Anticipation through emergence: transforming child and adolescent preferred futures

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Integrated Futures Literacy and Futures Training Workshop for UNICEF Facilitators. 2018.

What is futures literacy? What is futures thinking? What makes a futures literate person? How can we use the future in different ways? How do we make sense of it or “use the future” to change the conditions of change and transform the way we perceive and imagine child and adolescent futures? What are the products or possible outcomes or potential impacts of futures thinking and literacy to child and adolescent issues and concerns? How can a UNICEF facilitator build a futures-driven skillset and use anticipatory ideas, systems and processes to increase UNICEF stakeholders and partners capacity to use the future to innovate today?

From a policy and community development perspective, what might the futures of HIV treatment and services, adolescent engagements to governance and inclusive education access look like in the year 2030? What are the trends, the emerging issues and drivers of child futures at the local and global levels? How might it look and feel like for a child to live in an alternative future world where every child is free and protected from cyber abuse and exploitation?  What might a day in the life of a child be like in a world where every child can express themselves, develop their full potential and capacity and become active change agents of civil societies and communities? How can we better engage parents and families in reproductive health and create a stronger support system in the protection of the child from cyber world, physical and verbal abuse? Are UNICEF trainers and facilitators optimistic or pessimistic about their power and capacity to influence the future?

These are some of the ideas, topics and questions that participating UNICEF trainers and facilitators collaboratively questioned, debated and explored through the futures thinking and futures literacy workshop organized by UNICEF and facilitated by the Center for Engaged Foresight, a premier strategic foresight and futures literacy hub in the Philippines and the Asia Pacific. Around 25 UNICEF trainers and facilitators participated in the 2.5 days’ workshop held on November 22-25, 2018 at the Marco Polo Hotel in Pasig city Philippines.

The workshop was designed to introduce futures thinking and train UNICEF facilitators to become futures literate.

This workshop aimed to provide an open and safe space for UNICEF trainers and facilitators to survey and align diverse hopes, interests and perceptions about the future by learning futures thinking and developing futures literacy skills. The imperative of this workshop was not to fix or resolve a specific policy issue or to engineer a new solution but rather to elucidate the value of futures literacy and foresight in child protection and adolescent development. The project sought to engage participants in a collective reflection and spurred their creativity in the difficult task of questioning used and default futures, reframing and reflecting the future of the child in a world driven by emerging technologies, the cyberspace, social networks, family, multiple identities, climate change, etc.

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Playing anticipatory assumptions via the Futures Triangle. 2018.

Integrating Futures Thinking and Futures Literacy

Learning the importance of context and knowing how to use anticipatory systems and processes in different ways makes a futures literate person. The participants organized into groups explored the futures of the following topics:

  • Youth engagement and participation in governance
  • Access HIV/AIDS education, prevention, treatment and management
  • Cyber Child Protection Policy
  • Reproductive Health Implementation in the Philippines
  • Inclusive and Equitable Access to Education in the Philippines

The UNICEF workshop integrates five of the six pillars of futures thinking with UNESCO’s futures literacy process:

Reveal. To question and reveal participants contexts and assumptions about the future and that of their chosen topics, mapping tools such as futures in motion, the Polak game, shared history and futures triangle futures techniques were applied.

Rethink and Reframe. To learn how to rethink and reframe ways of knowing and perceiving futures and learn the value of imagination in the creation of alternatives and preferred futures – anticipating, creating alternatives and deepening futures techniques were used: emerging issues analysis, the thing from the future game, STEEEP analysis, double variable scenario method, storytelling and prototype construction.

Reflect and Consolidate. This focused on participants reflecting on the process, their transformed futures and aligning the same with one’s personal values or future visions including capturing what was learned, what might work or not, some tips on futures facilitation and more importantly participants thoughts, ideas, feedback, comments and experiences about the workshop and futures literacy as a system or as process, as a concept or as a tool to trigger and manage social transformation. Possible next steps were explored. To do this, creative visualization techniques and questions such as what is the overall feeling? what were the lessons learned? what are the key takeaways? and what are the possible next steps? were asked in a brainstorming, feedback and Q&A session.

