Hawai’i’s Shared Futures By Vision Foresight Strategy

Rethinking the visitor experience

Aloha kakahiaka, everyone.  Hope Wednesday morning is treating everyone well!  This morning we’re working further on the Reboot and our presentation for it.  Working with some futures colleagues, Day 2 of the Reboot is shaping up to be a very cool experience, one that will likely really shake up participant assumptions about how Hawai’i works and about how it could work.  Very cool stuff.

Later this morning we’ll be working on some pieces to build a new foresight framework for workforce and workforce development for Hawaii, an interesting challenge given many of the assumptions and the focus currently found in that arena.  Choosing a particular approach when constructing a new framework is always fun but also tricky: will ‘reframing’ history set them free to think new thoughts?; will a collection of emerging possibilities energize them?; or do you have to completely deconstruct their ‘worldview’ to effectively shake them up?

The Visitor Experience

A couple of weeks ago we helped with a discussion hosted by NaHHA about the visitor industry, culture, and opportunities.  Attended by some very cool folks, it was an interesting discussion about what, among other things, the visitor industry could look like in the future.  Just afterward, I was on Maui and had a range of experiences that had me reflect even further on the earlier discussions.  From staying at a resort in Makena, to camping in Ke’anae and hanging out at the Hana Taro Festival, to staying in Kahului and eating at IHOP (and vacillating on picking up Krispy Kremes [will power won the day]), it was an interesting compare/contrast.

It occurred to me that, among the many ways people and professionals frame the visitor/hospitality industry, one way is to simply consider the amount of content of the ‘everyday’ that makes up the visitor experience (via their accommodations).  It’s a question of how much the visitor accommodations (the hotel) is interwoven into the lives of local communities and thus how much the real, everyday culture of local communities is intended to shape and make the visitor experience.

At its most basic, a hotel is just a place to sleep when traveling away from home, apartments for the traveler.  Motels are the best examples, designed for people to drive up, sleep, get up, and drive on.  No frills, little mess.  There’s always a need for basic hotels, and given some of the possible futures for Hawai’i around developing new industries and becoming a global center for emerging technologies, we may need a reinvestment in this basic infrastructure.  Here, the content of the everyday within the hotel is minimal, or at best unconscious.  The everyday life and culture of the local community is picked up when they walk out the door and into the community, which they are expected to be doing, whether to attend business meetings, visit relatives, or explore.  Visitors are not meant to stay inside.

But things change, and over the years people have built resorts, which are increasingly self-contained experiences, providing a prepackaged, complete range of services.  The resort in this sense is actually a retreat, it’s intended to be an unusual, unreal place, that is, a place that doesn’t exist in everyday life.  It’s designed for people to escape from the mundane and everyday, and thus they’re typically located in environmentally unusual and beautiful places.  The retreat is intentionally walled off from the content of the everyday that is found in neighboring local communities.  And this why, when such retreats want to expose their visitors to this local content, whatever it might be, they have to import it into the retreat, staging it in ways that are typically unusual and unnatural, ways that typically don’t manifest in the everyday of local life.  And retreats, in and of themselves, aren’t necessarily bad.  In fact, all cultures and peoples feature variations of retreats, often in physical form.  But today’s retreats as found in the visitor industry take on an industrial scale and commercial character that reverberates through localities with unintentional and undesirable results.

Given this, it’s possible to see how the content of the everyday, that is, the everyday real culture of a place can be a fundamental part of of the visitor experience, and specifically through the physical reality of their very accommodations.  Back in 1999, we wrote a short piece called “Experience Hawai’i” which was a thought piece on what a new type of hotel would look like and how it would operate.  While parts of it are certainly dated (the idea of pervasive high speed internet access was novel back then!), much of it retains its relevance for our current discussions about the visitor industry and the visitor experience.  One of the things that made it an exciting piece to work on was that it placed the physical environment and the local community in the position as the primary ‘customer,’ with the visitors as a secondary component.

“Experience Hawai’i” is merely an example of what can be seen as a different set of interactions and experiences between visitors and local everyday culture.  In essence, you have to look at the challenge as one of designing a structure that is built around the everyday, a place that is interwoven into and is a functioning part of local communities.  It is a place that is intended to support living culture, the everyday activities and priorities of people.  And into this you design the capacity for visitors and the accomodation for them to move through and participate in the living, everday culture of the place.  While perhaps an inelegant analogy, such places would be like very vibrant community centers that are designed with the hospitality to accept eager and sincere visitors.

It might not be simple to create such places, but the rewards and benefits of successfully building them would be manifold and ripple across generations.  If the real culture of our communities here is really what visitors want to experience, and not just the beaches and warm weather, then this would seem to be a good new framework to discuss.

