Where Old and New Paradigms Meet

www.futurechallenges.org

Annette Heuser
Annette Heuser is executive director of the Washington, DC office of the Bertelsmann Foundation. Annette read political science, law and sociology, and is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of the European Union; the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Advisors Group and the European Council on Foreign Relations. She also serves as vice-chair of the Council on Foundations’ Global Philanthropy Committee.

Henrik Scheller
Henrik Scheller read politics and musicology. In 2007 he joined the Bertelsmann Stiftung where he is responsible for issues of governance.

 

 

Jonathan Stevens
Jonathan Stevens is director of the Demographic Change Project for the Bertelsmann Foundation.
Jonathan was an epidemiologist before moving to teaching and public policy. He worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

 

Ole Wintermann
Ole Wintermann read economics, politics and sociology in Kiel and Göteborg. He was a research assistant at the University of Göteborg where he wrote his PhD on the ability of political systems to react to crises. After being head of department for economic and social policy at the former German Employees Union (DAG). Ole joined the Bertelsmann Stiftung in 2002 to work on demographic change. Since 2007 he has focused on the interdependencies of global megatrends with the development of the internet. His latest project is: futurechallenges.org

 

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The Bertelsmann Stiftung is launching “FutureChallenges”, a new online platform. What’s it all about?

Ole Wintermann >
Megatrends such as demographic change, economic globalization, climate change, pandemics, security issues and migration are shaping the global agenda. Even though we gather tremendous amounts of information about each single trend, we hardly know anything about how these trends interact, and how and where they’re interrelated. How do they connect? What effects do their connections cause? What are their impacts? To put the spotlight on such questions as these, the know-ledge we want to share on futurechallenges.org is no longer focused on the isolated perspective of a single megatrend – what we want to do is encourage members of the platform to focus on the complex interactions of the megatrends.

What’s more, futurechallenges.org seeks to nurture dialogue between experts and non-experts. Science usually generates knowledge in a very exclusive way in which research results are for the most part discussed within closed “expert” communities far removed from any broader audience. The opportunities of the internet and social networks have not been taken up by scientists. Our idea was thus to create a new internet platform where experts and non-experts could not only discuss such issues but also speak with one another in a conversation that can bring issues of networking, interdependencies and the complexity of our situation to the forefront. We also hope that the platform will enable people to organize themselves better in projects and campaigns to meet these global challenges more effectively on both the local and the global levels.

Our third aim is to explore how the knowledge of the web can be used to find the solutions that we need to meet future demands.

we-magazine >
But isn’t the “exclusive space” occupied by science one of the main defining features that it needs to pursue its research undisturbed by outside influences?

Annette Heuser >
The Bertelsmann Foundation is an advocate of the idea that science must become more public in its discourse. Science can’t be founded on a stand-alone approach because it’s highly connected to a broad variety of fields. Furthermore, all scientists are obliged to share their knowledge and embrace other disciplines: We need both Shakespeare and Einstein to manage safe passage. For us as a foundation this means that we must put still greater efforts into organizing a discourse that really does merit being called “interdisciplinary” or “transdisciplinary”. Above all it means that we must seek the active involvement of the general public and people in politics. We need understanding and commitment to help overcome the communication barriers among politics, science and the general public and create a common (semantic) understanding of the problems facing us all. We are well aware that each of these cultures follows its own mode and logic of thought and argument across the various development phases. So we know that any attempt to abolish totally such communication barriers is a chimera. Yet that is precisely why a think-tank such as the Bertelsmann Foundation should serve to strengthen networking and communication abilities and bonds of empathy both on its own side and in terms of society at large with a view to promoting the best possible results from a discourse of this kind.

we-magazine >
Why did you choose the internet above the other media you could have taken to promote this new form of dialogue between experts and non-experts?

Henrik Scheller >
Up to now the findings of science have mainly been published in renowned scientific journals or in closed events held within specific scientific communities. Fruitful online debates and interdisciplinary discourse have been more the exception than the rule. Bearing this in mind, we argue that the internet could be a promising way to experiment with new forms of discourse and participatory culture. We are aware that the lack of common understanding among subcultures might cause some problems when it comes to evaluating “collective intelligence”. But we are convinced that the internet will reveal to us new patterns for explaining the world in which we live. And finally, we’re also expecting that this will lead to a redefinition of how we think of the “expert”!

we-magazine >
Can you give us an example of interdependencies between global megatrends – of how they impact on one another?

Jonathan Stevens >

Consider the following scenario: Economic globalization correlates to an increased consumption of energy and thus a rise in greenhouse gas emissions. These gas emissions are seen to be at least partially responsible for future changes in the climate. Therefore economic globalization is one of the key drivers of climate change. In many developing countries, climate change results in water short-ages and famines. People who are threatened with death by thirst or hunger do not stay in one place; they seek better, more fertile ground. Thus climate change will trigger large-scale emigration. The physical and economic consequences of climate change will impact negatively on the political and social stability of the countries most affected by it. And if such instabilities occur in countries providing raw materials and resources of vital importance to key production processes, social and political instabilities in one country can easily endanger the entire global economic process. Such a backdrop should make it very clear that the different forms of interdependencies in individual countries, regions and continents can have different effects. So it makes little sense to look for a single master plan that covers the whole world. What we should do is seek out regionally based expertise and engage with learning from one another.

we-magazine >
Doesn’t the development of an internet platform of this kind represent a totally new direction for the Bertelsmann Stiftung? What kind of lessons have you learnt so far in developing it?

