Over a short span of time, our lives as we know it was suddenly changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our usual get-together with friends or family–whether in a mall or in a resort—were restricted during the height of the pandemic as new rules, such as social distancing, were enforced to contain the spread of the virus. Online shopping and delivery became an instant trend, while new platforms and software for virtual conferences and meetings were created to facilitate business operations. Further, traditional face-to-face method of teaching were also supported if not replaced by online platform or modality of teaching. Without a doubt, we are now settling (reluctantly) towards what seems to be a new normal.
Naturally, any form of transition or change (be it gradual or sudden) is entailed with tension or resistance as adjusting to it can sometimes be very challenging. Upon seeing the effects of COVID-19 in our way of life, many of us have been too apprehensive as we kept on asking questions about what will life be after the pandemic. Ultimately, this whole experience led us to inquire about the future. Something that we have kept hanging precisely because we were too entrenched with many things going on in our lives. But given the recognizable effects of this unique experience we have, had we asked those questions, had we spared time to inquire
about what the future would look like, would it have made a huge difference?
The recently concluded three-day virtual conference chaired and hosted by the Philippine Futures Thinking Society (PhilFutures), in collaboration with the United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Senate of the Philippines, Center for Engaged Foresight, The Millenium Project, Philippine Society of Public Administrators (PSPA), DAP-Graduate School of Public and Development Management, (DAP-GSPDM) and other implementing and knowledge partners, has been quite a distinctive platform for stirring the conversation about the future. Anchored on the theme: “Regenerating Asia 2050: Using Futures Literacy to Transform Governance, Culture, and the Economy,” the event which gave an opportunity for people from the academe, government, business sector, the youth and other relevant stakeholders to share perspectives on how futures literacy—or the lack of it—has influenced governance and society. The event was held from 19 to 21 November 2020 via zoom.
Interesting topics on the relevance of futures literacy to health, education, culture and the economy were covered separately in a number of sessions. Presentations of various speakers have mostly elicited debates and discussions on how to reconfigure the present system in view of the technological challenges, ability of the bureaucratic system to adopt, and the consequences of these changes to human labor, economy and culture to name a few.
On the first day of the conference, discussions revolved around accelerating innovative policy foresight, futures of basic education, and urban regeneration. Speakers from a number of countries shared their unique experiences on how previous significant events have changed the landscape of their respective fields. Further, they examined how these changes have transcended and overtaken the existing institutional set up and policies, making it less responsive to the emerging challenges coming in. Notably, the speakers as well as the participants agreed on the notion that integrating foresight in policy making is crucial to make laws and policies flexible and adaptable to circumstances of a given period of time.
The following day paid special attention on the different aspects of public health in the post-COVID-19 period. The speakers posed concepts and insights regarding the vital role of our present experience vis-à-vis improving our actions and perspective in approaching similar instances in the future. During the breakout session, a good number of participants pointed out the need to create a holistic and inclusive approach to developing a multidimensional response to health emergencies. In response, the speakers encouraged the participants to be more open for collaborations and sharing of information to create resilient policies instead of having to navigate the complexities of policy gridlock, which makes bureaucratic response during emergencies slow and ineffective.
On the third and final day of the conference, most of the discussions revolved around the advancement of technologies, integration of human values to artificial intelligence, and how these are integrated into our actions of implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). Accordingly, developments and innovations in the field of science and technology are essential in creating a resilient society. Both speakers and the participants emphasized, however, the vital role of good governance in harnessing technology to complement actions towards building inclusive and resilient community. On the same day, the Philippine National Commission for UNESCO (PH NatCom) organized a special session for youth to allow younger generations to express their views and perspective on how they envision their future. After all, it is their future—a period where they will serve as primary actors that will steer the future the
generation after them.
The three-day virtual conference served as an eye-opener as it tried to raise questions that have been oftentimes overlooked as we grapple with the challenges of the present times. Have we been too complacent or do we care less about our future? While the pandemic has created serious disruptions, it has also created opportunities and platforms to address gaps in our existing ways and systems and to adopt better and sustainable practices that will benefit the current and future generations.