for meaningful insights. It necessitates the collaboration with horizon scanning and research and development organisations that are looking to create and set trends in digital management, for example (but not limited to) commercial organisations, sector thought leaders (such as Educause and CNI), research funders including the European Commission and the US National Science Foundation, and independent organisations such as the Mellon and Wellcome Foundations.
This is of interest to me as it builds on the Jisc Observatory work which was led by Cetis and UKOLN. Although the Jisc Observatory was closed following the cessation of Jisc funding for Cetis and UKOLN, we did ensure that the methodology used by the team was documented so that the approaches could be used by others within the sector. A paper on “Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow” by myself and Paul Hollins (available in MS Word and PDF formats) which described Jisc Observatory activities was presented at the Umbrella 2013 conference.
The abstract for the paper describes how:
The paper outlines how the processes can be applied in a local context to ensure that institutions are able to gather evidence in a systematic way and understand and address the limitations of evidence-gathering processes. The paper describes use of open processes for interpreting the evidence and suggests possible implications of the horizon-scanning activities for policy-making and informing operational practices.
The paper concludes by encouraging take-up of open approaches in gathering and interpretation of evidence used to inform policy-making in an institutional context.
These open processes were used in a number of events organised by Cetis and UKOLN staff, including workshop sessions at the Cetis 2013 and IWMW 2012 events. In addition a workshop on Preparing For The Future: Helping Libraries Respond to Changing Technological, Economic and Political Change was provided at a staff development event for library staff at the University of York. More recently together with Tony Hirst I facilitated a day-long workshop on Future Technologies and Their Applications at the ILI 2013 conference.
These events sought to engage participants in exercises in identifying emerging technologies and practices of relevance, prioritising their perceived importance and identifying appropriate responses to the implications of such innovations.
Whilst the Jisc Futurologist will be working with the European Commission, the US National Science Foundation and independent organisations such as the Mellon and Wellcome Foundations, it does seem to me that there will be a need for innovation planning at institutional and departmental levels, especially for those working in library, IT services, elearning and research support departments. I’d therefore be interested to hear from people who may be interested in hosting innovation sessions within their institution. As an example of the type of workshop which could be organised, the abstract for the workshop on Future Technologies and Their Applications is given below.
Despite the uncertainties faced by librarians and information professionals, technology continues to develop at breakneck speed, offering many new opportunities for the sector. At the same time, technological developments can be distracting and may result in wasted time and effort (remember the excitement provided by Second Life?!).
This workshop session will help participants identify potentially relevant technological developments by learning about and making use of ‘Delphic’ processes. The workshop also provides insight into processes for spotting ‘weak signals’ which may indicate early use of technologies which could be important in the future.
But having identified potentially important technological developments, organisations need to decide how to respond. What will be the impact on existing technologies? What are the strategic implications and what are the implications for staff within the organisation?
The interactive workshop session will provide opportunities to address the challenges in understanding the implications of technological developments and making appropriate organisational interventions.
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