What is Open Future?

Open Future made its start in 2018 as a journalistic reaction to political events that shook much of the Western world. These events included the 2016 announcement of Donald Trump’s presidency and the UK’s decision to exit the EU. Events that were, and still are, a big deal. This is a time where prominent world leaders publicly condemn, suppress and ignore the open discussion of controversial issues. Open Future is looking to remake the case for classical liberal values such as individual rights and equality. This, it believes, is vital to counteracting the rise of normalised authoritarianism.

What does it hope to achieve?

Open Future aims is to reach out to young people and encourage them to take an interest in politics and develop their views through debate. Open Future further aims to foster conversation across ideologies. Part of this means bringing the conversation to audiences beyond those that agree with The Economist, and its readership. ‘Hong Kong’s Future’ provides a good example of how Open Future is already bringing together a spectrum of voices. It is a guest commentary series that features the likes of Regina Ip, Brian Leung Kai-Ping and Joshua Wong. Regina Ip is a Hong-Kong-based pro-Beijing legislator, representing one side of the Hong Kong debate, whereas Brian Leung Kai-Ping and Joshua Wong are both prominent pro-democracy protestors. Journalist pieces that present live arguments and go beyond giving audiences something to read and agree with, are what Open Future hopes to draw young people toward.

What is the present need for Open Future at this point in domestic and/or global politics?

There was an understanding by the end of the 20th century, that as Fascism and Communism were fading from the Western world, society was moving in the general direction of freedom. We get the sense now however that this direction is reversing. Our society are moving back in time, towards perhaps even a medieval approach to state affairs. This is why Open Future is needed right now. There is a mismatch in what people want from government and how government is behaving. People, especially young people, need to be able to explore why that is.

How will the Open Future initiative engage a social media audience?

Engaging more interactive platforms and utilising the accessibility of social media is critical to achieving the initiative’s aims. Open Future operates its current social media presence from the shared space of The Economist’s Twitter and YouTube, and a Facebook group. Questions and polls are used to prompt opinions and provide a space for users to share information (e.g., links). Here, there is opportunity for people to explore their personal views and the views of others. Open Future is an experiment in communication and so will continue to operate as such, rather than establish itself as any other media outlet.

How do you measure the effectiveness of the initiative?

Statistics don’t tell writers and content creators what they need to know. The numbers do matter, however. The content’s resonance amongst readers will better indicate what The Economist is doing right, as well as how it can improve. Some things are better felt than read in black and white, and measuring the effectiveness of this initiative is one of those things.

Do you feel that ‘citizen journalists’ add to the issue of misinformation? Does the responsibility of established news sources feel heightened?

Citizen journalists are a good thing. We don’t want traditional media to act as gatekeepers to dictate what is good and what isn’t. There can be a healthy co-existence. Taking an interest in the world around us, should be encouraged. Institutions, however, should also be put in place to hold people accountable if they intentionally misinform the public.

How does respectful debate take place in a climate where it may sometimes incite toxic responses?

Social media is both a gift and curse for the cause. On the one hand, it is critical in accessing a larger audience. On the other hand however, its removal of direct human interaction diminishes the quality of debate. People will say things to each other that they would not otherwise say face to face. Consequently, a level of nastiness is seeping into much of online discussion on subjects such as immigration, abortion and the Black Lives Matter movement. This should not be occurring in liberal debate.

It is more effective to introduce new facts to the ‘outliers of ideological clusters’. Outliers, however are both greater listeners and greater questioners. A conversation may be more productive than a ‘debate’, as you may be the one who ends up rethinking your stance.

How will Open Future bridge the gap between readers ‘knowing the facts about an issue’ and ‘caring enough to act on our views’? 

What’s missing in news media still, is the ‘appeal to action’. Marketing sectors understand ‘behavioural economics’ and have been putting it to practice for quite some time now. They know how to move people to not just think about an idea, but to take the much-needed step of acting on that thought. How do you get someone to buy or invest in something? By selling an emotion. Including stories from people who are in the thick of it and experiencing events first-hand, places credibility behind each statement. Putting the person in the story appeals to human emotion. That’s what readers connect to and can hopefully feel moved to act on. The annual Open Future Festival brings people together and showcases exactly this.

Open Future Festival 2019 takes place in Manchester on Saturday 5 October. Hear discussions and debates mediated by journalists from The Economist and talks by prominent figures from across the political spectrum.

Learn more and use code ShoutOutUK for 15% discount when registering for tickets.