Chair on Heritage Futures

Our Common Agenda


Today I have been contributing to a Real-Time Delphi Study of The Millennium Project on foresight elements of the 2021 UN report Our Common Agenda.

The report makes several suggestions related to foresight. Here are my responses:

A Summit on the Future:

Such a Summit on the Future will draw global attention to foresight and futures thinking generally (much like the Rio Earth summit did).

The Summit on the Future needs to involve more than politicians, lobbyists, expert scientists, and celebrity activists. It should also involve a selection of ordinary people reflecting on their own lives and their cultural practices (I mean cultural in the ethnographic sense describing how people make sense of the world and live their lives accordingly). They will represent the billions of ordinary people.

A UN Futures Lab:

Include the theme of culture and how it may evolve in future decades, e.g. in the context of climate change and resulting migration, urbanisation, longer life expectancy, artificial intelligence, globalism, periodically shifting values. At the moment, culture is ignored in foresight and cultural practitioners ignore foresight themselves – as culture is widely assumed to be timeless (wrongly as we see in hindsight).

A Special Envoy for Future Generations:

Research shows that representatives (proxies) of future generations can sharpen decision-makers’ sensitivity to presentism, i.e. making decisions while assuming that the status quo is timeless and all futures will resemble the present. They can also support long-term thinking in decision-making.

See e.g. Kamijo, Y., Komiya, A., Mifune, N., & Saijo, T. (2017). Negotiating with the future: Incorporating imaginary future generations into negotiations. Sustainability Science, 12(3), 409–420. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-016-0419-8

Otten, M. (2018). Strong external representation of future generations: Legitimate and effective (Unpublished Masters Thesis.) Department of Philosophy, University of Leiden. http://hdl.handle.net/1887/65949 .

Other suggestions:

Introduce Futures as a school subject.

World heritage and looking forward…


Architect and world heritage expert Roha Khalif recently published a very interesting paper on “Periodic Reporting under the World Heritage Convention: Futures and Possible Responses to Loss” in the journal The Historic Environment.

Partly drawing on our work on heritage futures, Khalif proposes

adding future-oriented questions to the questionnaire before the start of the fourth cycle [of the periodic reporting exercise]. This proposal offers actors in the World Heritage system an opportunity to have constructive discussions on futures and possible responses to loss. As a result, periodic reporting may become more forward-looking, proactive, and relevant to the challenges of the twenty-first century, especially climate change.

We will be following her work and may be able to establish some collaboration with Khalif in the future!

Histories of the Future


For a number of years I had been wondering why my historian colleagues did not seem to care very much about ever applying their many skills to making sense of the future as much as of the past. Both past and future are after all directly linked in the present.

Now a very nice looking book on Historical Understanding – Past, Present, and Future has been published that breaks new ground into exactly that direction. And I am very glad I could contribute with an essay on “Periodization of the future” …