The ICRS Exchange 2020: The Power of Science Fiction Thinking

On October 14, over 100 ICRS members came together at the ICRS' flagship - and this year, virtual - Exchange 2020 to discuss and share ideas on the intersection between science fiction thinking and CRS. 

2020 has seen the world turned upside down in a dystopian way that evoked many popular post-apocalyptic books and films. Things that we thought impossible 10 years ago are, however, rapidly becoming reality. And if the pandemic taught us one thing, it is that the societal and cultural norms that structure society are fragile - not stable, as may have previously been thought. Although confronting, the pandemic allows us to investigate the consequences of abrupt changes to our lives - and learn how to better prepare for them. 


Science fiction has always allowed humanity to imagine the future and all it could be. With multiple challenges facing society - including climate change, rising social inequality, and heightened disease burden, to name a few - it also gives us tools for tackling these issues, and creating the future we want. 


In an ICRS first, the ICRS Exchange 2020 was hosted virtually on Hopin. The event got underway with a warm welcome from ICRS VIce Chair Jennie Galbraith, and an introductory keynote speech from Applied Futurist Tom Cheesewright. Tom's work focuses on technology and tomorrow; in the context of CRS, this means ensuring that the future world in which we live and operate is sustainable, and that businesses and individuals are prepared for the changes that forces such as climate change will bring. Tom's speech set the scene on the forces shaping tomorrow's world, and how to respond with agility, curiosity and innovation to their consequences. For members who were not able to attend the Exchange, you can hear Jennie's welcome and Tom's keynote here. 


Buoyed by this opening address, the Exchange proceeded into the first of its Session break-outs, in which attendees could choose their own Sci-Fi adventure. On this first round of break-outs, we were joined by Marcus Morrell of Arup Foresight and invited to Live Long and Prosper in an interactive workshop exploring Arup's future scenarios, Shana Tufail, Founder of #SDGsForCamden (Rebellions are built on hope), and Fran Baker of Arm (Science is magic that works). These break-out rooms each explored different elements of the future, from the SDGs and modelling future scenarios, to social innovation and tech for good, to local community mobilisation. The sessions brought a different lens to tackling problems and using tools for change.


Following these Sessions, attendees were invited to grab a cup of tea, and try out Hopin's virtual Networking platform. Although no replacement for in-person networking, the feature did provide an element of much-missed connection, allowing members to meet each other and have a quick chat. 


With the first round of Sessions successfully completed, the Exchange proceeded into its second round of Sessions. This time, we were joined by Amanda Powell-Smith and Janek Seevaratnam to understand how we could all be brave CSR professionals when preparing for a daunting future (Brave New World), Seyi Akiwowo on how to Fix the Glitch and stop online gender-based violence targeting women of colour, Charlie Gill and Carly Davies on what young people expect of businesses for the future (You must unlearn what you have learned), and Giles Perkins, WSP's Head of Future Mobility, on changes in the mobility landscape and the importance of human-centric design (Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair). Attendees were enthusiastic about these sessions, commenting that many of these topics are different to what they would usually come across in their CRS and ESG sphere. 



The Exchange reached its conclusion with a presentation from Lisa Smith, Senior Associate at The Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, on collaboration to achieve positive change at scale. This inspiring speech was immediately followed by our closing plenary from ICRS Vice Chair Jennie Galbraith who summarised the actions that we could all take away from the Exchange and into our organisations. For members who were not able to attend, you can hear Lisa's speech and Jennie's closing thoughts here.


In the face of a global pandemic and great uncertainty, we hope the ICRS Exchange 2020 provided a sense of normalcy and community, and gave our members the drive to keep pushing the boundaries of what we as CSR professionals can achieve. We have the power to re-write the future. 


Thank you to all those that attended. We look forward to seeing you all, hopefully in-person, at the next Exchange. 


The Exchange is sponsored by British American Tobacco.

Cover and feature photo: "SJ Art Museum Science Fiction" by wbaiv is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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