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Meet Your APF Leaders: Q&A with Zan Chandler

With this article, Compass begins a regular series where we invite APF members to learn more about the board members of the APF.

Q. Where do you live?

Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Q. How long have you been a member of the APF?

Since November 2012.

Q. When did you join the APF board of directors?

January 2022.

Q. How did you learn about the APF?

The World Future Society (WFS) conference took place in Toronto in 2010 when I was a grad student in OCAD University’s Strategic Foresight and Innovation Masters (SFI) program. The APF held a Professional Development (ProDev) day to which OCAD students were invited. So, I attended the conference and the ProDev to learn more about what it means to be someone who practices foresight. APF members Cindy Frewen, Mary Jane Naquin and Maree Conway were so welcoming at that event that I thought this could be a community that I would want to be part of. I decided to apply for Associate Membership as soon as I’d finished my studies.

Q. What do you do as a professional futurist?

I have worked on a broad range of foresight projects and processes as a researcher and facilitator, both as a grad student and with KerrSmith Design. About six or seven years ago, I started teaching foresight methods in the SFI program. I am now working with Policy Horizons Canada, the Government of Canada’s Centre of Excellence in Foresight, where I am responsible for moving forward activities related to developing foresight capabilities in both Horizons staff as well as other federal public servants in Canada.

Q. Why do you love what you do?

This is arguably my third or fourth career, so it’s clear I love to learn new things. I’ve been lucky to feed that desire by learning to become a foresight practitioner and working on projects across a range of industries and sectors. All projects afford the opportunity for learning, and as long as that’s true about my work, I will continue to love it. That said, I think teaching feeds into this considerably. I do love working with folks who are learning about this field and are grappling with new ways of seeing, knowing, and doing. It’s quite intoxicating to see their awakening and excitement at working in new ways and to know that you had a hand in it.

Q. Why did you become a professional futurist?

Being a professional futurist allows me to do things I love -- exploring the past, finding patterns in what’s changing, splashing about in the possible, collaborating with interesting thinkers and doers, being continually exposed to new ideas, ways of thinking, seeing, doing, and being.

While I have a long professional history in the arts and cultural sector, I don’t participate in the foresight space as a domain expert. Rather, I enter into this work with a focus on process and am continually learning new perspectives, methods, and techniques. Being a professional futurist means I’m able to work on a wide range of projects, and along the way, continue to learn from the experts I work with.

Q. How does being a Canadian inform your perspective as a professional futurist?

If Canada had been a different place, my family might not have chosen to come here. A racialized outsider perspective informs my practice more so than holding Canadian nationality specifically. Living in Canada (more specifically in Toronto) has meant I have been exposed to multiple (and often conflicting) perspectives on past, present, and the futures: Indigenous, Black, and racialized communities, established settler communities, and newer ones. Being born in the UK and raised there, in Barbados and in Canada have all greatly shaped how I see the world and therefore how I practice foresight.

Q. What do you value the most as a member of the APF?

Community! It is wonderful to be part of a global community of practitioners, thinkers, and educators who are working toward better futures. We may do so in different ways and our visions of the future may take different shapes, but a desire to explore what the futures may hold is something we all share.

Q. What career advice would you give someone just entering the field of foresight?

Be curious! Be brave! Be humble!

Cultivate the curiosity of a child (or a cat) and experience and question all you can. The professional futurists I admire and have learned the most from are life-long learners who carry with them a sense of adventure. They are neither afraid nor dismissive of the edges, the margins and the strange. That said, they are also not too full of themselves. They acknowledge the wisdom and experience they’ve acquired over the years and are quick to recognize that knowledge and experience can look very different in others.

Q. Biggest accomplishment as a professional futurist, so far?

It is an immense pleasure and privilege to teach foresight and I’m grateful to my mentors for encouraging me to step up to the plate. I love the experience of helping to facilitate my students’ journeys into learning something new and challenging. Many of them have gone on to win APF student recognition awards, start their own foresight practices, or lead foresight units in the public or private sector. I don’t know if this is my biggest accomplishment but helping to ignite a passion for foresight is certainly the accomplishment of which I am most proud.

Q. If you were to recommend just one book to the readers of Compass, what would you recommend?

One book? Nope, not possible. So, I’m going to recommend a few -- Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown, and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Q. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

  • Learning how to learn (and how you learn best) will be more useful than the specifics of what you happen to learn. It will serve you well over a lifetime.

  • Don’t fret about finding “the” career. You’ll have at least four or five of them in your lifetime.

  • Figure out earlier rather than later how to deal with the unprocessed stuff from generations past.

  • Define and keep redefining what a good life looks like to you. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.

Q. What do you do to fill your well as a professional futurist?

Read and listen to books and podcasts about a broad range of topics. I also like to go to art galleries and museums and chat with people who are doing completely different things.

Q. What do you love to do for fun or to relax?

Bodies of water have spoken to me for decades. I’m happiest beside the sea or by a lake or river will do in a pinch. I like to cycle and walk, along shorelines, in forests or urban settings. I’m a book lover. I read (or listen to audiobooks) all the time.

Q. Poutine, Nanaimo bar, Ketchup chips, or Timbits?

Poutine! If it’s salty, carby, and fatty, it’s got my name all over it!

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