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Futures literacy - an essential competency for the 21st century

Many organisations are coming out of a global pandemic looking for a fresh start, but do they have a futures literacy?

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) defines futures literacy as “a universally accessible skill that builds on the innate human capacity to imagine the future. Future literacy offers a clear field-tested solution to the poverty of the imagination”.

It’s an essential competency for the 21st century.

What does a futures literacy curriculum really look like, what are the expectations?

As businesses, enterprises, communities, and society, we are routinely kidding ourselves that the future is certain because it gives us a sense of security. It allows us to have some semblance of confidence in planning and investing for tomorrow. However, within any sort of sense of realism, that's wholly unrealistic.

Within the association world we have a very good ability of pretending that those big issues are not relevant to us. We are very good at pretending that we work in some kind of professional bubble where these massive issues “doesn't really relate to us. That's not what we're about”.

Yet the reality is, all these issues, problems, challenges, and opportunities, serve to shatter the conventional images we have of what strategic planning looks like. We need what future literacy is telling us - move away from that, except that uncertainty is actually okay.

Be under no illusion, it takes a lot of bravery and a cultural step change of significant portions for some associations, but actually, if as associations are able to imagine multiple futures, then that surely is going to help us not just survive, it's going to allow us to thrive.

What does this mean, in practice? All of these things seem very philosophical, very high level, but what does this mean for an association executive who needs to create a strategic plan. You've learned a little bit about futures literacy, you want to be that big picture, innovative leader, but how do you move forward with this?

A lot of it is about how you accept that uncertainty is inevitable.

Plans are plans. They're not actuals. Budgets are just budgets, they're not actual. It's not what you've spent, it's what you're planning to spend - things change.

Once you accept that uncertainty is a reality you become much more flexible, it becomes much easier to shape and control the organisation’s direction. That doesn't mean that the world is out of control, or the business and how you lead it is beyond your control, far from it. What it does mean at a practical level, is you're able to innovate and take advantage of innovations far more readily than if you're working within the stringent confines of your strategic plan.

Over the last 18 months we’ve frequently spoken about pivoting. Aren’t you tired of pivoting? It’s time we start proactively determining the impact we want to have on the future and create those scenarios and situational goals.

Instead of the future impacting us and us being victims of the future, let us build that future.

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