Imagining the future so we can build
a better world today
Imagining the future so we can build
a better world today
Future Assembly is a pilot project that emerged from post-Brexit conversations amongst artist, theatres and policy makers in the UK. Led by artist and producer Annette Mees the project brought together teenagers and people over 60, to create aspirational visions of the future. The 1st Future Assemblies took place in Liverpool, Exeter, Ipswich, Newcastle and London.
The Assembly process mirrors the creative process; merging techniques from theatre, creative writing and future visioning. It allows participants to cross existing divides and co-create values, visions and policy manifestos. Just as important as the manifestos, are the new kinds of conversations, new relationships across divides and a deeper sense of empathy across difference that the assemblies generate.
Creative co-creation is a valuable and powerful tool that can be utilised to develop creative visions for the future across divides. Future Assembly is in conversation with policy partners like Involve UK and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy to implement the piloted process in design making processes. The future belongs to all of us. Before we can build that future we need to invent it. Art and culture can help us imagine, and if we can dream up better futures together across the country, we can start creating a better present.
We believe only when we work together across divides of politics, generations and geography can we create visions that shift our collective perspective towards a positive future for everyone.
The Future Assembly Project is an experiment with a new method of creating an inclusive creative dialogue that listens and allows diverse groups ordinary citizens to contribute their collective creative voices to a vision for the future.
The project emerged from a series of conversations between designers, artists, policy makers, systems change experts, theatre makers and a behavioural economist. We agreed that, whichever way we voted at the Referendum, most of us voted with our instinct rather than basing our choice on in-depth information or knowledge. Whether our instinct was to ‘make a change’ or to ‘value our connection’, few of us knew or understood the detail and complexity of the decision we were asked to make, or the consequences of it. As an artist I have years of experience in co-creating theatre with very different groups if people. I have worked with teenagers and academics, political scientists and historians, marginalised groups and UK Parliament. Creative co-creation processes bring together groups of diverse backgrounds, perspectives, interest and expertise and uses imagination help the group come together as peers. The diversity of the participants combined with a creative process and result-oriented outcomes ensures the quality of the output is high.
The process itself can become a narrative, harnessed by an engagement strategy, which can create buy-in and resonance with a larger audience too.
“I hope our vision and insights from the process of Future Assemblies can contribute to an investigation of political engagement and help shape a politics of the future, to articulate and realise the kind of country we want to see.
I think there has never been a more important time for this work. Greater creative dialogue will not only empower citizens and lead to more engagement, but it will also create deep insights for institutions and policymakers.
I believe that the future belongs to all of us. Before we can build that future we need to invent it. Art and culture can help us imagine, and if we can dream up better futures together across the country, we can start creating a better present.”
— Annette Mees, October 2016
The Pilot Process
The Pilot Process
“It inspired me to try and improve the world around me, and showed me that people have the power to make change just as much as the politicians in Westminster do. It also inspired me to talk to more people from different backgrounds and of different ages about issues such as the environment and politics.”
Megan - teenage Future Assembly participant
Future Assemblies was an investigation into how creativity can be used to enable more active citizenship. The Assemblies were designed to take the participants through a series of creative stages, modelled on creative/ rehearsal process.
Step 1 – Preparation: open up the imagination and create an ensemble
Step 2 – Incubation: create a multitude of ingredients and ideas of future visions
Step 3 – Investigation: investigate, question, and deepen the initial ideas
Step 4 – Kill your darlings: zoom in on the most important ideas
Step 5 – Implementation: crystalise the ideas into a shared manifesto and create instant results through personal pledges
The participants get to know each other and start shifting from a selection of individuals into a group. In the theatre world we call it "creating an ensemble"
Participants get into pairs, talk about their interests, special skills, ‘mastermind topics’ and other super powers. Each participant uses that information to design a ‘Future Job’ for the other – an imaginative job that currently doesn’t exist yet. It can be outrageous and intergalactic or more realistic and in the near future. Each participant introduces their exercise partner to the rest of the group and explains their new job title.
The participants use their imaginations create a multitude of ingredients and ideas of future visions. The process starts easy and playfully, gradually increasing complexity and depth.
Designing the best possible future is hard. Coming up with creative constructive ideas form a barrier where people feel that they can only speak once they have a ‘good idea’ Designing the worst possible future is a lot easier and a lot of fun. Here teams come up with the worst possible future. We then start mirroring the concept and start flipping the evil futures – to start to identify the ingredients of a better future.
The group creates a timeline of inspirational moments, people, social changes and traditions from the past. We use that to create a timeline with imagined future equivalents.
A combination of visioning tools, creative writing and theatre exercises are used to delve deeper into the possibilities and obstacles in these possible futures.
In a guided improvisation exercise, participants individually create a future where a few specified significant changes have taken place. They take on a role or occupation in that future. The facilitator takes them through 24hrs of a day in their role. By embodying the experience participants generate new insight on the impact of the proposed changes.
2x2 Scenario exercise
This is a classic scenario planning tool. A matrix is created with each axis representing a scale of change. For example: y-axis represents a green energy future through to a fossil-fuel dependent future, combined with a x-axis that runs from a high employment future to a low employment future.
Each of the four quadrants of the matrix represents a different future scenario. The groups investigate the possible futures in each quadrant, looking first at 5 years into the future, then 15years, then 25 years.
