Unless we can visualise and really ‘feel’ a better future then it is unlikely that we will achieve or create it. This premise underpinned a recent project led by WCVA – The Better Futures Wales Project (in partnership with the School of International Futures) which used futures thinking to stretch the shared imagination about possibilities for the future. This project took place from October 2020 – June 2021 and worked with three communities across Wales to develop their visions for a better future (further information on this project can be found here… https://wcva.cymru/projects/better-futures-wales-community-foresight-project/)
In October 2021, Renew Wales mentors and co-ordinators were given the opportunity to participate in two workshops which were developed using the Better Futures Wales Project toolkit; https://wcva.cymru/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/BUILDING-BETTER-FUTURES-Toolkit.pdf.
The participants were introduced to the methodology and explored how they could use the tools to facilitate different and powerful conversations about the future. They were taken on a journey through the various tools starting with ‘dreaming big’ and developing positive ‘Seeds of Change’. The ‘Seeds’ concept was developed by the Good Anthropocene who defined them as; ‘not widespread or well-known. They can be social initiatives, new technologies, economic tools, or social-ecological projects, or organisations, movements or new ways of acting that appear to be contributing to the creation of a future that is just, prosperous, and sustainable’.
The ‘Seeds of Change’ are used to spark positive and energetic conversations about a positive future and to explore the ripple effect that ideas or small-scale projects or innovations can have. The participants used ‘futures wheels’ to explore the first and second level impacts of the ‘seeds of change’ if they were to become mainstream.
Diagram 1 – Futures Wheel template
To give an example; one of the seeds used in the Renew Wales Workshop was that ‘Communities have been able to claim ownership of disused public spaces to use them for shared leisure, recreation or growing’. The group discussed first level impacts such as having a physical space to interact, the ability to grow food for the community and to enjoy an improved physical space. The second level impacts of this were described as improved community resilience, reduced food poverty, pride in the locality and intergenerational skill sharing.
The participants worked with 6 Seeds and were encouraged to consider emerging themes from the conversations and to use these to develop ‘preferred futures statements’.
To give an example; one of the preferred futures statements developed by the group was; ‘An engaged and empowered community with widespread participation has the social capital and skills to take forward agreed ideas’
The statements are then used in the ‘Three Horizons’ activity which explores the preferred future, the present time and the time and distance between the two. Through this process, gaps, obstacles and challenges to achieving the preferred future are explored.
Diagram 2 – Three Horizons template
This is a powerful tool as it captures the ‘three horizons’ in the same visual place and puts the visioning into context. This activity culminates in the development of action statements which can be used to develop a specific plan or strategy using the planning tree (see below). The planning tree connects the futures journey with strategic planning by providing a goal and a specific roadmap that can be incorporated into strategy. At this stage the group or community have imagined a different future and created a plan for the change they want to see.
Diagram 3 – Planning Tree Template
For a more detailed description of the tools used please see this blog post; https://wcva.cymru/views/you-cant-control-the-future-but-you-can-influence-it/
The group participated enthusiastically in each session and enjoyed bringing the toolkit to life through worked examples and exploring the different ways of engaging with groups and communities.
The toolkit is modular so any of the tools can be used independently. All of the tools can also be used in a face to face or online setting (replacing the Miro board with flip-charts and post-it notes).
Thanks to the Renew Wales network for embracing the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills in futures thinking…we look forward to hearing about how the tools are put into practice across Wales!
(Apologies if the text on the diagrams are small. Please visit the first web link in the blog for a better look at examples).