Case Study: Back From The Future

July 21, 2020

Large scale participatory futures research project by ouishare dealing with urban futures.

Imagine people in your community are connected, not only spatially, but also in a shared sense of conscious and collaborative future making. Instead of fear, passivity and consumerist attitude towards a city, you see confidence, a will for responsibility and agency. This vision is the starting point for “Back From The Future”.

Back From The Future (BFTF) is a program for participatory futures research and futures making tackling the question of how we want to live together in a city. The project was initiated by ouishare in autumn 2018 with the focus of the city of Munich.

When setting up the project design to address our vision, we based it on the following hypothesis:

We cultivate our thinking as future making citizens, once we (have the opportunity to) design, create and experience a concrete and visible future by ourselves.

Therefore the two-year project’s mission is to enable Munich’s citizens to create a variety of future scenarios of living there together, discuss and contextualise them and assess which aspects of these are (not) desirable for the future of their city.

Approach & Design

We asked ourselves: How to design an experience of actively designing futures that nudges people to rethink their own role in future making as citizens?

Inspired by the Extrapolation Factory’s approach of democratizing Speculative Design, we developed a full day session format that gives each participant the opportunity to create an individual future scenario and artefact without the need to be knowledgeable in Speculative Design.

In our one-day future trip participants started with exploring a broad selection of future signals. These are technological, social and political trends and forecasts. They provided workshop participants with a clear starting point about events, innovations and currents of the present, which imply future-oriented developments and at the same time raise questions. The participants continued to extrapolate them through the lenses of economic, social, environmental, political and technological conditions to describe a future state of society we would live in. Followed by analyzing them in the specific context of how we live together in this future as citizens and develop concrete future scenarios bound to that. Every step was facilitated and accompanied by tools such as templates, mind games, acting or inspiration cards while the experience design also included changes of the workshop room itself to help the context shift.

As a second part of the day, in an on-site (low-tech) Maker Lab participants built an everyday object that represents their imagined future, tested them in groups and started a dialogue about questions that arise and actions they are inspired to do.

Outcomes & Harvest

There were 8 extrapolation sessions on specific focus themes like co-living, mobility, care, learning and work. With these sessions the project reached more than 140 people, including schoolchildren, students, creative artists, employees of various levels and industries (care, learning, public administration, design, etc.), academics, entrepreneurs. They designed in a divergent process of individual work with feedback in groups more than 85 concrete future scenarios for city life in Munich in 2036 and visualised them in a self-built object from that specific future. Those objects are everyday products we as citizens will use to care for our needs.

As a result, participants reported that they experienced an intense journey with many new insights, questions and ideas to think further. Some even reported that the journey made them rethink their attitude towards relevant questions of being a citizen of a city.

Outlook & Open Source

To extend the reach of the future scenarios and enable resonance, the collection of all fabricated artefacts will be displayed in an interactive gallery of future visions of Munich’s citizens on www.munichfutures.com.

Furthermore, all project resources like methods, run sheets and tools will be available under open source licence. One of these tools is a database with a broad collection of signals to start an extrapolation: www.zukunftssignale.de (DE/EN). It contains a wide range of signals in order to meet the diverse interests of potential users. The signal database is continuously being expanded and will serve the public as a source of inspiration and conversation about future-relevant events.

Contributors & Partners

BFTF was initiated by a project team within ouishare containing Sarah Eisenmann, David Weingartner, Simon Leebmann and Charlotte Prelorentzos. As the program was realized as a network project, we want to thank all individual contributors like Anna-Catharina Koch, Eva-Katharina Wolfrum, Hristina Bojkova, Ramona Pielenhofer, Christian Escher, Maren Wolf, our enabling partner Steelcase as well as our partners Hans-Sauer-Stiftung, MUCBOOK and Kulturreferat München for their valuable support.

Ouishare connects people and accelerates projects for systemic change. We question and experiment with social models based on collaboration, openness, and fairness. We proudly have 60+ Connectors in 20 cities, organized + 300 events including 10 international conferences and published 9 research studies since 2012.

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