Each participant in each group then takes on a different position in society and explores their particular role and responsibility in the future scenarios. We use a theatrical technique called hotseating to interview each of the representatives about their roles, opportunities and motivations within the scenarios.
The participants hone in on their collective priorities, actively evaluating which ideas generated in previous phases are worth pursuing.
Each participant writes down: one hope, one law, one truth, one breakthrough
and one song title, each representing an idea they think is important to take forward. The whole group creates clusters and themes of ideas from these.
In small groups the participants pick 3-6 clusters or themes. For each theme they write
What would half way look like?
What would 3/4 of the way look like?
What would ALMOST there look like?
What would the first step look like – what could be a marginal gain right now?
In the final stage, the group crystallises out their ideas collectively. This stage focuses on consensus and delves deeper into juxtaposing ideas, revealing the shared ideas and vision co-created by the group. It creates a precise shared outcome that can be presented to external partners and space for instant personal transformation for the participants through the use of pledges.
Here the participants write a collective manifesto. In order to get to these futures, what do we need to put in place now? What captures the essence of what will take us there?
Questions that can help:
What did we replace? What did we enhance? What did we reverse?What did we make obsolete?
In pairs each participant comes up with a personal pledge of an action they will take to make the world a slightly better place. The pair then sets up a ‘buddy system’ to check in the progress of each others pledge in a month.
Our pilot Future Assemblies have investigated how creativity can be used to enable more active citizenship. Our aim was to create space for two very different generations to be able to reflect on their opinions, listen to each other and then access their imaginations and experience to create visions of a future they could all support.
In each of the pilot assemblies we ran, the conversation deepened and became richer as we moved, with participants, through the stages of the process. We found that playful creativity is a great way to facilitate greater public involvement, generate new ideas and to pinpoint collective priorities.
The initial round of Future Assemblies has tested a process. What we have found is that the two-stage process which we have designed provides a mechanism for the deep engagement of ordinary citizens in questions about what should happen next and the future which they would like to see.
This process provides an avenue through which participants are able to express their desire to make their feelings and opinions known and heard, and crucially, to provide rich ideas which can then be harnessed by those developing policy and practice to help contribute to the creation of better futures for us all.
The next step to explore is where the Future Assembly process can most usefully be applied. We believe that it can be used it to further promote active engagement, bringing together multiple communities and generations, in a more focused way, to ensure greater public participation in the big political decisions we face post-Brexit and beyond. If participation is to be meaningful then public input has to be listened to and integrated into the actions taken by politicians and policy makers. The question now is where and how that space can be created using the Future Assembly model which we have developed?
This initial series of Future Assemblies has engaged multi-generational groups around a post-Brexit agenda but this format could, we believe, also be put to specific use. In fact we think that applying it to particular challenges and issues would further harness it’s potential.
The approach is particularly useful for transcending existing opinion and co-creating new ideas using a collaborative approach. This allows less eloquent and less educated voices to find a means of expression and contribution. Creativity and co-creation processes are specifically suited to developing shared visions between different groups in a room, while leaving enough space for differences to come to light and be acknowledged.
Assemblies that work like a barometer for spending priorities
For example a local authority spending review
Assemblies that work like speculative design sessions for future services
For example with different patient groups and medical staff in the NHS to help design the priorities for services
Assemblies that help create visions of the future
For example for a public institution that are setting out new organisational goals and multi-year road maps
Assemblies aimed at creating engagement and buy in
For example with communities, local business and city planners ahead of large scale housing developments
Assemblies for social cohesion
For example for communities which seek better connection between different groups who share the same space
The Future Assembly process takes a creative approach to creating a space for deep and meaningful citizen engagement and collaborative speculative visioning. The methods and learning can be taken and adapted to work with different communities and agendas. When applied to a specific context particular groups can also be specifically identified to be included in the process to ensure that those participating in the Labs represent a diverse group of interests and backgrounds.
What is next?
What is next?
Future Assembly is a call to action; to citizens, institutions, researchers, polling bodies, politicians and decisions makers. We believe creative co-creation is a valuable and powerful tool that can utilised to enable the development of creative visions for the future of post-Brexit Britain.
In this time of political shifts we need to find new ways to engage with important questions as individuals, communities and as a country. We need to deepen our shared sense of what living in a democracy means. That means more ‘porous’ institutions and decisions making processes that take place in the public sphere. We want to contribute to a greater sense of connection and stimulate the genuine engagement of citizens in political visions for the future of our country.
Future Assemblies is an investigation into the possible, a pilot. Future Assemblies is not alone is asking and answering these questions. There is a rich history of engagement in the UK and others who are pioneering new kinds of participation, civic involvement and institutional reform. We want to see where creative process piloted in Future Assemblies can contribute. We want generate a conversation about the possibilities and advantages of co-created visions of the future that are able to feed into policy making.
We believe that the rich dialogue is needed. The future belongs to all of us. Before we can build that future we need to invent it. Creative methodologies can help us imagine, and if we can dream up better futures together, we can start creating a better present.
Please join us for an evening at Somerset House for an evening of discussion with expert speakers, followed by a collaborative brainstorming session exploring how we can engage citizens and stakeholders in imagining the future and together start building a better world today.
Future Assembly at Somerset House
Thursday 01 12 2016
Time: 19:00 – 21:00
Location: Screening Room, South Wing Somerset House, Strand London WC2R 1LA