Seven Questions with Marcela Capaja and John A. Sweeney

2022 Equity Rises Request for Proposals

Marcela Capaja joined SOIF as the Creative Lead and Network Weaver, supporting a programme of security related projects seeking to further systems thinking driver futures in the security sector. She has recently been involved in the development of forward looking provocations on the future of nuclear safeguards out to 2057, which engaged next generation voices and diverse perspectives in partnership with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Dr. John A. Sweeney is an award-winning author, designer, and futurist. In 2021, John joined SOIF as the Transformative Foresight Lead and is also the UNESCO Chair in Futures Studies for Anticipatory Governance and Sustainable Policymaking at Westminster International University in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

This is part of a series of interviews in which you can get to know the grants given under the 2022 Equity Rises Request for Proposals and the people behind all the work.

Question 1: Tell us about your work! What kind of goals do you have? What are you excited about?

We are a global non-profit group of practitioners of futurists who work to make life better for future and present generations. Our vision is a better, fairer and more sustainable world for current and future generations.
SOIF brings people together across sectors, themes and regions to create a better world by engaging with the future today.
We are excited about curating critical and creative spaces to imagine how things can and might be otherwise. Our goal is related to the key challenge of our time: both to imagine a better future and to identify pathways to achieve it.

Question 2: How do you measure progress?

We measure progress through looking at the impact of our work from various angles. The direct and immediate effects of foresight can be difficult to measure, especially if we are working on long-term futures and if the foresight component is just one part of a broader piece of work. We focus on three interrelated elements to measure progress by supporting:

  • Leaders to make intergenerationally fair decisions
  • Organisations and sectors to prepare for the future
  • Citizens in shaping their desired futures

Question 3: How do you think including more diverse voices will affect your work and the nuclear policy field?

Our experience shows that greater diversity in perspective, ethnicity, culture, and experience provides more dynamic insights, and can also provide a transformative experience, especially when attention is given to amplifying voices from the global South. As we work on this project, there will be a central commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In part, this will be ensured through leveraging SOIF’s extensive Next Generation Foresight Practitioner network, which is a global network with 500 members spanning across 80 countries.
By bringing to the table ‘unusual suspects’ and less familiar voices, we hope to enhance and enrich the dialogue by capturing a diversity of perspectives and hearing from non-traditional partners, allowing the opportunity to cross-pollinate ideas beyond the nuclear policy field. This has proved to be valuable and transformative in the past, particularly in such a domain as nuclear policy.

Question 4: What's the most interesting thing you've done, seen, or gotten involved with in your career?

We’ve been fortunate to have worked with some large organisations across a range of sectors. Whether we were launching a global horizon scanning function for international police and law enforcement or supporting country-level planning within the UN system, we remain most interested in helping people imagine the future in new ways.
What is most interesting about helping people imagine the future is seeing what happens when they “get it.” One cannot “unsee” the power of foresight, which is not about forecasting the future, but rather about how we might challenge our assumptions, illuminate our biases, and enhance our capacity for anticipatory thinking.
John: If I had to pick one project, I would choose two! A few years back while working for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies as the Global Futures and Foresight Coordinator, I had the opportunity to be part of the team who designed a game about the future that was played on Whatsapp. We had over 4000 players from 120 countries contribute insights, and this process shaped the priority areas for the organisation’s 10-year strategy.
Another one of the most interesting things that I have been involved with in my career has been A Temporary Futures Institute, which ran at the Contemporary Museum in Antwerp. Bringing together futurists and artists, this event focused on enabling public-driven futures thinking through the lens of the four-futures method (collapse, disciplined, growth, and transform).

Question 5: What’s the one thing about the nuclear policy field you wish people knew or would talk about more often?

There is a rich history of scenarios being used as a tool within the nuclear policy field, but there is also a range of other futures and foresight tools and methods available for generating insights and seeding action.
We wish that people knew more about the whole range of approaches that are being used to challenge the status quo, such as the amazing work done by groups such as N Square Collaborative and Altimeter.
From artefacts from the future to experiential futures installations, there are lots of great examples of work that pushes the borders and boundaries of plausible, possible, and even preferable futures.

Question 6: What advice do you have for someone trying to enter the nuclear policy and security field?

We would not consider ourselves experts in the field and have been learning along the way. If we were to offer any advice, it would be this: find a community.
We have benefited greatly from the generosity and collegiality of people with more experience, so seek out experienced voices and mentors.
Find spaces where you can ask questions openly and freely. Seek out platforms and in-person engagements where questions are more important than answers.
They exist!

Question 7: What is the best book you’ve read recently?

Marcela: Tom Cheesewright’s High Frequency Change - an approachable, practical, and insightful book on foresight work.
John: Graeber & Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity - a sweeping and dynamic re-imagining of the human story.


Seven Questions with Marcela Capaja and John A. Sweeney @aloha_futures @SOIFutures

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