Futurefest 2016 took me by surprise


I have known about Futurefest for years since the first one in Shoreditch town hall about 3 years ago. But was never able to attend due to clashes with the London Design festival which runs around the same time of the year. This time around there was enough time between them and not really being involved in LDF besides attending events, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting the work I’m pretty passionate about.

Having looked at the programme briefly online, I was very convinced this would be great use of my weekend, even so close after IBC 2016 and Mozilla Festival 2016. The variaty of talks was something you only really see at the better established conferences like Thinking Digital, and all for not a lot of money in my view.

I was pretty blown away by the gender split, I first thought it might be because I spent 6 days in a heavily male dominated IBC but I started to do a rough count in my head. It was 60/40 split towards female, amazing…

The first part of my day involved working with Victoria K to fix my presentation which had been converted over to Powerpoint with the usual weird and wonderful problems you get when moving between Libreoffice & Powerpoint. We straighten it out and embeded the videos. I could then relax and attend the sessions.

Unlike most conferences, the sessions were weirdly positioned, with some starting at times like 1505 and 1150, then they would run for 15, 30, 50mins. There was also no set time for lunch or breaks, you had to work it out yourself. This made networking less possible but I quite liked the idea of no formal lunch time as I tend to eat later than most.

My session was titled Data ethics in the time of perceptive media, and I almost missed the start of it due to talking in the speakers green room. Luckily Nesta’s Lydia found me chatting away and we made for the glass box room. Just enough time to mic up, drink some more coffee and sip some water.

I moved quickly through my 58 slides in less than 20mins (20 seconds a slide) giving more time to get Q&A from full packed in audience. I didn’t realise that the talk would be so popular but people told me they couldn’t get in and had to watch from the outside of the glass (sorry if you were not able to get in). The questions, I had already kind of prompted in the later end of the presentation but people got the idea BBC were doing everything to research how to stay trusted but also carve out the new opportunities in a very open way.

After the talk and Q&A, I had quite a few interesting conversations from people asking and enquiring into how deep we were research into the ethics of data? Of course I gave a massive big up to Rhia, Lianne, Maxine and other research scientists we have in BBC R&D. The discussion moved from personalised drama to personalised learning using perceptive media. Which is when I always link or mention the Psyteach Podcast episode 44Is Perceptive Media The Future Of Education?

The Futurefest really did surprise me, the line up was great on paper but I wasn’t sure if they were  able to pull off such a ambious schedule of talks. On paper it started to look like the festival of dangerious ideas which I have been a fan of. Mixing Love, work and play together really is a tricky combination to get right, but Futurefest/Nesta got it about right. No matter what some white man says, Futurefest was a well deserved glimpse of the future, especially after the male dominated experience of IBC.

Millennial was talked about a lot, I realise although I’m much too old to be claiming to be a millennial. I likely think like a millennial (if we are going to tag a generation in this way). This became clear in sessions Work beyond the workplace, Women will rule the world and Design your own life.

From my vast notes in a mindmap (would share but they only make sense to me), millennials charactistics include

  • Multiple things going on
  • More likely to do things they are passionate about
  • Blur work and play and enjoy it
  • Like to reinvent themselves

This doesn’t seem to uncommon to me, but to be fair the people I tend to surround myself with likely subscribe to a bits of these notions too.

The sessions which really stuck out for me were.


Work beyond the workplace by Anjali Ramachandran

This talk started out with AI isn’t going to kill off our jobs and via Dan Lyons new book (I’m still gutted I missed him when he was in Manchester) Distrupted, we ended up reestablishing a new business culture. I had heard of Responsive.org but never really looked into it properly. Something to add to my task list. It all felt reminiscent of Blaze at Thinking Digital Newcastle 2014. I was hoping to catch Anjali about this.


Design your own life

I really enjoyed this talk and quite enjoyed the nature of having the social space outside the main rooms in the open air. Its the kind of thing I enjoyed about BarCamps (sessions spaces in weird and wonderful places). Nesta’s set designer was doing a great job.

The talk by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, was deeply funny but also full of interesting points while flogging their book (which I did end up buying, but missed the opportunity to get it signed). The crux of the talk was using design methodology to design your own life. Research, prototype, evaulate and repeat. This is where some of the Millennial thinking popped up. They also described other traits which they saw as positive for designing your own life, a strong sense of curiosity and natrual intuition (something which I’m less and less of, sadly). They also dropped something they called dysfunction beliefs, which I’ve been refering to as old fashioned thinking in the past.

