Community Futures (2005)

Sohail Inayatullah
Professor, Tamkang University, Queensland University of Technology, Sunshine Coast University and Transcend Peace University.


This short article explore the futures of community in Australia. It does so using futures methods. Futures methods seek to understand the future seeing the future not as an empty space to be filled but as a space already seeded by current images and drivers. Futures methods are concerned as much with the future out there (external political, technological, economic variable) as well as the future in here (the myths and meanings each individual and collectivity brings)

For this exercise, we will use four futures methods – the futures triangle, emerging issues analysis, causal layered analysis and scenarios.

First we map the futures using the Futures Triangle The futures triangle has three dimensions – alternative images, drivers and weights.

Second we explore trends and emerging issues, using emerging issues analysis. Emerging issues analysis patterns current known problems, uncertain trends and improbable but of potential high impact emerging issues.

Third we unpack the future, using the method Causal layered Analysis. CLA moves beyond official statements of the problem to underlying systemic causes, worldviews that give meaning to these systems (provide cognitive maps which create shared understanding) and then articulates underlying myths.

Finally we conclude with alternative futures of community in Australia.


Community, while appearing to have one meaning, can be seen to have multiple meanings and contexts.

First, it is understood in opposition to the market (jungle, economic relations, dog eat dog) and the state (power, party politics).

Second, Community as a site of shared identity, whether that of a neighborhood, a community of scholars, medical professionals, or indeed, sex workers.

Third, recent understanding have moved community to being part of the nation’s (or global) social capital. As necessary for economic growth and for resilience in the face of hardship.

Fourth, have been definitions around health and community. Social inclusion has been identified as a protector against various illnesses. [1]



What are the competing images of community?

1. First is the image of  the white picket fence in the safe suburb. The community is homogeneous, the economy is booming, personal relations are important. Conflicts are handled by community leaders, generally elected representatives. Entrance is difficult in this image.
The push for this image was the transition from agricultural to industrial and then the emergence of the postindustrial economy.
A secondary push were individuals leaving the city because of their higher income for more affluent lifestyles.

The weight has been the environmental impact of suburbs, the health impact (the plaza, the car as primary transport mechanism) and the anomie that has resulted – the disconnect of the suburb with the rest of the world.

2. The global community (of nations, of human). This image is focused on humanistic notions of community instead of political (might will win) or economic (wealth will win) but on rational reasonable “men” negotiating peace and goodwill.

The push to this image was the ravages of war, the need for mechanisms that could ensure peace for future generations. Another push was developments in psychology where the id could be tamed through reason.

The weight has been the military-industrial complex and the centre-periphery nature of the world community (security council, for example, dominating the United Nations).

Governance thus is limited in its participation, eligibility of entry is crucial.

3. The hybrid, emergent image is that of the fluid community. Individuals move in and out of identity. Entrance into the community is based on interest. Exit means a new interest. Movement is easy.

The push in this image has been globalization (rapid movement of capital and now labour, as well as cultural products). A recent push has been digitalization with the creation of new communities. The departure from the suburbs to intentional communities in the last few decades was a precursor to the more rapid global and cyber community creation.

4. The last image is that of active communities. Communities not as site of passivity, of receiving declarations from globalization, nations, developers but as a site of agency. Communities, whatever they may be, visioning their desired futures. Active, healthy, vibrant engaged communities. Empowered by their capacity to vision where they want to go (instead of where they came from), by their capacity to deal with difference, and mediate conflict between the “strangers and dangers” within the community.

The push has been the loss of agency felt by a rapidly changing world (globalization, geneticization, urbanization, terrorism).

The weight is the balance of power between community and national and global interests. As communities strengthen, as globalization strengthens, what of the nation and the state.

We thus have four contending images of the future

White picket fence
Community of nations
Fluid Communities
Active communities

As well as multiple drivers and weights.


These maps are based on current understandings of communities, exits and entries and levels of participation. However, the future may change. Through emerging issues analysis, we chart out what trends and particularly what emerging issues are likely to change this map.

