Did you say speculations? Participatory programming for Econ Sci Fi in Istanbul

With @alex_levene I’m developing the programmatic format of the Econ Sci Fi zone of experimentation at the #nextgengov event in Istanbul. Between 3 - 6 hrs, in begins with the panel @alberto is convening - see here, and then moves into a series of immersive activities for attendees to flesh out how they might actually speculate applications of economic science fiction in real-world contexts. My work on it is bringing together my background in experimental learning and thinking spaces with my research in speculative political economics.

To summarise from our working documents with the UNDP team:

This experimentation space that will play out at the 2018 Istanbul Innovation Days will bring together professional economists, entrepreneurs experimenting with enterprise-scale economic models, civic and cultural leaders working with new socio-economic systems and sci -fi writers to discuss and to start potentially teasing out operating models of for new economic systems, unhindered by and leveraging current governance constraints.
The intention is to try and unpack possibilities for rethinking our economic systems, currently hiding within the pages of popular culture and less visible cultural spaces by exposing them to the harsh light of modern economic theory. A wide ranging enquiry that looks at melding ecological impacts with new forms of energy and other production, and embodying principles of just governance and integrity in decision making.

For our meeting with Mili, I developed an initial program sketch with some ideas for activities and tools, which I include below. Mili was enthusiastic about the approach and would like to apply the framing to other zones of experimentation. So I’m sharing them here and will now document my work to flesh out the participatory programming further, open to shared reflection and input.

Potential EDGE Program format


  1. Panel - Economic science fiction author and economist present their work followed by in conversation (convenor: @alberto )
  • Orientations - ie. tracing the topology: contexts attendees are working in
  • Clarify a cross-section of contextual challenges - eg. Bureaucratic constraints/ Social-economic inequality/ Access and inclusion
  1. Speculations - ie. unpacking possibilities for rethinking our economic systems in these contexts through with sci fi provocations
  • Offer various speculative devices as tools and provocations for addressing these contexts
  • Break out groups on particular contexts/ challenges
  1. Applications - ie. how to implement these possibilities in the real-world contexts through take-away provocations and experimentation tools potentially applicable

Potential programmatic devices

  • Elements of an economic system - Eg. production, exchange, circulation, distribution
  • Forms of alter-economic apparatuses - Eg. blockchain, universal basic income
  • Dialogical techniques - Eg. public-panel-relay
  • Simulation techniques- Eg. DS4SI’s productive fictions
  • Orientations
  • Landscapes, lenses…
  • Collaborative design/writing instruments
  • Eg. Collaborative writing, charette, Question game
  • Decision-making apparatuses - Eg. Degustation-conversation, World Cafe
  • Speculative fiction
  • Toolkits

To move forward, I will now map key concepts and contextual elements to inform the flow and an actual array of activities. One component that will help this is the post I believe you’ll be doing @alberto on the key elements of economic science fiction. So I’m wondering, when do you think you’ll be getting to that? In any case, I’ll be starting with the contextual elements of the event for now.

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Impressive work, @anique.yael! At least the part that I understand (what is a “programmatic device”? A “cross-section of contextual challenges”?).

Just wanted to flag that this is looking like a facilitated exercise, and I can see how post-its might be involved. This is appropriate, given that the Istanbul edition of Econ-SF is client facing. At the same time, it is definitely not how the main event is going to pan out. This is our edgiest, most fun project: facilitation is verboten, and all hands are going to be onto deep, scary, very possibly confrontational deep discussion.

I guess the BXL format would be just panel + speculations, divided into groups. Again, I don’t think we offer any “speculative devices” beyond the panel’s content. I vaguely imagine it as an unconference, where people would want to go deep on themes like economic freedom (cyberpunk “bad corps” trope, The Moon is a harsh mistress), bots-selling-to-bots economies (“Economics 2.0” in Charles Stross’s Accelerando), copyright (much cyberpunk literature), reputation economies vs. gift economies (like in Walkaway) etc. etc. Participants will probably bring their own obsessions.

Thanks for the thoughts @alberto, and indeed this really is just a braindump of my initial sketches, so I can appreciate that it may not be so legible!

As I unpack each format sub-section in the coming weeks it will get clearer, however let me elucidate now that this is certainly not a facilitated exercise but rather a series of immersive experiments. Each sub-section - eg. Orientations - offers attendees :
a) the chance to participate to the degree of their comfort
b) tools with which to participate, devised for and adaptable to different personality types and areas of interest
c) conditions conducive for collaborative and semi-self-guided experimentation in and beyond the event

I will share some examples next week or so once we hear back from Mili that we can move forward.

In terms of the main event, I absolutely stand by your intention for the Doctorow/ Mazzucato panel main event. As you know, since the earliest conversations there has also been discussion about how some break out sessions could offer interested people other ways to explore these ideas through potential application. This is an opportunity for us to bring wider audiences into the event, particularly those who don’t respond to high level discussion, as well as those like our friends at Unbewitch Finance, who are interested in speculative pragmatic interventions in the real-world. If I understand correctly, @alex_levene and I have both been interested in this and have experience in diverse contexts. In the spirit of the Who Does The Work Calls The Shots principle of Edgeryders, and considering this is the closest project to my own research practice, I will drive at least one break out event that offers attendees an immersive experimentation zone out of the main panel event. We have plenty of time to make sure that this does not impinge on the main panel session but only augments it!

Totally. And not only that: it is actually a value to experiment with different angles that people can come at this thing from. Me, I am a one-trick pony: I can’t think much beyond sink-or-swim. This way of doing things has merit, and I am fond of it. But very happy that you are trying other approaches. Well done.

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Bruce has confirmed that he is unable to take part in the UNDP sessions, so we move on to the other options.
I will reach out to Stross, and go back through the original list to see if there’s another option that we have so far overlooked.
I’d be interested to look at a gender balance if possible, so we may need to look at moving some budget around and bringing someone over from USA. Fortunately there is movement in the budget to enable that.

Gender balance would be great. But honestly, not much economics in the Newitz book. Hmm.

Thanks for taking on the consideration @alex_levene I appreciate it.

@alberto and I have talked further about it and think the wiki could be a good place to get some fresh ideas on potential and relevant speakers.

After a very quick skim, here are a few:

  • Malka Older author of the Centenal Cycle series could be most relevant, especially considering her background in humanitarian aid, studies at Harvard and Masters in international relations and economics from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Johns Hopkins University, not to mention her current doctoral work on the sociology of organizations and the dynamics of multi-level governance.
  • Cary Neeper author of Webs of Varok which has economics in it is a woman. She is active on twitter here and has a contact page on her website.

I have sent messages to both of these authors, also to Daniel Suarez

@alex_levene and I are proud to say that the programming framework for the Econ Sci Fi zone is now finished!

As per this post, it is accompanied by a booklet, which will be shared shortly also.

For those interested, you can take a look at the format including the immersive experiments here. Look out for a blog post by me framing how they’ve come together, straddling the place of speculative practice-based research and liminal leadership in reimagining #nextgengov in the next week. And check out the latest by @alex_levene here!

Ping @Malka @alberto @Raffaele

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