Future Preparedness: pre-enacting possible futures

Posted July 3, 2012 by Maja Kuzmanović

If a picture says more than a thousand words, we suggest that one minute of direct experience says more than words ever can: at least in terms of preparing for uncertain futures. Several months ago we began experimenting with a set of techniques to help us imagine and live through possible futures. You can think of it as embodied foresight, inhabited fortune-telling, or down-to-earth attitude training. Say you have a burning question that is dependent on so many factors that you get lost before even trying to find an answer. Spice that with a serious dose of uncertainty about the future and you get a complex stew - one that can cause mental indigestion, with symptoms ranging from apathy, indecisiveness and pessimism to reckless hubris and irrational exuberance in some cases.

Experts in strategic foresight and futurists of other flavours have developed a wide range of methods to break the vicious cycle of uncertainty when facing the future and trying to make the ‘right’ decision, while remaining aware of the ultimate unknowability of any future. At FoAM, we are researching scenario-planning techniques devised by Peter Schwartz, ARUP and others to come up with a way to sketch possible futures grounded in a solid understanding of the past and the present. Once the scenarios are developed, we translate them into a set of instructions for an improvisation: the future pre-enactment or prehearsal. This leads to the design of experimental situations in which everyone involved can try living out these different scenarios. Such direct experience encourages us to question our reactions, decisions, and conscious and unconscious behaviours in a ‘safe’ environment, thus rehearsing a possible future in the present. So far we’ve been ‘prehearsing’ a number of scenarios within FoAM’s network of members and collaborators to test the methodology, with plans to widen the circle of participants to include larger organisations, communities, neighbourhoods and perhaps even whole countries.