While current problems are around issues of:

1. local communities and national interest (can one be both muslim and Australia)
2. the breakdown of communities (increasing perception of crime, divorce rates, high housing prices leading to demographic shifts, often dramatic). [2]
3. the survival of local economies in a globalized era (the Maleny versus woolworths battle, for example).

Trends are more focused on issues where quantitative information is emerging, for example, 1. the development of cyber intentional communities that are giving new meanings to individuals and communities that are part of them. The rise of citizen visioning among communities.

Emerging issues are further out. Some of these may be:

1. The geneticization of communities. As gene therapy, germ line intervention continue to evolve and play a far more major role in how we create the human population, we may see communities along the lines of who is natural, who is not.
2. Cyber democracy. Currently there are experiments in cyber democracy but focused mostly on reality tv. Cyber democracy may plan a dramatic role in enhancing community participation. A whole range of new forms of political, economic and social participation are possible. This is especially true with children, ie the digital natives who equate digitalization with flatter organizational structures, malleable associations, and cooperative learning environments.
3. Schools as learning and community centres. As communities seek to find ways to develop collective understanding of a changing world, the notion of schools as centres of learning for the entire community is a possibility that could revitalize the community and create a new hub (previously held by the church).
4. New entrants into the community – how might artificial intelligence systems impact communities. Will pet dogs eventually become a central feature? Will the rise in household robots play a role in how we life, love and learn? Will this lead to increased time for humans? Will ai systems create smart houses, smart transport systems and eventually totally networked and adaptive smart communities?
5. Can communities become alive in the collective sense, ie if we fuse gaian thinking (James Lovelock, The gaia hypothesis)[3] with nano-technology, can the community become as living as its individual members. Will communities of the 21st century be foundationally different to those of previous centuries.
6. What will role will developments in meditation as an IQ enhancing technology play in creating learning communities, that is, if Sheldrake and other transpersonal evolutionary biologists are correct, new memes and learning fields may create a collective intelligence. Will meditation be the strange attractor, the driver for a jump in collective intelligence? Will this jump lead to the creation of more peaceful, prosperous communities?
7. Finally, what will be the future indicators of communities? Will most communities adopt the triple bottom line – economic wealth, social inclusion and environmental sustainability? And is spirituality the fourth bottom line, that which creates the deeper cohesion for all communities.[4]

While these emerging issues may be improbable, especially in the short run, their development in the long run is far more plausible, and promises to change the context of communities.

What should then stay the same? In a world where it is not just the increasing rate of change (which is now a banal statement) but the heterogeneity of change (fast time with slow time; globalization with localization; patriarchy with gender cooperation; clash and cooperation between civilizations) and the loss of agency that make mapping the future crucial, but the complexity of change (how bird flu outbreaks and mutation in Vietnam could dramatically impact communities in Australia).


CLA attempts to unpack the future, focusing on multiple levels of causality. All levels are equally important and qualitatively different.

Level 1, the litany, is focused on the official description of the problem, how regional newspapers, for example, define problems.

Level 2, the systemic, is focused on the interrelationship of problems, solutions and the systems that support them.

Level 3, the worldview, the cognitive and emotive maps we use to make sense of the world, is focused on divergence, of stakeholders can have dramatically different takes on a subject.

Level 4, is the myth and metaphor level, this is the story. Level 4 is the hub of the spoke on the wheel, hardest to change, but leads to the deepest change.

If a current issue is the fragmentation of community, then at that level what is the solution. This is often creating government programs to fund those under risk. It is also church programs and speeches by clergy for more morality, for taking care of others.

A level 2 analysis shows how the fragmentation of the community is created by multiple factors – globalization and economic movement, labour shifting to different areas of the market. Second is the search for a better life, movement toward the Beach. Third, is the work requirements of a postindustrial economy (two incomes, quick time) and the resultant loss of leisure (except as packaged leisure) and loss of family. Fourth is the rise of the women’s movement, desire for a fair go, fair wages, and the resultant loss of the hub of the community (the women’s circle of sharing information, data and gossip, all foundational and evolutionary necessities in creating the communities of today. As time speeds up, as work increases, then the individual family and then the community all are put under pressure. Strategies focus on labour saving devices, new entertainment centre (to escape work and create the tele-community), hiring casual workers to engage in the household economy. The creation of urban villages has been a dramatic strategy, a return to the city but in a village context, thus moving away from the ravages of the suburb.
Level 2 solutions require whole of government but as well whole of society strategies. They are complex with intervention in one site changing the entire landscape.

