In order to create powerful strategies, experiments and innovations, you first need a transformed image and vision of the future, and from this to develop a narrative of change that projects your journey into the future where you create this future with others. Breakthrough conceptual prototypes need to be grounded in a re-imagined and renewed sense of future-facts and future possibilities. This is the first step in the journey to create powerful experiments that can scale.
The initial futures phase of the journey entails two distinct steps. The first is “Challenging the used future” and the second step is “Developing a transformational futures narrative”. Here, we’ll walk you through both in order.
Challenging the Used Future
Challenging the used future is the first part of this process, which entails discovery and unlearning, where the deep assumptions we have about the future can be disturbed and renewed. For this we use three sets of methods:
- Vision Cycles
- Weak Signals and Emerging Issues Analysis
- Causal Layered Analysis (downswing)
First is to understand the history of the ideas that have guided our actions. Throughout the life of our organisations, families and societies, ideas and visions emerge that guide our actions. We first need to understand what these have been and what we have learned from them. To do this we use a process called “Vision Mapping”. Vision Mapping is is a way to review the way in which visions of the future have guided us through history, and it helps us prepare for what is next.
Secondly, we need to learn about the emerging issues, trends and weak signals that are transforming our social horizons. Emerging issues are social phenomena that are “bubbling up” in discrete places. They are not common knowledge (yet), and they are “prefigurative”, they augur wider and broader social changes. Discovering them requires a special lens and perspective to understand what is and what is not an emerging issue, and we rely on the weak signals analysis of Dr. Elina Hiltunen,, as well as the work of Graham Molitor. Scanning for the changes that matter to our future is a tried and tested way of challenging our view of what the future might be. It opens up issues that we would not have considered, both possibilities that we can leverage for opportunity, as well as threats and risks that we want to avoid.
Thirdly, we use causal layered analysis (CLA), developed by Dr. Sohail Inayatullah. CLA helps to problematise existing future oriented thinking, exploring the assumptions, ideologies, worldviews, epistemes, myths and metaphors that already are embedded in images, statements or policy oriented research about the future. It is a way of opening up spaces for alternative futures. These alternative futures are not based on extrapolating trends or tweaking the assumptions in a systems model as is common in scenario building, but through deconstructing/reconstructing critical assumption about the way we constitute the world.
Narrative foresight is the second part of the journey, where we rebuild our vision of the future from a new metaphor and story, and develop an integrated vision of the future. Narrative Foresight is a process designed to help people and organizations reframe deeply embedded life and organizational narratives and develop new inspiring and empowering narrative orientations to their futures. It is a process which takes participants and organizations through a journey of identifying the myths and narratives that have defined their past, and engaging in an analytic and imaginative process to create a new narrative for themselves in relation to the future.
This entails three steps using there district methods:
- Causal Layered Analysis (upswing)
- Integrated Visioning
- Open Ended Narrative
Firstly, Causal Layered Analysis provides the transition method by which to begin to build a renewed vision for the future. Through CLA, a new metaphor or story may emerge that expresses a new cultural orientation. From this new cultural orientation, new systems and structure emerge as logical expressions, and finally key indicators that can tell us whether we are advancing with this new pathway. CLA identifies the emerging culture, systems, structures and measurements for this new journey. CLA provides a way to reconfigure neural pathways that allow us to see our social pathways in a new light.
Secondly, we do “Integrated Visioning”. Integrated Visioning is a visioning process in which we develop a preferred vision of the future, consider what this vision disowns, and then develop an integrated vision from the combination of the two. The visioning method externalises the otherwise internalised logics of the psyche, providing a powerful way for participants to reflect on their own personal and organizational projections and images of the future, and to evaluate the futures that resonate best. The method was also developed by Sohail Inayatullah and is influenced by the work of Carl Jung’s archetypal psychology, the Voice Dialog approach of Hal and Sidra Stone, and the work of Ashis Nandy and William Irwin Thompson, among others.
Thirdly, based on this Integrated Vision, we develop an Open Ended Narrative. An open ended narrative is a narrative that describes the journey from past to present to preferred future, in a way that includes the key people that must act to make this vision a reality, and by crafting a call to action.
Narrative versus story, according to John Hagel, is open ended. We assume that from past to present, something has changed. It may be that there are new opportunities associated with technology. It may be new social or ecological challenges that we need to rise up to. Either way, something has changed, yet the future has not been determined. It may go our way, or it may not. Importantly, we may hold a vision and see the possibilities for us, but because it is open ended, it is up to us to determine the future. Therefore, narrative is outward facing, it needs to engage new people in the fulfilment of the vision. The critical question then becomes, how do people participate in the fulfilment of the narrative.
Elements of open ended narrative:
- Past to present – something has changed
- Open ended future – up to us, not guaranteed, contingent on our agency / actions / decisions
- Outward facing – we cannot do it alone – it requires partnership in an ecosystem
- Call to action – how do people participate, a compelling call to action for the community / partnership ecosystem
- Is prospective, compels into the future, from passivity to activity and optimism
The workshop process requires 1-2 days, depending on how much time participants have and the depth of exploration desired. Doing this in a one day workshop is intense. Doing this in a two day setting allows for more space of exploration.
The logical follow up to this process is to use the Futures Action Model to develop conceptual prototypes and models which become the basis for real-world experiments.