forum for the future

PhD Research Week 23 Y2


This week I was invited by Forum for the Future  to test out some of my research insights on a workshop with the Future Shapers - a community of young entrepreneurial people exploring people-driven innovation towards sustainable development.   In this workshop, four future scenarios of 2050 were presented and the participants were invited to creatively think about how their own enterprises, practices and personal selves, might evolve given the future context. I was challenged by Forum’s Futures team to think about how through my understanding of communication design as an expanded practice we could engage participants in a more ‘experiential’ understanding of the abstract and complex 2050 scenarios.

How can communication design prompt an understanding of complex future scenarios?

My understanding of communication design and its expanded practice can be summarised as ‘the design of communication’. It includes looking into interaction and experience, as well as visual and the other sensorial components, and how the designed artefacts may trigger conversations within the audience itself.  I will highlite here one important aspect I explored:

Making sustainability personal Each participant was informed to bring a meaningful object with them. These were minimalistic things of the everyday. An object which represented something they care about and would like to preserve into the future. Regardless of the what the object was (we would expect some commonalities such as references to the environment and family) its role was to help personalise the experience and tap into details that the participants themselves recognised and could identify with. This allowed for stream of thought, however in a simple way, about how citizen-driven innovation strategies might help preserve this meaningful object and what it implied.

The everydayness I looked to take advantage of the mundane details which are part of the everyday and can sometimes be disregarded as opportunities to communicate a message. The lunchtime period, which is usually a great space for participants to interact with each other and converse, was seen as an opportunity to bring to life some of the aspects of the 2050 scenarios concerning food. Small tags with messages were inserted into the food plates. These messages were tailored to specific food related issues that may arise within each of the four future scenarios. The participants were then invited to pick out food according to the future scenario they had stepped into. We must here acknowledge the intended contradiction between the messages on the tags and the food displayed. However fictitious and playful, this small detail came across as somewhat unexpected, fulfilling the objective of enhancing the experience - it seemed to be a conversation starter.


phd research week 47

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The World We Made: Visions of a Sustainable Future - talk and book launch of Sir Jonathon Porritt, Founder of Forum for the Future  

"most of the things we value don't cost money" said Jonathon, money is only an expression of value.

The main thought of this talk I took, is much aligned to my PhD research interest, on the notion of value.  How do we re-define, what we value?  Here the intervention must be made at early stage of each individual, through the family, through love, through learning empathy.

We must "see the wood from the tree" and the willingness to reinvent environmentalism that is inspiring and allows us to pick up the tools and do it.  The notion of utopia is here important, our vision of a better future.  Jonathon talks of the "techno-cornucopianism", the singularity notion that environment and technology should go hand in hand, but questions how good may the outcome be?

On the thought of motivation towards engagement; if you don't think is possible to do, you wont do it.  So we must reinvent the story of sustainability in to a story of adventure, a story publics will want to participate in.  Most sustainability messages are "this is whats gonna happen even if you don't like it".  This para-dime is not working.  Anyone who does not offer a positive vision of the future without acknowledging the reality of today, is 'unreal', or in Jonathan's terms "a phony cornucopian".

key-points towards re-making the world are: - technical motivation to drive technology - social innovation - compassion, solidarity, empathy (this is the foundation on which technology revolution needs to be built)

"The failure to address environmental issues is not the failure of information but failure of imagination" - Jonathon Porritt

Environmentalism has not been good at engaging with technologists.  They have been suspicious/skeptical since the 1970's, and only now, we are witnessing a shift of partnership between tech vs (and) nature.  It is because of the maker revolution, the tech revolution, and the environmental revolution.  Combined, these three are elements towards a better world.

The common individual must intervene in the system through small acts of questioning more often.  It closes the triangle of Media, Politics and Big Business (Chomsky, theory of democracy/media).

For example, walk into Apple and say "your product is great, but your supply chain is shit. Can you improve that?"