A level 3 analysis asks: what the are the dominant worldviews around community? What are the main stakeholders.

First is the economic worldview, where community was essentially about potential consumers. Technology has enhanced this by opening up the home as a site of shopping. The plaza has become the postmodern cathedral. “I shop therefore I am” creates community meaning.

Second is the green worldview. Community is the site of agency, of creating environmental, economic and cultural sustainability. Community need to be both socially inclusive (dialogue of religions, civilizations) and are central to creating the good society. Community is the real polis, where differences are understood and the good society create.

Third is the national. Community is an important part of governance, even if the lowest. Federal to state to local. It is at the community where neighbors can ensure that no terrorists are operating; it is at the local where policies can succeed, where elections are won and lost. It is at the local that the myths are generated (the aussie battler, for example). Communities are required for the running of a healthy nation – they ensure that traditional values of family, One god, one people, values (respect for elders) continue. Community is where we feel safe and at home. Community at heart is about security, and comfort.

Fourth is the globalist – Community is what defines us, we become who we are through the social. Communities must be porous, allowing new ideas, capital and labour through. They are quick, they adapt, they provide the glue that allows a world community to emerge. Communities thus are layered moving from the small to the grand.

At this level, the key is to understand that individuals hold different worldview and often cannot understand the perspective of others. Policies fail because the worldview map does not allow individuals to make sense of others.

The myth level is the deepest. It is here that true and long lasting social change can occur. By understanding current myths and creating new myths, community can change, become far more participatory if need be.

What are some of these myths – as mentioned earlier, the white picket fence is one notion of community – home sweet home.

Another myth is that of community as a journey, as a caravan moving in a direction – this is the myth of frontier, of inclusion and expansion. There is a utopian, even spiritual dimension.

A third myth is that of the divided community – the community at war, deep conflict. These are often economic but disguised as religious. Who gets what, who has access to power. This story is about breakdown, about loss.

The last story is about the community and resilience. The community gives us health, we live longer being part of a community. We are healthier. We may struggle in a community but it gives to us as much as we give to it. The community is living, part of an adaptive learning culture. It is organic and we are its cells.

While the previous methods map the future, this final method, scenario visioning articulates the differences. These can be used to understand plausible futures and to give direction from the present to alternative futures.


These scenarios are developed from the methodological context of the futures triangle, emerging and cla. In addition, two variables are crucial:

  1. Integration to fragmentation
  2. Inventive to tradition

1. Communities in Disintegration. Divided by religion, by the inequity from globalization, from the hyper time of postindustrial knowledge economy, from increased demands and rights from the state. Communities are in increased risk. Australia travels the slow but sure path to a divided nation. The gains from its historic “fair go” history are lost as globalization creates a two class society. The rich, the mobile, the learned and the poor, single parent familes. The latter seek to join the world community, the latter seek to return to 1950s Australia. They want their picket fence and are enraged that world is no longer possible. Other divisions are between the aged and the young, each with different urban planning needs. The future for many does not look good. Political leaders however point to the GNP, which continues to grow and astound. Participatory democracy continues however, it is focused on trivial matters – beauty kinds and queens, virtual game shows, and the new “throw out one community member a year.” Gated communities thrive and many now think of the swiss model of citizenship, where the community decides who become Australian. The “fair go” is just a memory. “Give me mine” is more current.

2. Community in Flex. Globalization, technologization, intentionality, postmodernism (choosing based on preference not on tradition, ending the father to son model of religion and land rights). There are multiple communities. Australians are leaders in creating intentional communities. Social learning, social innovation has created institutional rules so that communities are safe, adaptive, learning. Communities are layered, both local, regional and global, even beyond global. Some even imagine space communities, however, most live in multiple communities – of professions, of virtualities, of genetic, of spiritual, of …Communities are constantly invented. Participation is fluid, certainly widespread. But is it deep? Commentators argue that endless choice has not given the health safeguard. Fluid communities do not provide the social protection against heart disease and cancer. Some flourish in this environment. Other are confused, and miss the safety and security of the picket fence, even if they could never be part of it.

