Monday, November 02, 2015

La Chose du Futur à Paris

A special edition of The Thing From The Future was distributed to 500 delegates at the UNESCO Youth Forum in Paris last week.

Since 01999 the Youth Forum has been the institutional mechanism for youth (which in the UN system means people aged 15 to 24) to make recommendations to the UNESCO General Conference.

This 9th edition of the Youth Forum incorporated, for the first time, a process aimed at improving participants'  futures literacy, developed by UNESCO's head of foresight Riel Miller. The Future Literacy Knowledge Lab, or FKL, is described in outline here and in detail here [pdf].

From my perspective as an advisor and senior facilitator for the Forum, among the most notable elements of the experience was the juxtaposition of this process, aimed at exploration and emergence, with the formality and fixity of international diplomacy's default settings. Ingenious workarounds were required in order for delegates to be able to converse and co-create in small groups given the geometrically pleasing, but collaboratively disabling, furniture arrangements. The literally nailed-down meeting room configurations reflected a firm expectation of centrally managed, as opposed to open or peer-to-peer, conversations.

How does such an architecture shape what happens, and what doesn't? An instructive contrast may be found in the opening and closing circles of Open Space, a meeting format which both symbolically bespeaks and practically enables something very different; a fluid and participant-driven flexibility (see, for example, Harrison Owen, Expanding Our Nowpp. 82-83). Maybe someone has already compiled a pattern language of meeting spaces. There's much to learn from such cases.

In any event –– despite its best efforts, here the furniture's expectations were not allowed to triumph! Far-reaching futures discussions were had, assumptions were surfaced and questioned, alternatives were articulated, expressive future artifacts and prototypes were created.

And at the end of the Youth Forum futures workshop, a special bilingual English / French The Thing From The Future / La Chose du Futur * was distributed to all attendees, a concrete expression of the intention to democratise and distribute futures thinking far and wide. Now these hundreds of delegates have made their way home to communities all around the world, cards in hand.

Thanks to UNESCO, to Youth Forum delegates –– and especially to Riel Miller and team for their efforts to open space for possible futures, not only in the proceedings themselves, but through providing an experience and a tool to use again in days and years to come.

Of course distributing cards and rearranging spaces are fine ways to begin; meanwhile I wonder about working with the deeper cultural currents in play. How may we make a habit of inviting fuller versions of ourselves to show up in these formal and ritualised settings? How might we offer better hospitality to the unusual, the creative, the crazy and playful and magical and wild and unborn in each of us?  For when it comes to "serious" conversations about the future, these voices too seldom find any place at the table.

> The Thing From The Future
> The technology of public imagination
> Whose future is this?

* Very special thanks to Cedric Flazinski of N O R M A L S design lab, and to Sandra Coulibaly Leroy of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) for their invaluable translation assistance. And on a semi-related note: bilingual Emglish/French Playsheets for the game are available via the UNESCO website [pdf, A4].

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