UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Predicting the Future: Reality or Myth?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 Jul 2014

Two International Conferences: SAOIM 2014 and ELAG 2014

Let's predict the future In June I gave talks and facilitated workshop sessions at two international conferences: SAOIM 2014, the 12th Biennial Southern African Online Information Meeting which was held in Pretoria on 3-6 June and ELAG 2014, the annual European Library Automation Group Conference which was held at the University of Bath on 10-13 June.

Predicting and Planning for the Future

The theme of the SAOIM 2014 conference was “Predicting the Future: Reality or Myth?“. This theme reflected my participation at the two events: at the SAOIM conference I gave a plenary talk on “Understanding the Past; Being Honest about the Present; Planning for the Future” and facilitated a half-day workshop on “Let’s Predict the Future!” and at the ELAG conference I facilitated a workshop on “Preparing For The Future” which was split into two 90 minute sessions held on two days.

The sessions were based on my involvement in the Jisc Observatory and the papers on “Reflecting on Yesterday, Understanding Today, Planning for Tomorrow” and “What Next for Libraries? Making Sense of the Future” which summarised the approaches developed by Cetis and UKOLN. Following the cessation of Jisc funding for this work the methodology is being shared with organisations who wish to make use of systematic approaches to help detect technological developments of importance to organisational planning processes.

The workshop has been refined since it was delivered at the ILI 2013 conference last October, at a staff development session at the University of York in July 2013 and at the UKSG 2013 conference in April 2013. In the updated version of the workshop once ‘Delphi’ processes for identifying technological developments have been used workshop participants then make use of an ‘action brief statement’ and a risk and opportunities framework for proposing ways in which the organisation may wish to further investigate the technological developments which have been identified. The action brief statement was developed by Michael Stephens and Kyle Jones for the Hyperlinked Library MOOC and the risk and opportunities framework was first described in a paper on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” and subsequently further developed to address legal risks in a paper on “Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web“.

Reflections on SAOIM 2014

The SAOIM conference theme of “Predicting the Future: Reality or Myth?” was addressed by invited plenary talks and workshop sessions delivered by myself and Joe Murphy (@libraryfuture), Director of Library Futures and librarian and technology trend analyst at Innovative Interfaces. Joe gave the opening keynote talk at the conference on “Technical Analysis & Inspiration Points for Library Futures” and facilitated a workshop session on “Directions and destinations“.

Our sessions complemented each other nicely, with Joe providing exercises in getting the 60+ libraries attended his half-day workshop session to be willing to consider the implications of technological developments, including developments such as the jet pack! Although Joe was not proposing this as a likely development, it provided a useful means of getting the participants to think beyond the current technical environment.

In my session I asked the 60+ workshop participants to work in groups to identify technological developments which they feel will be important in the short term and medium term. A Google Doc containing a summary of their conclusions is available. In the workshop I then went on to provide a methodology for making a business case fro investigating the technological developments further.

Other Sessions at SAOIM 2014

"Consent that must be obtained"The programme for the SAOIM 2014 conference is available (in PDF format) and many of the slides are also available. The talk which I found of particular interest was on Online Privacy and Data Protection (see slides in MS Powerpint format).

It seems that South Africa will shortly be introducing a Protection Of Personal Information (PPI and also known as POPI) Bill which is based on the privacy requirements which EU countries have enshrined in legislation. The bill is based on eight main principles. Of particular interest was the slide which described consent which must be obtained:

žConsent that must be obtained

Before the data controller will be entitled to collect, use or process any personal information, it must obtain the prior written consent from the data subject to do so

  • Consent requirement = key feature of PPI Bill
  • Without consent no data that might have been collected may be used in any manner
  • Unlawful usage can result in huge fines & possibility of imprisonment

Although such legal requirements may not seem unreasonable the speaker went on to provide examples of the implications of the legislation:

  • You wish to provide a personalised recommendation service based on books library patrons have borrowed. You can’t until you have received written consent to do this!
  • You wish to send an email to a library patron whose books are overdue and is accruing fines.  You can’t until you have received written consent to do this!

Based on the interpretation of the law provided by the speaker it would appear that the legislation could make it difficult for services such as academic libraries to carry out existing services and develop new services unless, perhaps, they update their terms and conditions to allow them to make use of personal data. In light of the uncertainties of the implications and how organisations should respond there may well be new consultancy opportunities for the South African legal profession!

