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The brief called for a blog

1 May 2011

So, the brief called for a blog – something to provide reassuring signs of life behind the scenes of the FFD portal. Now the closest I've come to blogging is yawning my way through Julia and Julie, a Hollywood film about one of the first celebrity chefs in the US and her (particularly creepy) blogging fan. In short: I'm not the blogging type. I'm also not the cooking type, so I should have saved my money and avoided a movie about fawning blogs and foie gras recipes. Nevertheless, I thought I'd give this one a go, hoping it would turn out a lot more like a chatty letter from an editor and a lot less like mashed duck liver. What is hoped for and what is delivered are often two entirely different things, but a promise I will keep is this: you won't find here cooking tips from me – it'd be a health hazard.

Since you're reading this, you've probably navigated your way via our homepage. I trust you've noticed that the FFD website looks a little different. It's one of a few changes underway at double eff dee dot org.

Gone is the seventies' style look-and-feel you've grown accustomed to on the beta site. A cleaner, fresher design and a faster-to-download template have been introduced. Much like a spring-cleaned office, you'll discover that what was once over there is now over here. There's logic behind our reorganised site. Users do things with and to websites, and what users do on our website is read, watch, share, collaborate, find and donate. These six verbs have shaped the navigational structure of our re-launched portal.

We've also implemented a thematic approach, choosing specific topics as a way to profile content from our repository for the foresight community. Our theme in May is democracy, an apposite choice given recent and ongoing events in North Africa and the Middle East. Let's not forget, too, that voting is something that many millions of Africans – like the seventy-five million who participated in Nigeria's presidential elections in April – will do in 2011. Millions, though, won't get to exercise their democratic right to pick their own leaders. Will their (and our) futures be any different? Do futurists and other intellectuals from the continent regard democracy as an ineffaceable fact of Africa's future? Is democracy a catalyst for or a product of the continent's development? Or, will the fashion for democracy recede? As the Institute of Security Studies researchers point out in African Futures 2050, forecasting democracy is far more difficult than offering predictions about demography and the economy.

Of the new content features introduced to our site, the most exciting is Profile. Every month we tell you about a futurist from the continent. Aidan Eyakuze, project director at the Society for International Development and director of Serengeti Advisers Limited, is our futurist for the month of May. It's a privilege for us to feature Aidan on our website, and we're sure you'll understand why once you've read his profile. In Bibliozone, foresight and futures-related material capturing what some futurists have to say about democracy and Africa's future is identified. In Bibliozone Plus, some research papers on digital democracy – or e-voting, if you prefer – are available. We've done the slog work of a research assistant for you, and we'll keep generating lists of recommended and relevant material in Bibliozone and Bibliozone Plus for each of our forthcoming themes – more about this in my next post. Interesting and provocative quotes from futurists and other influential types are to be had in Talk-@-ive, while in 20:20 vision we juxtapose a mixed bag of events from twenty years ago with predictions (and, sometimes, pipe-dreams) for Africa's future, twenty years hence.

The other change, of course, is me. Acting as the caretaker director of FFD for the next three months is an opportunity I couldn't resist. FFD has a great deal of potential, but it hasn't fulfilled this as yet. I'll repeat here what I said to our team members in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg, Lagos and Pretoria: those of us who contribute to this particular online foresight initiative carry an enormous responsibility. We're supporting a community of practice that imagines futures for Africans that, to borrow Olugbenga Adesida's words, are not self-fulfilling prophecies of fatalism. If we fail, we lose more than our consulting fees.

FFD has ambitious plans for its own future. As we expand our repertoire and bring on board new partners, our website will feature more products and services for you because we are committed to fulfilling our mission to build foresight capacity and expand its use for the continent's benefit. This FFD portal website is merely the start of that process.




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