Calling all futurists: How can New Zealand design a better society?

Calling all futurists: How can New Zealand design a better society?

The future can be an anxiety-inducing prospect, particularly when it comes to figuring out what the world will look like in 50 years’ time. But an event coming up in Wellington called Optimistic Futures plans to explore just that, in an optimistic, no doomsday, apocalypses kind of way, in order to see how the government can help shape the future of New Zealand. 

Ten speakers across various sectors, from Marianne Elliott from ActionStation, Eric Crampton from the New Zealand Initiative, Mary Fisher, who’s a Paralympian, and Wrestler’s Kat Lintott and Maori researcher Malcolm Mulholland, will be speaking for seven minutes sharing their views on how the future might play out culturally, socially and economically.

The event is being hosted by InternetNZ in partnership with the Department for Internal Affairs Service (DIA) Innovation Lab and Victoria University. The discussions will help the DIAs Innovation Lab reimagine the future role of the government and gauge people’s opinions on this.

Some of the subjects that will be discussed include Maori futures, intergenerational wellbeing and public policy, a post-disabilities world, free future markets, technology and health, and empowered democracy.

MC and Enspiral Dev Academy operations manager Sylvia Zuur says the event also wants to steer away from the dystopian projections that are becoming the norm, and instead create a constructive conversation about what can be done.

“It’s not that we’re ignoring the doomsday predictions, we’re just saying, ‘Hey, this conversation happens, but lets have an optimistic conversation,’” Zuur says.

“We’re more interested in the debate and disagreement and how human beings react to those futures. It’s definitely not wanting to be the blue-sky dream that ignores the current realities. The sense is that frame of thinking isn’t serving us well.”

Zuur says the idea for the event was born out of noticing people tend to work towards problem solving the issues of today rather than tomorrow, while also creating technological solutions to humanity’s problems without factoring in the social and cultural implications.

This event will take place in two parts: the speakers session, and an interactive session where the listeners can weigh in and have a discussion on the ideas proposed.

“What we’re looking to do there is asking people, ‘What did you agree with and what did you disagree with the role of government in those futures?’” Zuur says.

“The discussion will be used for the DIA’s work and influence a lot of their future government, while all the content that gets generated will be open sourced on the internet. Our goal is that we start a conversation and start to build a community that’s interested in future focusing and problem solving from the future backwards.”

She says the event is one of the first of its kind to be led by a government agency, with key government figures in the room.

“This means it will have a bit more leverage than other events, because it’s really going to delve into questions around future and technology. It feels quite new and exciting.”

Optimistic Futures is being held Wednesday 21 February, from 10:30am to 2:30pm at Victoria University, Wellington. It is free to attend, and will also be livestreamed. You can preregister for the event here.

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