I found this session of particular interest as it highlighted potential legal barriers to the development of useful services for users and the need to understand ways in which such barriers can be addressed, whether in ensuring that terms and conditions provide sufficient flexibility to cater for a changing legal environment or, alternatively, for organisations to be willing to take risks. In the case of the PPI legislation since the person who feels their personal information is being used without their consent has to make a complaint to the appropriate authorities it seems to me that the student will the overdue books who receives a reminder will be unlikely to make a complain that they haven’t given explicit permission to receive such alerts!

Next Steps in Supporting Organisations in Predicting and Planning for the Future

The feedback from the two workshops was very positive. In light of this we will be looking to include further workshops as part of the Cetis consultancy offering. If you have an interest in this please get in touch.


4 Responses to “Predicting the Future: Reality or Myth?”

  1. fred6368 said

    Predicting the future? Fairly scant resources quoted here. It is mostly myth because the future is made by unintended consequences playing out in random ways, but “experts” predict the future based on intended & anticipated consequences, so get it wrong. How about Kondratieff, long-wave economic change driven by meta-technologies/ 50 year cycles of socio-technical change, microprocessor invented 1971 so 2021 a key future date. Yoneji Masuda, Managing in the Knowledge Economy, long-range economic forecasting. Perhaps most relevantly for your field is McLuhan’s Tetrad of change caused by new media. I’ve discussed in the Homi & the NeXT one Incidentally you might want to redesign the Library 2.0 memem map, because it is not a meme map, so doesn’t understand what O’Reilly was saying in What is Web 2.0. Hope this helps, Fred

  2. Hi Fred
    Thanks for the comments.
    I agree that predicting the future can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do so, in order to inform our planning processes. The uncertainties and unexpected developments mean that we need to be agile in our planning processes. This is what we tried to do in the workshops I mentioned – nit necessarily predict the future but understand a methodology which can help in providing such agility.
    Thanks for the link, by the way – interesting to read your thoughts on the future from 1989.

    • fred6368 said

      Hi Brian, thanks, but I was not saying that we should not try to predict the future. I was pointing out that both those people who try to do so, often subject or area experts tend to say that “the future will be the same as the present only more so” – that is they offer a quantitative analysis, when the future changes will often be qualitatively different. What I tried to show in my 1989 piece.
      I offered a number of models that allow for unintended consequences, especially Kondratieff, who was used by Masuda and can be combined with the model used in Understanding Technological Change
      In some ways the easier heuristic to use is that of McLuhan’s Tetrad.
      Taleb wrote Black Swan to caution on quantitative predictions. I havent seen any modelling used in the UK that has any value, because of this flaw; Beyod future Horizons runs out 18months in the future as that is where quantitative modelling takes you. And we Brits are intellectually lazy too. Why not modify the Library 2.0 diagram so that it is a meme map not a bunch of bubbles for starters?
      Nigel and I try to offer “development frameworks” to help with this, such as the PAH Continuum, the Emergent Learning Model and the Technology Stewards & Institutions model (Before & After Institutions)
      You also need to start from a definition of technology too. When I taught this (a unit on the social impact of IT) I gave a range of definitions. Then offered one of my own. “technology is order imposed on nature”
      I’m sure the workshop was fun, but did you help anyone think more clearly about future modelling?

  3. Hi Fred
    Thanks for the additional comments.
    I agree that there are temptations to regard the future as being an extrapolation of the future, only bigger, smaller, faster, … In my workshops I’ve gone back in time to explore how things didn’t turn out as we expected from the past (monorails, jetpacks, holidays on the moon, etc.) but sometimes technological developments outstrip the vision of science fiction (compare Captain James T Kirk’s communicator with an iPhone or Android phone).
    In order to explore qualitatively different changes to the future I make use of scenario planning.
    Note the work I’m involved in has similarities to the approaches taken by the NMC team in their Horizon reports.
    Your question as to whether I helped anyone think more clearly about future modelling is a good one. In the conclusions I asked what people would do differently as a result if attending the session – and a couple of people said they intended to make use of the approaches in their own institution. I hope the porganisers will send me further feedback from the evaulaiation forms.
    Ta for the further links – more reading for me!

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