Inclusive and Plural Futures: A Way Forward
Author: Prateeksha Singh
“As the distinguished historian, Edward H. Carr, asked himself, ‘What is history?’ It is historians who determine which “facts of the past” become “historical facts” according to their own biases and agendas. So he suggested that one should study the historian before studying the historical facts.
Perhaps we should do something similar and follow his guide when asking, what are Futures Studies?… And could we also suggest that we should study who did a futures study before studying the futures presented by the study?”
(Alonso-Concheiro, 2015 )
The Foresight/Futures community is not yet leading the charge to engage, include, and reflect underrepresented groups who have remained historically excluded from Futures conversations in the past (groups such as Women, People of Colour, Black, Indigenous, Youth, LGBTQ, cultural and religious minorities, varying socio-economic groups, communities in more fragile states, persons with disabilities, etc.).
Given that the possible futures ahead belong to everyone, and in this critical juncture of time in our society, where polarization and power struggles abound, and the hegemonic Western ideas and ideals seem fractured, it feels even more critical we seek these plural and inclusive images
of the future as a way forward. The field of Futures Studies, however, is foregrounded by its own Western cultural and epistemological heterogeneity with much of the geographic focus of the fields work and its practitioners thus far, skewing heavily to the global North.
In combining research with expert interviews, this work takes a temporal lens, of past-present-future, to understanding the Western influence on the field, and makes a case for why the field needs to transition to being more inclusive, both for its own ongoing relevance and potential social impact.
The Framework is created to guide practitioners who want to design an inclusive futures program. It supports self-reflection on the pre-existing systems of privilege we might be unintentionally taking into our work. It also supports in making a strong case for inclusion with, for example, clients, donors, employers, and institutions at large.
Globally, as we see dominant narratives trying to become the norm it is even more important that we, as practitioners, challenge this by operating with self-awareness, intentionality, and inclusion.
The goal being to generate futures with our broader community that are inclusive, plural, anti-colonial and culturally sensitive. While the field cannot become inclusive and representative overnight, it can become a better ally in the process, and it is to support in this transition that the framework seeks its utility.
The framework aims to push practitioners in the field to reflect on and create opportunities for:
how we prescribe value/worth
how we conceive, transfer, validate knowledge
what we consider a part of the field
how we engage with our concepts
The Lotus Framework:
is a culmination of research that included expert interviews with 13 practitioners around the world, an anonymous online survey also directed at practitioners, and my own futures practice the past few years.
The visual metaphor
The lotus always grows in murky waters, but rises above it, just as inclusive and plural images of the future can offer us an alternative path away from negativity and divisiveness of today, towards more preferable futures.
Western cultural heterogeneity and dominance exists over the tools, techniques, and epistemology of our field, and also visual communication. The Lotus intentionally visually decentres from dominant Western influences
The Petals: (click on the flower to navigate)
The core: To surface diverse worldviews
Visual diversity does not guarantee us a diversity of worldviews i.e. perspectives, ideologies, mental models. It is critical that we as practitioners in supporting the imagining of alternative futures seek to surface not more views, but a greater plurality of perspectives
Layer 1: Design considerations for how we convene ‘Futures’ sessions
Practitioners are asked simple questions to unpack how they are planning for their ‘Futures’ sessions with communities. How we convene sessions, amongst other things, translates to how we construct power in our sessions.
Layer 2: Inclusive Futures principles
Layer 2 petals exist at the intersection of petals from the first layer, and highlights a key inclusive Futures principle that is related to those design considerations from layer 1.
Layer 3: Anti-colonial, culturally sensitive prompts
Layer 3 petals exist at the intersection of petals from the second layer, and ask the practitioner to consider each prompt into the larger design of their Futures session. The attached graduate research study document provides my additional cues on each petal.
Layer 1: Overlapping petals
Changing positions of the petals:
Moving around/rearranging the petals can multiply the possible conversations one can have at the overlaps. (Example demonstrated below)
Interacting with the framework!
The above is a detailed, but static overview aimed to provide a window into what the interactive framework could look like once it is online and dynamic.
The framework is also designed to be an evolving community asset. It will link to the work of other practitioners, across disciplines who emphasize on inclusion.
We have so far experimented with the framework as a tool for critical reflection of current/completed projects, planning future projects, and for enabling dialogue among a group of practitioners.
My research has been awarded the 2019 Joseph Jaworski Next Generation Foresight Practitioner Global award by the School of International Futures (SOIF). The award comes with funding to develop the framework, and mentorship and support to help me further develop my practice at large.