There was so much captured and said, I think I’m going to wait till I actually read the book. Shame I didn’t get it signed.


Shifting identity

This was part of the theme Future love and I have to give credit to the whole theme, which was expressed in a adult and smart way. Sex and the office had Cindy on the big stage and was great, but shifting idenity really pushed things into a new terriory.


Gender fludity is a area few people talk about and I was exteremely proud to witness Bill Thompson,  chair a tricky subject in such a playful way which made everybody feel at ease.


The very idea of male & female was kind of torn up, as Bill suggested was the promise of the early days of cyberspace. Everybody on the panel talked about gender on a spectrum, being the new normal. Interestingly a woman, who was born legally a boy talked about the external desire to be extremely feminine. As she said, you could switch gender but don’t you dare float in the middle!

Changing people’s world view was dropped in by one of the panelist, along with be a roll model, communication through demonstration and of course tollerence. Pretty sure it was Cindy who said “look in who you are, that’s the only way to know who you are.” I totally agree, which reminds me of… Of course, this is extremely difficult or potentially dangerious for some people in some places (sadly).


Very fitting end to a incredible panel in most other conferences but certainly contender for the best panel from Futurefest. I glad I missed out on hearing Brian Eno for this panel, it was so worth it.


Love as risk

Frank Furedi deserves a mention because his understated talk seemed to hit all the right buttons. Once again I was franicily mindmapping. My ears really picked up when early in the talk he mentioned “Women who love too much.” A certain friend (they know who they are) has recommended it to me but I’ve never read it. (Keep meaning to dust off my kindle library card option).

Frank slowly deconstructed how we want/have turned love into something safe, predictable and machine like. We want certainly but love is a risk, as Frank says “love is meant to be dangerous, its a risk

I asked Frank the question myself, Simon, Jane and Anna had talked about a month or so earlier. Frank was quick to add more and point out we have rengated love to a transaction. His most powerful example was partner over lover. There was also mentioned about Japanese sex lives (video).


Women will rule!

This is when I first saw the debate platform and what a debate to have on it. It was Cindy who mentioned how training data wasn’t diverse and ended up killing women and children. Weirdly enough I heard a whole podcast from 99 percent invisible about the problem with averages. She also made it super clear as the host, this isn’t about women per-say, but rather diversity and it starts with young women.

I found Cindy extremely powerful as a host and she really got things moving with quotes like “History is white washed by white men” and “Old pastie men


I can imagine how alienating this might all sound to white men. But frankly the time for tip toeing around the subject has gone and passed. The woman from the apprentice, Melody Hossaini got a bit of a backlash for trying to fit in to the systems rather than fix or reinvent them. Especially around the idea of quotas in jobs. Bridget Minamore was right on the button with her passionate rebutal of Melody’s thoughts on quotas.


The debate was good but just as it heated up, time was up. I would have paid to see more of this debate.

Other sessions worthy of note included Cindy’s only provocative talk from the Explore stage. I’ve said far too much about Cindy in this blog and the previous oneprevious one, but she had such an amazing influence.

BBC’s Colin Burns on the debate stage for From design thinking to design playing. Where Colin explained the design process using an imaginary fish.


Dj Spooky’s Future of love music, which really gave a real understanding into the way he thinks as zipped around his ipad from application to application.


Anne-Marie Imafidon’s the future is young women, which was only bettered by the discussion on the debate stage.

Futurefest took me by total suprise and it was incredibily good value for the price. I have compared it to Future Everything and the Festival of Dangerous ideas; I’m sticking with that because the diversity of the subjects and ideas was incredible. A welcomed change to the line ups and style of conferences we’ve gotten use to. Something between a festival and conference with a sharp edge which got people thinking.


Thanks to Lydia for convincing me a long while back to get involved and the rest of the team for a great conference. Glad I could play my part, and I’ll be back next year likely under my own steam unless I got something which fits with the themes for 2017.

Author: cubicgarden

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

3 thoughts on “Futurefest 2016 took me by surprise”

  1. Thank you so much for such a fantastic account of our Festival and for rounding it up with a picture of Nesta’s comms team who planned, designed and staged the event. As the Head of Events at Nesta I am very proud of what we achieved but the credit goes out to the fantastic line up of extremely engaging speakers like you, who created value and inspired others. Thanks also for taking such great pics!

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