3. Communities enclosed. In response to the breakdown of community and the simultaneous trend of the community in fluid movement, most individuals opt for enclosed communities. There is safety in likeness. Federal institutional roles ensure that there is little discrimination, however, generally once one enters a community, there is no desire for exit. Participation remains through electoral democracy. However, there remains tension between those who are fluid and those who prefer gates communities and even gated cities. Entry and exit barriers are high.

4. Communities in sustainability. The experiments of triple bottom line of twenty years ago were successful. Communities enhance inclusion and social capital by focusing on the triple bottom line. The fourth bottom line of spirituality (with the thousands of studies showing the relationship between spirituality and enhanced immune systems, IQ, longevity) is just beginning as well. Communities are open to globalization but insist on regulating speed, slowing it down when necessary. Political participation is deep with the recreation of town hall meetings. Cyber technology plus face to face lead to learning communities. The crisis of global warming and other changing patterns mean that communities are outposts for foresight, ensuring that their sustainability leads to global sustainability.


First, business as usual will likely lead to the divided community future. Merely leaving issues of community to market forces or even to federal intervention is unlikely to be effective. Finding ways to encourage, seed, community, to empower, as with the Grameen bank experience is likely to be far more productive. Government can set rules of engagement to ensure innovation and equity, however.

Second, communities should be seen as dynamic. While there are always calls to return to images of the past, communities do have resilience. This assume that the lenses we use to see communities should not be industrial (community as a cog in the wheel of democracy) but biological – communities as living dynamic ecological systems.

Third, there is choice in the matter. Communities, as suggested in the scenarios, can enhance their agency through collective self-reflection, through visioning their desired futures.


[1] Eckersley, R. 2001, Culture, health and well-being, in Eckersley, R., Dixon, J. & Douglas, B. (Eds), The Social Origins of Health and Well-being, pp. 51-70, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. See Clement Bezold, Will heart disease be eliminated in your lifetime? The best of health futures, Futures Research Quarterly (Summer 1995), 38. See Sohail Inayatullah, Scanning for City Futures. Report to the Asia-Pacific cities Summit 2003. See as well. Eliot Hurwitz, “Communities as Early Warning,” Futures Research Quarterly (Summer 1999), 75-93.Hurwitz points out two critical studies. 1. A 1992 study published in the American Journal of Public Health contrasted the two of Roseta, PA with two neighborning towns served by the same community hospital. Study investigated Roseto’s significantly lower incidence of heart attacks despite nearly identical risk factors, including smoking, high-fat diet and diabetes. The one difference was that Roseto was composed of  a very tightly knit Italian immigrant community with many three-generation households in active extended social networks. Other studies as well confirm that socially isolated people had up to five times the risk of premature death from all causes when compared to those who had a strong sense of connection and community.Dean Ornish as well in his book, Love and Survival – The Scientific Bases for the Healing Power of Intimacy (Harper Collins, 1997), cites dozens of studies, including a Swedish study of 131 women which found that availability of deep emotional relationships was associated with less coronary artery blockage independent of age, hypertension, smoking, diabetes, cholesterol, educational level and menopausal status.

See as well, Jennifer Bartlett and Sohail Inayatullah, Healthy Cities Reader. Brisbane City Council, March 2004.

[2] “Housing affordability hits 16 year low,” the couriermail, 24, March 2005, page 3. Housing affordability has plunged to a 16 year low in Queensland. Often this means that communities break down as renter have to move away from their neighbors.

[3] For more on this, see Johan Galtung and Sohail Inayatullah, Macrohistory and Macrohistorians. Wesport, Praeger, 1997. Also see, Phillip Daffara, Macrohistory and the City. Phd thesis, in progress. University of the Sunshine Coast.

[4] For more on spirituality and health, see,1249,375016315,00.html?