Think about tomorrow.


Filed under: Built Environment, Culture, Hawai'i

Sunday morning work (yeah, that’s right)

Good morning folks.  It’s Sunday morning and like any publicly self-respecting Gen-X business owner I’m looking over the things that need to be addressed before the Monday morning work session.  Basically, the day looks like:  a morning review of the posts and feeds, followed by a nice breakfast (it is Sunday afterall), then it might be time to draft some initial strategy mapping for a local nonprofit.  They are a small organization, but they were totally engaged in the planning session and had a very good conversation about who and what they are and how they think they can achieve their vision of the future.  It was very refreshing.  After that, I may have some time to get to a new project concept we started looking at yesterday: garage video.  Stay tuned for this one; it’s cool!

The afternoon will be devoted to more political design work, now looking at how making decisions and implementing change have to be aligned in the design process.  Oddly, a poorly developed subject, world wide.

And since we’re now looking at the 2009 Summit in October, it’s possible that we’ll be interweaving a vision component.  So, check out the short clip below, which looks at some radical and interesting visions for South Korea’s urban future.  This is something that we in Honolulu truly need to take a long, hard look at, and something that actually should make the construction industry salivate over the possibilities, but we seem to need more attention to our urban future.

Think about tomorrow.

Filed under: Built Environment, futures, Governance, Hawai'i, Summit

Rail Rantings

When we catch the headlines about the rail debate (when we can see past the happily panicked headlines about the economy that the media generates), we get the sense that, like in most emotionally charged issues, a bigger picture or context is being lost.  Some people want it to ease traffic, some want it because it will reduce dependence on oil, and others oppose it because it will cost them money for little personal benefit, or they worry about the disruptive impacts, or maybe they don’t like the mayor.

But we have a very challenging situation (and not just us in Hawai’i [we just feel more threatened], most of modern society) that we need to begin to seriously address: the built environment that we grew up with was designed without any sense of the long-term consequences, some of which we are now experiencing: pollution, traffic, energy dependence, sprawl, loss of ‘community’ and social capital, etc…

  • We created the car (the horseless carriage) and figured out how to make bazillions of them
  • The internal combustion engine won out as the basic technology, with cheap oil for fuel
  • We started building cities and towns around the car and its roads, rather than around people
  • We figured out how to create financial mechanisms so that everyone could ‘afford’ multiple cars
  • And cars came to symbolism freedom and independence and have come to be seen as a right of passage into adulthood

So, most of the world we know, and parts of our identity and sense of empowerment come from this history.  If you tried suggesting that people need to give up their cars, you’d be ignored almost out of hand.  Not just because it represents personal freedom but also because they would have an extremely difficult time getting to all of the things they need to get to in one day.  Yet it seems very clear that if we are to achieve the kind of sustainable world and enjoyable lifestyles that we all say that we want, then we do need to seriously and critically examine alternatives and opportunities for transportation systems and communities in Hawai’i.  Rail is certainly one possibility, but even if it’s not the one we ultimately go with, we have to continue to make very serious (and not necessarily costly) changes to our transportation behavior and options.  The context is much bigger than the mayoral debates might focus on, and the stakes ultimately are much higher for the next 20 years of Hawai’i’s future.

Not incidentally, we will be exploring options and alternatives for our transportation and mobility at our annual Hawai’i Futures Summit this October 3 and 4.  Check it out and join us.

Filed under: Built Environment, Hawai'i, Sustainability, Transportation

Wind Turbines

Scan: There’s been recent chatter about new wind power technology under development: wind turbines that use maglev in place of traditional mechanics and ball bearings. The new turbines are purported to be much more efficient, due to the dramatic improvement in output and increase in longevity with much lower maintenance costs (over traditional wind power towers). The Maglev Wind Turbine is under development in Arizona in the US and facilities for production are reportedly also under development in China.



Filed under: Built Environment, Climate Change, Energy, Technology

Terra without homo sapiens sapiens

Alan Weisman’s new book is The World Without Us, which takes as its premise the sudden and complete disappearance of humanity from the Earth.  In the book, he explores what would happen to our built environment, everything from the giant steel and glass edifices to the bronze and plastic implements we use, and how and how quickly the nonhuman environment would reclaim the abandoned spaces.

Weisman feels that the book can serve as more than just a thought experiment: that it can help alleviate the anxieties that prevent so many people from clearly and calmly considering the critical and natural processes that go on around us all the time, and to which we must pay better attention as we come to grips with the extent of global climate and environmental changes that may be on the horizon.

Check out the Scientific American article interviewing the science writer about this new book.


