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4. Integrated Conversations
An overview of an adapted integral approach
The integral four quadrant model provides a design frame for our conversations about futures that is collaborative, accepting, challenging and inclusive, and that has the dual aims of understanding the university of the present in new ways in order to ensure that the futures organisations are those that one the future needs. The Futures Conversations Framework (R) has the potential to be an approach that is focused on conversations not contest, that has hope and agency, that is grounded in foresight, and that seeks and values multiple perspectives about an organisation's possible futures. The figure below shows the four quadrants and the focus for each conversation
Upper Left Quadrant: Conversations with Self
In the UL quadrant, individuals hold ontological beliefs about the future that they consider to be real but that are largely tacit and taken-for-granted. The focus of the conversation in this space is one that therefore takes place inside individual minds and consciousness – it is a conversation with self, enabled by critical reflection processes that are usually undertaken only when there is some external imperative to do so – for example, being required to critically reflect on personal behaviour in difficult situations, as part of a professional development program, or when asked to imagine and accept a future that seems highly improbable. That is, we rarely challenge – in a conscious way – why we think, act and behave in certain ways, or consider how our behaviour has influenced outcomes of interactions with others in both positive and negative ways – or why we accept some futures as valid and reject others. This UL conversation space is designed to develop critical reflection skills that enable individuals to recognise their assumptions about the future and how they are used and begin to challenge them for validity – that is, to build their futures literacy and activate their individual foresight capacities. This is also the space where futures consciousness starts to emerge which can be defined in terms of five dimensions: time perspective, agency beliefs, openness to alternatives, systems perception, and concern for others. It is also where autonoetic consciousness is activated, a self-reflective capacity that emerges when we remember the past or imagine the future that enables us to reflect on our experience in those mental spaces.
The Lower Left Quadrant: Conversations about Culture
The LL quadrant supports a collective conversation about cultural assumptions shaping an organisation’s futures that are accepted as valid and ultimately taken-for-granted. In this space, the conversation is about culture as reflected and understood by rituals, organisational stories and myths, language, physical arrangements and formal and informal practices, and the accepted norms and ‘rules of the game’ in the organisation . Schein defines three levels of culture: artifacts (that exist in the UR quadrant), espoused beliefs and values (articulated in the UR quadrant), and deeper underlying assumptions that “determine behaviour, perception thought, and feeling” that are constructed in the LL quadrant. Notably, espoused values do not always align with the artifacts or deep assumptions, or with action.
Lower Right Quadrants: Conversations about Change
The LR quadrant is the domain of social change. Conversations here seek to understand the nature of the external social system in which an organisation exists and in which it must maintain its legitimacy base. This is the reality into which an organisation must find its ‘strategic fit’ and must monitor continuously to be able to respond effectively to changes emerging in this space.This conversation is a familiar one because the rate and pace of change and its impact on organisations is well recognised in the present, understanding its nature is a step in most strategic planning processes, and is identified and analysed in the environmental scanning step foresight processes.. How that conversation is framed, however, is critical and the usual approach of using trend analysis as the foundation of a strategic plan is insufficient when it comes to considering possible futures shaped not by trends but by deeper global change forces.
Upper Right Quadrant: Conversations about Futures
This conversation in the UR quadrant is focused on identifying existing assumptions about organisational futures as articulated in organisational artefacts such as strategic plans. The assumptions here are not those we individually or collectively construct but rather those assumptions that we find in these artefacts. Strategic activity of some sort is now ubiquitous in organisations and the resulting artefacts provide views of that desired future that can be interpreted to surface organisational assumptions about futures in general. An analysis of organisational artefacts over time can also track the development of their development from the past into the present, and then used in FSF processes to demonstrate any limitations of current strategic thinking and processes in terms of breadth and depth.
The two left-hand quadrants make up the Worldview domain and are focused on building individual and collective futures consciousness in organisations – that is, the process of surfacing foresight capacities and developing individual and collective capacities to anticipate the future in the present. This space is also about surfacing agency – recognising our capacity to take action – or not act – to shape the future today, both individually and collectively.
The two right-hand quadrants make up the Context domain and focus on building an organisational futures orientation – that is, being aware of how the future is understood in conversations and how to orient those conversations toward finding the organisation’s possible futures – as opposed to accepting and/or reinforcing an assumed linear future. The aim is to ensure an organisation remains fit-for-purpose, and how organisational processes can be redesigned to bring people together to co-create that fit over time. This is the space in which we need to be able to think in multiples about the future and find pathways into possible futures to expand perceptions of options for decision making and action in the present – to reperceive the present.
The conversations have no required sequence or rhythm but rather are, as described by Esbjorn-Hargens (see below for copy of paper), “co-nascent – literally “they are born together” and are mutually implicated in one another … they co-arise and tetra-mesh. Ultimately though, for individuals and organisations which now take a presentist stance to the future, a starting point is required simply because this new framework needs to be introduced to – and accepted by – an organisation in some way. This introduction occurs in the UR quadrant when people collectively experience a foresight process designed to demonstrate that futures can be understood in new ways in the present and that many new alternative futures can be imagined.This framework aims to find new and novel futures that exist in the present, where imagination is an accepted way to co-create shared images of futures, and where those images can be made real through foresight processes. The aim of spending time in a conversation in each quadrant is to better understand how individual and collective assumptions shape what futures are considered acceptable and why others are rejected, and why some action is supported, and other options are dismissed. Essentially then, we seek to understand how both the self and an organisation’s culture shape understanding of its possible futures – and how that culture might need to be adapted to generate an organisational foresight capacity.
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