In the precis to the Australian Academy of Science’s 2011 book Negotiating our future: living scenarios for Australia to 2050, the Academy notes that, ‘The future is uncertain, contested, and ultimately shared.’

It’s a memorable phrase with serious implications, which is why I co-opted it for the title of this report. The writers go on to say:

‘The uncertainty of the future is experienced everywhere, from weather to politics to the fragility of human existence. The contestability of the future is also familiar, from struggles between people and groups of different convictions for control of choices about pathways. Yet as the future rolls inevitably into the present, multiple pathways and choices crystallise into actual events that form shared realities for individuals, communities and nations.’

The Academy’s members assert that we as Australian citizens have a fundamental right to contribute to the shaping of Australia’s future. Each of us must be able to share our vision for the country’s future, to speak and be listened to.

As they say: ‘Grappling with these realities is only possible through conversation, at national scale and over a prolonged period.’

However, as the Academy has pointed out elsewhere, at this time the only groups regularly engaged in forecasting and planning for Australia’s long-term future are politicians and private corporations.

This was the impetus for the series of public forums held as part of the Australia 2050 project over 2012-13, in which the Academy invited members of the public to take part in conversations about the country’s future and to share their views.

As valuable as those public forums were, it is not enough to simply have a platform where we can voice our innermost hopes and fears about the future; we need to be supported to help us use this opportunity effectively.

It is simple to respond emotionally to the events of today; it is extremely difficult to think constructively about the world 10, 20 or 50 years from now. For most of us it is difficult to critically and constructively imagine something so abstract, and public forums without careful guidance run the risk of losing focus and descending into platitudes.

If we non-specialists wish to contribute meaningfully to the shaping of Australia’s future, we need access to tools that can help us shape our thinking around this difficult topic.

We need frameworks and structures that can help us visualise the possible shapes of the world to come, and to help form our most deeply-felt opinions and dreams into tangible, achievable visions for a future Australia.

Critical tools for thinking about the future do exist. This is the domain of futurists, who over the last few decades have developed a sophisticated and varied set of strategies and methods to help us come to grips with the challenge of looking ahead.

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