Anticipation through emergence: transforming child and adolescent preferred futures

Having been able to draw out four scenarios, the groups were then asked to choose their preferred future of the issue they had been working on. They were then given boxes of materials, colored papers, paper cups and plates, popsicle sticks, scissors, tape, paste, magazines, and other art materials to make a prototype of their preferred future.  The groups were asked to make the prototype as vivid a representation of their preferred future as possible. They were asked to give a title for their prototype and can answer questions about it. By doing the prototype, the participants could have a tangible representation of the future they want and are working on to achieve.

Building prototypes enables participates to demonstrate, test and refine their alternative future worlds and encourages invention with a purpose in mind. It allows participates to provide in more details into their stories of for instance a day in the life of child in alternative future environments (i.e. the future of HIV or anti-child pornography in the Philippines). It makes more vivid or visual the stories of alternative futures that participants create. Building prototypes brings workshop participants alternative and preferred futures to life. It helps them to go beyond preconceived notions of the future and explore alternatives as much and as deep as they can.

The participants presented in plenary through lively and creative narration of their transformed futures prototypes: 1) The Peak – In Pursuit of Filipino Excellence and Well Being One Step at a Time; 2) Fantasia Our Reality – Zero Stigma, Zero New Cases, Zero deaths in the Philippines; 3) The Village of Clouds (Barangay Langit) – A Safe Haven for Kids; 4) Pangarap kong Bayan (The Town that I Dream Of) and 5) Freddy’s Dioaramic Future. The scenario narratives will be shared by UNICEF in a publication this year. A UNICEF futures literacy toolkit and the comprehensive final report will be shared to target audience and participants.

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The Village of Clouds, prototype of an alternative future world where children are safe, secured and protected from all of forms of online harm, cyber sexual exploitation and abuse. 2018.

Overall feeling? Lessons learned? What we take with us? Next Steps?

For the final synthesis, UNICEF facilitators were asked to share the lessons they have learnt and insights gained in the plenary. All the participants expressed appreciation for the experiences, insights, learning and new tools they gained within the two-and-a-half-day workshop. Most agreed that their expectations like “enrichment”, “development” and “fun learning activity” have all been met and expressed their desire to apply and share this new capacity and skillset acquired.

Using the future requires the understanding and application of a spectrum of futures literacies. Like history where we focus the study or analysis of the origins and implications of the past to the present, futures literacy increases our competency and capacity to anticipate possible and unfamiliar futures and study which does not exist yet.  Futures literacy uses images (imagined or real), values (contexts and experiences) and meanings (the way we interpret stories and data and reframe things, policies and stuff for instance) including using a wide range of tools to learn the capacity to explore, negotiate and create alternative future worlds, preferred futures and anticipate emergence.

This futures literacy workshop is a learning journey. Through the futures literacy lab, participants learned how to facilitate a futures literacy workshop and learned how to use the future to improvise, experiment and innovate in the present. And through the pillars of futures thinking, they learned how to use and blend different ways of learning and futures facilitation —creative, critical, interpretive, action-learning, intuitive, games and evidence-outcome based approaches – to create alternatives, identify and transform preferred futures. While they learned new knowledge, and gained a new skillset, the participants felt a renewed sense of commitment to their advocacies and to social transformation. This workshop according to them also kept their desires for change alive. That it radically changed their perception, perspectives and ways of knowing the future. They also acknowledged the value of anticipation in decision-making, policy analysis and strategy development. They realized the beauty and worth of imagination and self-awareness in building a better world for all of us.