Henrik Scheller >
To be perfectly honest with you, developing this platform has opened up to us a totally new world that has little in common with the “old world” in which we’re used to living and working. Quite apart from all the technical issues it raises, developing this platform has been mainly a matter of learning and understanding what’s involved in the concept of networking – both externally and, more critically, internally.

Another central issue has been how we should handle – what attitude we should adopt for – future content on our new internet pages that might not be completely in line with our own standpoint. By now we’ve reached a position where we think that by relinquishing control we can only benefit from the knowledge and insights that the internet makes possible. But it’s been and still is a long and highly unusual process of letting-go-of-the-reins for everyone involved. Obviously we will still retain the option of deleting any content that might violate public policies. But beyond that we believe that the self-cleansing power of the internet will ensure that any questionable content will be debated in open discourse by the community.

we-magazine >
What effect has www.futurechallenges.org had on the way the Bertelsmann Stiftung perceives itself?

Ole Wintermann >
In future we will tend to act more as moderators. This means that we will no longer draw up ready-made solutions for the global challenges facing the world in closed groups of experts. What we would rather do is to offer a space or forum for public participation where “we are one” means “among many”. The internet is relativizing the status of experts. This means that our job is rather to network ourselves with other platforms in the Web in an effort to generate synergy effects. As a foundation, we want to be part of the mutual learning process in the internet, while also offering our own ways of learning. The modes of thought and the projects outlined on our web site are hopefully so stimulating and innovative in parts that through them we can motivate people, NGOs and social business leaders to realize their own ideas.

we-magazine >
How has the platform changed your daily working routines and what effect has this had on your own original work?

Henrik Scheller >
First and foremost the platform has given me a new experience of time. The sheer speed of the internet is sometimes overwhelming. I have to learn new ways of thinking and prioritizing things. What really matters and what can I put to one side? What do I really need to read and what is just trash? Plus being in dialogue with some 50 bloggers scattered around the world who are used to getting an immediate response to their pressing questions is also something it’s difficult to bring into line with a regular nine-to-five job.

When it comes to content, I’m still painfully learning that the internet calls for “the courage to eschew perfectionism”. Results that we used to publish in meticulously produced glossy brochures now need to be posted in double-quick time on the internet. This has the enormous advantage that we now get much quicker feedback and can make corresponding changes to our own work and the issues with which we deal.

we-magazine >
The platform will have its soft launch at a major conference in Washington. What’s the conference about?

Annette Heuser >
You mean our conference on “Opportunities in Crisis – Avenues to Growth”, which takes place on 22 April this year in Washington. This is the second conference of its kind that aims to bring to the forefront the opportunities and new perspectives engendered by global crises. This is another important message that futurechallenges.org should get across – that global transformation is an opportunity for positive change! Broad public perception – whether it be of megatrends themselves or the ways they interact with one another – always carries a certain fatalistic element with it. The all-pervasive feeling of being powerless, of being unable to change the course of events, is a major impediment both to individual and political engagement. But that needn’t be so! Take our foundation, which is cooperating with a host of other institutions, NGOs and social business initiatives which are already successfully on the ground. The only thing they often lack is broad public notice an, of course, money!

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What measures are you contemplating for the soft-launch of futurechallenges.org at this conference?

Jonathan Stevens >
As a foundation we’re venturing here into completely new and uncharted territory. The whole conference will be live-streamed. And we’ve also invited bloggers from China, Argentina, Kenya, Bhutan, the USA and Europe who’ll be putting out their live blogs. In doing so we’re following a two-track strategy: On the one hand we want to enter into a much more direct form of dialogue with our distinguished guests and expert speakers by enabling people who are not directly taking part in the conference to influence the course of the proceedings in Washington through their commentaries. On the other hand we want to facilitate exchanges among people in the northern and southern hemispheres. This is a major issue for us and one that should also be determinant for futurechallenges.org. Our aim is to round off the day with presentation of a specific agenda for the futurechallenges.org platform.

we-magazine >
Where do you see yourselves in one year or eighteen months with the www.futurechallenges.org platform?

Ole Wintermann >

We hope that FutureChallenges will grow into one of the most attractive of the international platforms, a place, where above, all non-experts also have the confidence to post their ideas and thoughts on the mutual impact of global megatrends. At the same time we are also encouraging a broad range of academic institutions such as the Brookings Institution and Resources for the Future (RFF) in Washington or the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the George Mason University in Virginia to use the platform for dissemination of their work in the sense of “science as a public good”. The idea of networking has central importance for us, and we’re delighted that we’ve been able to arrange partnerships with Global Voices and other online projects.


Megatrends

Demographic Change:
Demographic change describes changes to the size and structure of a country’s population through rises and falls in the birth rate and mortality rate as well as by migratory movements of people.

Migration:
The concept of migration designates moving a person’s domicile within one country or over a country’s borders permanently or temporarily. The reasons for migration can be of an economic, political, cultural or social nature.

Climate Change:
Climate change refers to the permanently changing atmosphere over a longer period of time. Although there have been changes in the earth’s climate for millions of years, global warming in the 20th century must be predominantly attributed to human activity.

New Governance:
Broadly speaking, governance includes all forms of coordination among individual and collective players. Todays governance always functions in a globalized multilevel system among state-and non-state actors.

Pandemics:
Pandemics refer to illnesses that occur not just locally or regionally, but globally. They represent the emergence of diseases new to a population and containing agents that infect humans, causing significant, persistent illness that spreads easily among humans.

Globalization:
Economic globalization basically describes the increasingly tightknit economic interdependence of all states with escalating exchange of goods, services, capital, technologies and workers. Globalization has accelerated enormously in recent decades.



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