IGP Stories

Participatory Futures: A Strategy for the Next Generations

Charles Stott

On the 8th December I joined 73 think tankers, youth activists, educational lobbyists and other civil society leaders for the launch of NSxNG (A National Strategy for the Next Generations). An initiative, convened by the School of International Futures to develop a new method for national strategy. The goal is for political decision-making in the UK to centre the voices of the young and become more participative, historically informed, and future-focused.

“We believe we must consider the lessons of history, listen to the diverse voices of the present, imagine the world our grandchildren will inhabit and act as stewards of their future.” - School of International Futures

As the event kicked off, the grievances the project aims to fix became apparent. Complaints of political “short termism” cropped up in each presentation to fatigued and knowing nods in the audience, the mood thickened by an obvious recognition that the youth are set to inherit a world in tatters. An initial survey of Next Generation Ambassadors revealed the intriguing result that a chief concern of younger generations is the changing nature of the UK’s role in that future world, with the expectation of a decline in global importance and credibility. It’s not that the youth are concerned about the decline itself but more that it will lead to a kind of national cognitive dissonance with the political establishment in denial. The better pathway suggested was that the UK accept the change and use it as an opportunity to build a new niche, say a specialism in tech or in democratic innovation (to develop a new national brand like that of the Nordics).

The presentations from various organisations devoted to democratic innovation focused on various deliberative methods for foresight that get beyond the electoral cycle, make young people co-creators of their futures and overcome our present problems. Ideas included citizens assemblies and futures design processes. Finn Strivens, a foresight practitioner focusing on participatory futures, illustrated a futures design roleplay with an example from 2015 in the Japanese town of Yahaba. Randomly selected residents were given the imaginative task of placing themselves in the shoes of a generation living in 2060. They then discussed town administration from this perspective which led to beneficial changes in local policy.

In break out groups we tried this ourselves with a facilitator. I took on the role of a 2045 British man named Adam. I was briefed that he is a father employed by an international supermarket chain and working mainly in Germany and the UK. I am no thespian but I did my best to get into the role. After answering the questions in the third person the facilitator reminded me to “embody Adam”. To my surprise, it elicited more imaginative insight in me than I expected. I was asked how I felt about being British in 2045 to which I replied that my international work meant that I was less emotionally tied to the country. I was then asked what I would tell British people living in 2020. Reflecting on the nature of my work I lamented that Brexit caused problems for bringing goods in and out but acknowledged that the new agricultural policies (like the Environmental Land Management Scheme) had led to a trend of regenerative low quantity high quality meat from UK suppliers which had been a triumph for animal welfare and carbon emissions. Unfortunately, after that we were cut short as the session closed. Participatory futures exercises like these are a refreshing experience and help us to think outside the box. They are welcome in a world of increasing interdependent complexity. I look forward to taking part in more.

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

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