  • I Am Legend: a trailer for the upcoming movie starring Will Smith about the last man on Earth
  • Apocalypse of the Honeybees“: a quirky little article from SF Gate about the “karmic bitch-slap” that humanity may bee in for from the collapse of bee colonies and the end of food production
  • New Economics Foundation: a UK-based organization working to redefine economics “as if people and the planet mattered”

Filed under: Built Environment, Climate Change

More Desalination

Texas has a new $2.2 million pilot project desalination plant in Brownsville, part of Texas’s initiative to build a full-scale $150 million plant in 2010. A Texas spokesperson quoted in an ENN article claims desalination is just one of the more than 4,000 water management ‘strategies’ that the state has in its plan. The article goes on to explain that desalination has not become the obvious and widespread option for creating potable water because of the huge energy requirements. Currently, desalinating water costs about $650 for every 326,000 gallons (enough to supply two homes for one year), whereas purifying non potable fresh water sources costs about $200.


  • Teatro del Aqua: a new design for water desalination that capitalizes on the natural water cycle driven by the Sun near sea water, with innovative visual design and social applications
  • Global Water Intelligence: a monthly newsletter that provides information and data on the international water market

Filed under: Built Environment, Climate Change, Technology

Water desalination: harming the environment?

A recent study by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) concludes that the increasing employment of desalination around the world to supply more water to cities and populations damages coastal environments, emits green house gases, and could exacerbate climate change. The study contends that turning to desalination is not the most responsible strategy, and that people should increase their conservation of water.


Filed under: Built Environment, Climate Change, Technology

Four Scenarios of Hawai’i

Vision Foresight Strategy has a new sample set of scenarios considering how different Hawai’i’s futures could be. They use different frames of reference to set very different situations: Social, Economic, Environmental, and Political. The scenarios presented in the paper, like all good scenario analysis work, are intended to help groups explore how and why Hawai’i changes, and to consider agency (your or your organization’s role) in shaping those changes.

Thoughts: Scenario analysis work is one of the most readily recognized ‘futures studies’ tools employed to increase both foresight and common understanding about the complexity of world in which we live. ‘Scenario planning’ (something of an inaccurate title) is a particular employment of scenario analysis and was popularized by the Global Business Network in the late 1980s and 1990s and has now taken its place in the business lexicon.

Good scenario analysis work takes time and requires the participation of not only the ‘writers’, be they outside advisers or in house staff, but also of the ‘client’ group. The point to scenario analysis is really to engage decision makers and planners in a more systematic and challenging exploration of how and why the world may change. The most important results of these processes are the outcomes (new thinking, new insights, shared foresight) rather than the output (a story about the future). The futures are inherently unpredictable (see The Black Swan, below), so any method, especially one that is so commonly employed in intuitive and qualitative rather than quantitative ways, should be focused on improving critical thinking rather than enhancing predictive powers.


  • “How to Build Scenarios”: an article from Wired written by a GBN manager with four short scenarios. Be careful of the advice to focus on developing ‘robust’ strategies; the number of possible futures before you is infinite, and the exercise normally just looks at four, and in typical projects, four closely related scenarios.
  • The Black Swan: a new book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb which examines the role of change and randomness in life.
  • Limiting Urban Futures: an interesting critique of scenario analysis, with points that are valid, but also normally applicable to what we might call unsophisticated and uncritical use of scenarios in a planning process. It might also serve to caution public planners about process, transparency, and involvement.
  • Enabling the Information Society: a RAND study that employed scenarios for the future of European broadband networks.

Filed under: Built Environment, Hawai'i

Adjusting to Climate Change

Tech Review article on planning for the new global climate looks at how researchers are struggling with the need for climate change forecasts and models for regional and local levels, to aid decision makers, planners, and responders with dealing with global climate change on a local and actionable level.


Filed under: Built Environment, Climate Change

Cities to Undergo ‘Greening’

The William J. Clinton Foundation, in collaboration with the C40 Large Cities Climate Leadership Group, is implementing the ‘Clinton Climate Initiative.’  Under this initiative, sixteen major cities around the world New York, Chicago, and Houston, will be renovating municipal-owned buildings with green technologies.  Major financial institutions will be contributing $1 billion to the renovations, and companies such as Honeywell International and Siemens AG will conduct audits to ensure that the expected energy savings are obtained.  If not, they will pay the difference or make further modifications to the buildings.


Filed under: Built Environment, Climate Change

Hawai’i: the Reboot

2 days. 200 innovators. A new future for Hawai'i.

The Hawai'i Futures Summit 2009 October 16 and 17, 2009


Vision Foresight Strategy

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