Eshanthi Ranasinghe
Interim Lead, Exploration and Future Sensing

Exploration and Future Sensing at Omidyar Network

February 21, 2019

Shifting from what we know now, to what could be, in the future. 

The world is in a state of flux, and our society is experiencing deep challenges, high levels of uncertainty, remaking of institutions, and the shifting nature of relationships, reputation, truth, struggle, and persecution.

At Omidyar Network, we have found ourselves realizing that our role needs to expand to better address some of these pressing social issues. As our managing partner, Mike Kubzansky, announced last October, we need to sharpen our focus on the underlying and deep-seated issues that have emerged in society. So we embarked on an experiment — how could we shift our outlook and challenge assumptions, from what we know now, to what could be, in the future?

A small team formed to test foresight techniques. Training with experts around the world, we scanned for notable signals and trends in society, mapped and collided them into unexpected futures, formed scenarios, challenged our perspectives and imagined futures very different from the present, to arrive at insights we could use in our work today.

In 2018, we investigated the “moonshot economy” and applications of 3D and 4D printing with the Future Hunters. We identified drivers and designed future scenarios for what could emerge from today’s rise in neo-nationalism. We informed the Ethical OS framework created by IFTF and Tech and Society Solutions Lab, that uses foresight and scenarios to provoke new thinking. In 2019, we are exploring the mental health epidemic, quantum computing, the ascendance of China, and an early provocation on the Future Beyond the Smartphone, and the next layer of computing.

We learned that what comes in the future often evolves from what is in the present, but rarely from the present that is immediately visible. This kind of thinking does not come without challenges, but as we experiment and learn, we find that what we lose in simplicity and confidence in our own knowledge, we gain in awareness and real foresight for what could come.

After 12 months of testing and experimentation, we are now announcing this effort in the form of a new unit: Exploration & Future Sensing, a team that will use foresight, deep listening, experimentation, and provocative output and experiences, to inspire new thinking about where the world could head, and what we should do about it now. Consider Explorations an open space for discussion. We welcome new perspectives — especially those rarely heard, contradictory, relevant, and tangential — and most of all, conversation and partnership to build the future we want, one that includes and empowers us all.

We’ll be chronicling our insights here, as experimental Explorations, so you can take advantage of what we figure out, and more importantly, help us to advance what we don’t.

While everything we do as Omidyar Network is in service to furthering our mission of supporting individual empowerment, this new effort, more than others, will challenge our assumptions to uncover new insights and perspectives that we would otherwise miss in our work.

As a result, what we share here are truly early ideas, designed to intrigue and provoke. They will be based on fact and data points, sometimes on the fringes of society rather than the mainstream, encouraging us to speculate on how they could evolve. If you are challenged, surprised, nodding along, or frowning in disagreement, we have done our job.

Let the journey begin.

 

Please consider Explorations an open space for discussion. We welcome new perspectives — especially those rarely heard, contradictory, relevant and tangential — and most of all, conversation and partnership to build the future we want, one that includes and empowers us all. To connect and follow new insights we generate, please reach us at [email protected].

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Discussion
Jim Rough Direction at Center for Wise Democracy

I may be one of the people you are talking about. For twenty-six years I've been promoting an out-of-the-box strategy for how we might safely facilitate a transformation of our global System. I can attest that it's difficult to be taken seriously when people don't yet recognize how our system is causing extinction-level problems like climate change. And when they don't understand how whole system transformation can be facilitated. Thank you for seeking new perspectives on building a future we all want. Quickly. For more information about this set of ideas, please see www.WiseDemocracy.org ... I'll write a separate email to your committee.

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