UNICEF training partners were asked to share the knowledge that they gained and test the toolkit and lessons learned that will be shared after. They were encouraged to apply the toolkit creatively and whenever possible customize or glocalize it to suit the needs and contexts of their respective stakeholders.  Participants were urged to be creative in facilitating their sessions, to document their experiences and insights and report back the lessons learned to UNICEF to improve the design of futures literacy lab at the community level. The effort to utilize the future in child and adolescent issues is a work in progress. Everyone was excited and see this endeavor as an adventure to create a better and brighter futures for all especially children and adolescents.

Playground for Inclusion: The LAO PDR Futures Literacy and Policy Visioning Workshop

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Futures Literacy with UNESCO Bangkok for Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union (LYU) held at the LYU’s headquarters in Vientiane Capital, Lao PDR. 2018

“If you want to change or transform world, you have to ask better questions”

UNESCO Bangkok in partnership with the Asian Development Bank and the Center for Engaged Foresight organized a workshop on Data Analysis and Youth Policy Development in LAO PDR. The Futures Literacy and Policy Visioning Workshop was facilitated by the Center for Engaged Foresight with UNESCO.

This briefly presents the preferred futures, visions and priorities that resulted from a two-day futures literacy/policy visioning (FL) workshop for the Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union (LYU) held at the LYU’s headquarters in Vientiane Capital, Lao PDR from June 13-14, 2018.

The workshop introduced and integrated futures literacy (FL) to UNESCO’s youth policy development for LAO PDR. The participants learned and used the future by employing select anticipatory tools and methods to question, explore, anticipate, imagine and design preferred youth policy visions on five thematic areas: education, health, employment, protection and participation. The methods used includes experiential questioning and shared history, futures wheel analysis, HMW (how might we) point of view statements for brainstorming, futures triangle, scenarios, designing prototypes and policy identification/prioritization tools.

The workshop concluded with five preferred future visions and prototypes including initial policy priorities complimenting LYU’s national youth development agenda, UNESCO’s Guidance Framework for Youth Policy Development and Agenda for Mainstreaming Gender Equality and Social Inclusion into Youth Policies: 1) Playground for Inclusion Aka Playground for Kids (Participation); 2) My Home: Call 1-4-5-4 (Protection); 3) Happy Health, Easy App (Health); 4) Just Click! (Employment); 5) Digital Learning for Kids and Inclusion in Laos (Education).

Context and Methodology 

What are Lao youth hopes and fears? What are they struggling with? What are their needs? What does the future mean to them? What are their images of the future? What are their future visions? How might a preferred future of employment, health, education, participation and protection look like to a Lao youth?  How might they articulate their envisioned futures? What are the steps they can take to achieve their preferred visions of the future?

These questions among others were explored during the futures literacy (FL) and policy visioning workshop organized by UNESCO Bangkok in collaboration with the Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union (LYU) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to explore, discuss and shape Lao Youth futures/policy visions in five thematic areas: education, health, employment, protection and participation.

To ensure rigor and relevance in answering these questions, anticipatory processes and tools were used: 1) experiential questioning and shared history to deconstruct and explore the present and to remember the past; 2) futures wheel analysis to anticipate the implications and impacts of the current reality or the default future, continuing; 3) questioning the default future via short HMW (how might we) point of view statements for brainstorming opportunities and solutions; 4) the futures triangle to map the drivers and trends, the barriers that resist change and Lao youth future visions; 5) scenarios, to imagine and storify the future; 6) designing a prototype via co-creating proof of concepts of the envisioned futures and 7) the identification of specific actionable steps, feasible, doable policy priorities/programs to create the preferred future.

As a segment of the four-day workshop on Data Analysis and Youth Policy Development in Lao PDR, the futures literacy/policy visioning session sought to impart knowledge of key FL concepts, application of anticipatory techniques including demonstration of anticipatory processes to agenda setting and policy formulation. The FL – policy visioning workshop had these objectives:

  1. Train young participants on key FL concepts, anticipatory processes and application of futures tools and techniques;
  2. Make use of the future to anticipate, imagine and design preferred futures;
  3. Learn the basics of policy visioning and prioritization.

