"The future is too important to be left to a small group of the global elite": Nesta invites you to democratise futures thinking
It’s been a constant theme here - that communities should “occupy” their own future, and begin to set their own agenda on massive trends, crisis conditions and radical technologies. (See our Category on Futures).
It is perhaps no wonder that Gallup’s World Poll found the world was more angry, fearful and sad than any other time. Global public opinion polling also shows a majority pessimistic view about the future: just 34 per cent of people in advanced economies think their children will be financially better off than them when they grow up. That view only slightly increases to 42 per cent for people who live in emerging economies. A rising nostalgia for ‘better times’ often has little basis in reality. But like the burgeoning appetite for dystopian fiction, it is symptomatic of our struggle to make sense of an uncertain future.
While people feel uncertain and negative about the future, perhaps even more troubling is the lack of power they feel to shape it. In a recent poll for the Hansard Society for example, 47 per cent of British people felt they had no ability to influence the national agenda. In the US, 48 per cent of people don’t have confidence in politicians to deal with future challenges, and equally concerning is the declining faith in democracy among young people.
The techno-utopians would have us believe that artificial intelligence (AI) holds the cure for all of society’s ills, but the public is wary and so are the tech workers themselves. Doteveryone’s survey of UK tech workers found that of those focusing on AI, 59 per cent thought they were working on products that could be harmful for society.
The big questions remain: whose future are we building? Whose priorities and values matter? And how do people gain greater agency to shape the future they want?
The problem is, as the blog continues, that our visions of the future are “dominated by privileged white men”:
Democratising futures means creating new capacity among many more diverse people to explore and articulate their alternative and desirable visions of the future.
It must create hope - enabling people to co-diagnose the issues and opportunities, build common ground and collectively imagine preferred futures. Investment, policy and collective civic action should then be aligned to help deliver these common visions.
This is anticipatory democracy, not the extractive surveying of needs and wants against a narrow prescribed set of options that characterises many ‘public engagement’ exercises. Too often these are little more than PR activities conducted relatively late in the decision-making process.
The blog then maps out three areas where the aim to democratise futures has already been tried:
Wales has appointed the world’s first Commissioner for Future Generations in Wales (inviting participation via their People’s Platform, and there is now a UK all-party parliamentary group on future generations.
Physical Futures - designers and artists literally constructing examples of the future, with communities.
Superflux invented an international development organisation from the future, and The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' (IFRC) exhibited artefacts from humanitarian futures.
Virtual Futures - digital and games-based ways that communities can explore and develop their futures:
Massive multiplayer games like Institute for the Future’s Innovate2038, and the World Without Oil - simulating a global crisis, and asking players to take a part. Or the RedCross’s WhatsApp game, WhatFutures, getting youth to input.
Cognitive Edge’s Sensemaker platform, for example, has been used to crowdsource mini-scenarios, stories and anecdotes about the future of public services. Forum for the Future’s Futures Centre let citizens and experts submit their signals of change.
A rich menu of possibilities - but the search is on to start to stitch all these innovations into robust platforms, involving social meet-ups and technology, that can genuinely give citizens at the daily level a sense of possessing their own futures. We will be happy to help.