What might Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health look like in 2030? And what might the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector require from health research at that time?
This project is not about predicting the future, but about helping us prepare for – and possibly to shape – our futures.
The Lowitja Institute applied the methods used in futures thinking – a growing discipline now used increasingly as a tool for leadership – to consider how health researchers can be best prepared to support the challenges that may face the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector in the future.
Our experience in recent years has shown that often the research questions that are important to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector require skills beyond our current capacity – and it takes a long time to train up new researchers into areas of expertise that aren’t already around. And, by the time research gets done, the attention of policy makers and health service providers have moved on to a new set of problems.
We hope to reduce that time lag by trying to anticipate the sorts of challenges likely to exist in 10–15 years time; and sharing that thinking with the health research community and our other stakeholders.
What is futures thinking?
Futures thinking involves looking at a range of possible plausible futures, and the implications that might stem from them, to help inform long-range planning. It involves thinking deeply and broadly, thinking with an open heart and spirit as well as an open mind. It involves drawing on the past, not simply the recent past but the patterns of history, civilisations and generations. It involves looking at emerging issues and trends and considering how these might influence the future.
The Lowitja Institute ‘Possible futures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research’ project is informed particularly by the work of internationally renowned futurist Sohail Inayatullah, who has worked with many of the world’s leading businesses and organisations as diverse as the Dutch, Canadian and Australian Federal police, the Gold Coast City Council (and many other local and State governments), the Hawaiian and Victorian judiciaries, Ernst and Young, Boeing and Suncorp Bank. To read more about Sohail and his work, go to www.metafuture.org.
A taste of futures thinking
Futures thinking has been used in many fields. These quotes (below and in the right hand column) provide a flavour of some of the future scenarios that have been contemplated in the Australian or international context. They may be useful in thinking about how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and health research might look in 2030.
Possible futures of health care in Australia
An ageing population, expensive medical technology and growing costs and expectations of health care could lead to three quite different but equally plausible future scenarios in Australia:
- An inequity model, where the rich get in first and others wait;
- A rationing model, where everyone waits for access to a completely overstretched system; or,
- A prevention model focused on equity, empowerment and personal responsibility, using evidence-based policies and technologies.Inayatullah, S. The Health Advocate, 2010