PhD Application: Institute for Sustainable Futures

I’ve recently applied to do a PhD in ‘Sustainable Futures’ at the Institute for Sustainable Futures (which is located at University of Technology Sydney). I’ll find out soon if I’m successful, including – I hope – in securing a scholarship so I can do the PhD full-time.

Proposed topic: “Understanding, using, and influencing the future: the evolution, status, and roles of futures research activities in efforts to address major sustainability challenges”

Summary: In my thesis I plan to examine the increasing use of “foresighting” techniques and exercises in the context of efforts to anticipate, understand, and resolve complex sustainability challenges. An example such challenge is shifting from current energy systems to low/zero-carbon, more distributed energy systems.  Traditional forecasting and planning methods are often inadequate tools in this context, and consequently different and emerging methods and practices like future scenario building/analysis, “visioning”, and technological roadmapping are increasingly common. However, these methods and practices often have little influence and their effects are often poorly evaluated — in brief, their promise is often not matched by the reality. Why is that? How could they be enhanced and become more influential?

A mixed-methods approach will be adopted, using multiple case studies (e.g. of the CSIRO’s recent use of these methods and practices, such as the “Energy Futures Forum” and “Future Fuels Forum“, Forum for the Future’s “Sustainable Shipping Initiative“, or The Climate Group’s “SMART 2020” project on the potential future roles of the ICT sector in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, etc) and “action research” methodologies to: 1) examine successes and failures to-date in taking up these new practices and methods; and 2) identify and test new strategies and theory-informed approaches for improving the use of these practices and methods.

I summarise the above topic as “Effective ‘foresighting’ for creating a sustainable future”!

I welcome suggestions and feedback, e.g. suggestions for case studies or information on relevant action research opportunities (stephen.mcgrail[at]gmail.com).

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