A New Norwegian UNESCO Chair in Futures Literacy will be Fostering Leadership and Policy Learning for Change

The University of Stavanger and Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU) has presented UNESCO with a proposal for a new Norwegian UNESCO Chair in Futures Literacy (LIA).

By Per Koch and Rune By

The starting point for the LIA project is the urgent need to develop the capabilities and capacities needed to address societal challenges, as these are – for instance – reflected in the UN sustainability goals and in the current Corona crisis.

The proposal has been developed by professor Rune By of the University of Stavanger and Special Advicer Per M. Koch of NIFU.

The LIA partners approach Future Literacy from different backgrounds – the University of Stavanger from a leadership and organisational change perspective and NIFU from a systems innovation and innovation policy perspective. Both are oriented towards organisational and societal change, in which leadership is an essential pillar.

Future oriented leadership

LIA has a particular focus on leadership. We see leadership in the broad sense of the word as key to the development of such transformative capabilities.

Through LIA Rune Todnem By and his partners will use the future literacy perspective to enrich and strengthen relevant research and education at the University of Stavanger and among its partners.

The aim will be to create a platform for future oriented leadership research and training in Norway, a platform that may also contribute to anchor the future literacy approach in Norway.

Many researchers suggest that leadership is nothing without purpose. However, some observe that we tend to focus on leaders at the cost of the activity of leadership. Consequently, we obsess with individual leaders, their power, and how they achieve through others. Such a worldview emphasizes that leadership is a limited resource and capability that can only be mastered by a chosen few. Hence, we are arguably limiting our own leadership capabilities and capacity.

Professor By’s practical work on the EPICally MAD framework (Making A Difference through a development of Energy, Purpose, Identity and Courage) and his upcoming theoretical work on the Telos Leadership Lens (TLL) suggest that we should be looking at leadership as a shared responsibility which we all can contribute to, and which we should not abdicate from. His theoretical work focuses on how we all as individuals must contribute to delivering on a shared purpose, and this onus is included in his working definition of leadership: Leadership is the collaborative pursuit of delivering on purpose.

Anticipatory systems and future literacy will play an essential role in defining purpose as purpose is directly linked to the future and about taking on a more proactive and responsible role in shaping the future we want and need. Through anticipatory systems different futures covering a vast range of opportunities and challenges will emerge, be shaped, and enriched.

Research and innovation policy

Per Koch and NIFU will use their expertise, networks and communication channels to stimulate the use of anticipatory systems and processes in research and innovation and in relevant policy institutions, in Norway and in the Nordic area.

Special Adviser and Editor Per M. Koch of the Nordic Institute of Innovation, Research and Education has worked for 30 years within the area of research and innovation and its related policy areas, both as a policy maker and as a social scientist.

He observes that the current policy system and its institutions are not set up to handle socio-technological shifts, unexpected turn of events, as well as challenges that require cooperation between various policy areas and institutions, sectors, branches of industry and academic disciplines.  New Public Management and its use of management by objectives were meant to give public sector institutions more freedom and ensure the organisational flexibility needed for innovation and transformation.

The fact is, however, that ministries, because of their need to legitimize expenses and protect their turfs, become increasingly detailed oriented. Agencies and councils will have to report on objectives to their owners, within the silos, which makes it hard to coordinate efforts across policy areas.

Moreover, the objectives are most often defined on the basis of the challenges of yesterday, not the problems and opportunities we might face in the future. The Weberian ideals of task specialisation, hierarchies, rules and regulations and impersonality also makes it harder to engage the kind of policy entrepreneurs and change agents needed for social transformation.

A need for a futures literacy

The societal challenges require the ability to transform both mindsets, organisations and societies, and they require a future literacy, as reflected in the following quote from UNESCO:

“Futures Literacy (FL) is a capability. It is the skill that allows people to better understand the role that the future plays in what they see and do. People can become more skilled at ‘using-the-future’, more ‘futures literate’, because of two facts. One is that the future does not yet exist, it can only be imagined. Two is that humans have the ability to imagine. As a result, humans are able to learn to imagine the future for different reasons and in different ways. Thereby becoming more ‘futures literate’”.

In other words: Companies and public sector institutions are facing leadership crises, where current leadership ideals and practices do not fit the needs of a rapidly changing society. This is where the University of Stavanger pillar of LIA converges with the NIFU pillar. The two strands of work will enrich each other in the exploration of new forms of leadership that can make use of future literacy in the face of grand challenges.

Photo: Huseyin Bostanci

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