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Dr Deon Cloete

Futurist Profile


Dr Deon Cloete

Futures-orientated Complex Systems Change & Systemic Innovation Specialist

Head: Futures Programme - South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA)

Education: PhD (Complex Systems Change), MTh (Clinical Pastoral Psychology), BA Hons (Counselling Psychology)

Deon answered a few questions about his perspective and on being a futures thinker.


You identify yourself as an African futures thinker or practitioner. How would you describe to the woman or man on the street what it is that you do in this regard?

I explore the key uncertainties facing Southern Africa and the African continent to help build collective capacity to anticipate and prepare for major political, economic, social, security, technological and environmental disruptors facing the region. I help Southern Africans discover new possibilities for systemic change, deep innovation and proactive governance to deal with strategic risks and leverage emerging opportunities for meeting high-impact developmental goals.

How many years have you worked as an African futures thinker / practitioner?

Five years

In which countries or places have you had working experience as an African futures thinker / practitioner?

South Africa, Mozambique, Ghana and Kenya

In what languages have you undertaken futures / foresight related work or research?


What is it that motivates you to work or participate in the foresight / future studies / related field

It motivates me to share alternative ideas about our capacity to change ourselves, organisations or large-scale systems by thinking differently about the interrelated complex nature of problems. When we see our past/s and future/s differently it opens possibilities for becoming different kinds of change agents because we step into a reimagined role as agents of change which allow for real change and innovation to take place due to our new way of relating to our world/s.

What goal/s would you most like to reach with your work as an African futures thinker / practitioner?

I’m trying to build Southern African capacity to use the future better through (1) strategic foresight and futures thinking, (2) systemic innovation to enable transformative futures, and (3) anticipatory governance to build capacity to re-imagine alternative forms of governance and government.

Who or what most influenced your thinking as a futures thinker / practitioner, and how?

Working closely with two mentors: (1) Dr Rika Preiser that guided me in my ability to apply complexity and systems thinking to wicked problems and (2) Tanja Hichert who revealed the transformative potential and practical application of futures thinking and strategic foresight methods to me, especially when infused with complex systems thinking and her creativity and enthusiasm to design facilitated transformative spaces.

What is your main disciplinary background? (i.e. your primary training / qualification)

In retrospect I’ve realised that I followed an “undisciplinary journey” despite my interdisciplinary background in the social sciences (Business Management, Industrial Psychology, Counselling Psychology and Pastoral Psychology) but then specialised as a Transdisciplinarian in complexity and systems theory principles (philosophy of complexity) that can be applied to all types of systems in all fields of research. Later my focus became the application of complexity in the Management Sciences (Organisation Theory/Organisational Development and Change).

How do other people describe you and how do you describe yourself?

Others describe me as… a discoverer
I describe myself as… a systems change co-curator



What is one of your favourite quotes about the future?

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” - Lao Tzu

“No one knows with anywhere near sufficient certainty what the future will be. Nonetheless the fundamental unpredictability of the future does not mean that we should therefore not concern ourselves about the future and merely trust in luck, god, or fate; or else to just prepare ourselves to muddle through when new crises suddenly arise. Rather, it means that we need to take a more appropriate stance towards the future than either a search for predictive certainty, leaving it up to fate, or trying to muddle through. But what might that ‘more appropriate stance’ be? First of all, ‘the future’ may be considered as emerging from the interaction of four components: events, trends, images, and actions.” - Jim Dator

How would you describe the state of African futures thinking right now?

Futures thinking is viewed as elitist and strongly influenced by Western paradigms of thinking. Much work needs to be done to embed futures literacy as a key pillar to African societal flourishing.

What is, in your opinion, the main barrier to uptake of futures knowledge by African institutions and organisations?

Thinking in systems and awareness-making, i.e. capacity to decolonise

If you were to give advice to someone who wants a career in African foresight / future studies, what would you say to him or her?

1. Embrace complexity and relational theories of change.
2. Critically engage with the notion of “non-linear time”.
3. Interrogate your deeply held assumptions that inform your images about the past/future (your worldviews, values, identities).
4. Explore ways of “becoming anticipatory”.

What are your recommended readings for every African futures thinker / practitioner?

New Thinking for a New Millennium: The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies - Richard A. Slaughter

Working with the Future: Ideas and tools to govern uncertainty - Roberto Poli

Jim Dator: A Noticer in Time. Selected Work, 1967–2018 - Jim Dator

Anticipation, Agency and Complexity - Roberto Poli & Marco Valerio

Pereira, L., Cloete, D., Biggs, O., Hamman, M., Preiser, R. & Hichert, T. 2017. Incubating ideas on how southern Africa can manage the Anthropocene. The Conversation. January 5.

Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope - Bill Sharpe

What are your recommendations for other favourite futures resources: websites, newsfeeds, mailing lists, associations, etc.?

Association of Professional Futurists
Forum for the Future
School of International Futures
Next Wave Futures


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