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MOD.’s Futurists in Residence

Posted 12 Dec

Brooke Ferguson
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Scott Smith and Susan Cox-Smith were the inaugural SA Water Futurists in residence at MOD. for the month of November, 2023. Scott Smith is the founder and managing partner of Changeist, a futures research and consulting partnership established in the US in 2007. Susan Cox-Smith is is a partner and director, experience for Changeist and has over twenty years of experience as a writer, designer, creative director, interactive producer, and researcher who seeks to enrich public engagement with possible futures. Find their recount of their month as futurists in residence at MOD. below.

There are photographic portraits of Scott and Susan. Both show their upper body and faces. Scott is to the left, and Susan to the right.
Scott Smith & Susan Cox-Smith

What we do

As professional futurists, we spend a great deal of time exploring others’ futures, working with large companies, governments and cultural organizations around the world. While this is often enriching, and often provides interesting on-the-job learning, we seldom get a chance to stop and explore our own ideas and interests, and engage in some useful research and development. 

We recently had the privilege (and professional luxury!) of participating in the UniSA Visiting Research Fellowship Program (VRF), decamping from our personal and operational home in Barcelona, Spain to spend four weeks based at MOD as “futurists-in-residence,” learning from university faculty and researchers, as well as some of the brightest people in the wider Adelaide community.  

Our goals

Our long journey was embarked upon with several key objectives in mind. The first was to delve more deeply into our ongoing exploration of strategic simulations as an emergent tool in futures work, that is, understanding how people learn and make decisions in uncertain, complex and often unanticipated situations. These simulations could potentially serve as a tool for assessing individual anticipatory capacity in uncertain decision environments. Our goal was to refine our understanding of how people interact with “the future” as a phenomenon.

Our residency

The VRF opportunity allowed us to widen our research and make significant progress in understanding how it connects to other fields, getting feedback and discussing potential new approaches along the way. Moreover, we were able to share our own experience and expertise in applied strategic foresight with local practitioners, especially those working in design and public engagement. This included workshopping with the MOD. team, the wider UniSA community, the South Australia foresight Community of Practice, and SA Water, a supporter of the VRF program.

Our stay gave us an unexpected opportunity to spend time with MOD. staff, its moderators and visitors, and better understand the function of this valuable experiential space within the UniSA and Adelaide ecosystems. We were also able to explore the city, its museum sector and universities, and spend time exploring South Australia’s cultural and natural sites, from coastline to deep interior. We were particularly grateful for the thoughtful landing on Kaurna Yerta that coincided with our arrival, the opportunity to sit with generous Aboriginal voices, and pay our respects to Country at the outset of our journey.

Scott and Susan in a flight simulator, spending time on Country at Mawson Lakes and talking on stage at foresight community of practice event
Scott and Susan in a flight simulator, spending time on Country at Mawson Lakes and talking on stage at foresight community of practice event

Our learnings

Our collective learnings from this time are invaluable. This time provided us with an opportunity to reconsider our initial framework for designing immersive simulations for strategy. It also encouraged us to rethink the levels of interaction design in these simulations and in public facing workshops. As non-academic practitioners, the VRF experience was an invaluable chance to connect with a new community of people and ideas. It provided us with a fresh perspective, free from commercial considerations, and allowed us to reframe our broader research concept. And we made a few human and animal friends along the way!

Our participation in the VRF program was a transformative experience that allowed us to broaden our research horizons and establish meaningful relationships. The program provided unique opportunities for knowledge exchange and potential for future collaborations. We’re confident that these experiences and connections will significantly contribute to our future endeavors, further solidifying our bond with UniSA, Adelaide, and South Australia for the future.

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