To meet these objectives, the engaged foresight (EF) method was employed. The EF method is a solutions-centric and simulation driven approach to futures thinking. The aim is to provoke in participants to question the future critically and to imagine possible, probable and preferred futures. Through creative action learning via prototypes, participants are expected to create a model, storify their envisioned futures. The building of prototypes enables creators to validate their ideas potential for real world application.

Imagining the Preferred and Co-Creating Prototypes

“your home will always be the place for which you feel the deepest affection, no matter who you are and where you are” and  “home is where the heart is”

For this session, participants were asked to deliberate, to further imagine, create stories and develop prototypes of their plausible preferred futures of health, education, participation, employment and protection in Lao PDR.  Leveraging from their outputs of the previous futures literacy sessions, participants were given guide questions to facilitate conversation: what do we want the future to be like? what is your plausible preferred future to the future of their assigned topics.

Shared Visions, Valuing Compassion and Proactive Engagement

“Investing in young people is investing in the future”

The future is awesomely bright for LAO PDR as young people are expected to play a greater role in shaping the futures of health, education, participation, employment and protection in Lao. The current focus and targets to provide young friendly services, the championing and integration of inclusion and diversity in government programs and initiatives, the acceptance and recognition of LGBTI, the PWDs, the disadvantaged and the marginalized, the capability training and up-skilling of youth leaders among others will in many ways impact how the Lao youth will address these challenges in the immediate future.  As more young people are expected to engage in the years it is likely that they demand for greater participation and engagement. A critical turnaround could occur on how Lao society in general value young people’s ideas, opinions and leadership. These could be triggered by emerging digital and social technologies and network platforms that makes access to opportunities and social transformation engagements easier. The insights and output of the futures literacy and policy visioning workshop offered three critical insights crucial to the success of achieving Lao youth preferred futures and priorities in the short term:

1) A Shared Vision of the Future. What was obvious during the FL workshop and their outputs were the groups complimenting each other’s assumptions and envisioned futures. Their full protection, the observance of basic human rights, the need to recognize young people’s urgent needs and requirements, inclusion and diversity should be central to national youth policy development. Failure to recognize and realize these fundamental rights may lead to youth unhappiness, depression and suicide. If the youth is the future then all stakeholders must invest to ensure that young people issues and interests are championed at all levels. The shared vision preferred includes creating safe spaces to engage them in village and community decisions, to speak up without reservation and to listen with compassion. The awareness of the need to recognize that others have special needs and that each person is unique in terms of gender orientation, ethnicity, capacity and status, etc. must be acknowledged. Existing government services and future initiatives should recognize these differences. One of the group championed a multiple door policy or health service access to cater the needs and sensitivities of disadvantaged. Guaranteeing the access and equal opportunities for each sector are important. A shared vision energizes, it provides direction to current efforts, it is an inspiration that drives young people to work for a better and brighter future for all;

2) Valuing Compassion. Relentless compassion and relieving human suffering is key to creating alternative and preferred futures. Insight was for Lao youth, kindness and compassion is effective public policy. Compassion articulates, drives and attracts institutional buy-in.  Lao youth are motivated by empathy and love. Compassion and love drives them to civic duty, to commit for public interest sake. They feel that they will succeed and will persist if there is compassion. The home was central to one of the groups envisioned future. The inner story felt like “your home will always be the place for which you feel the deepest affection, no matter who you are and where you are” and  “home is where the heart is” was instructive. A group envisioned to establish “MyHome” centers in all the 148 districts in Lao PDR.

  1. Proactive Engagement. Where training ends, proactive engagement begins. Once the vision is set and priorities identified, LYU must develop a plan to convince end-users and policy stakeholders to opt-in. As champions, they must inspire adoption and bring in others – the rural village and communities – to the conversation. New futures require new metrics and development indicators. Building networks and sustaining partnerships will drive better outcome and sustainability is key in the long-run. Proactive engagement is an opportunity for LYU members to build stronger relationships. Timing and persistence is critical for a successful policy program.