Do not rob people of hope

I attended my first World Future Society conference in July 2013 and encountered many big new ideas, concepts, and people. One of my most valuable takeaways came not from a presentation, but from a conversation I had with another conference goer, Isabel Abrams.

Isabel is communications director for Caretakers of the Environment International, a worldwide network of secondary school teachers and students who are actively concerned about environmental issues. This is what she said (paraphrased), “In my work… when I write articles or talk to classrooms, I refuse to rob young people of their hope—that is the worst thing you can ever do. Hope is one of the few things they have in the face of all of these great challenges—and they will be relying on that hope every day in order to even begin to solve the problems they’re inheriting from us. No matter how bad things are, we don’t have the right to rob the rising generation of hope.”

Since that conversation, every time I talk to others, especially young people, I think about her words. Do not rob the rising generation of hope. Do not rob anyone of hope.

Photo: Reponses from prototyping session of Question Launch, a futruespace conversation.Three weeks ago, I gathered a few good minds to test out a prototype of Question Launch, the first futuring literacy project of futurespace. Question Launch is a structured conversation about a single possible future designed to introduce futuring concepts and methods through direct participation. Once the prototyping phase is done, I plan to hold this conversation with ten disparate groups and publish their reactions on futurescape.co.

I’m very excited to meet new people and encounter new perspectives through this project, and for futurespace to emerge as a futuring resource for our community through these conversations. Over time, I plan for futurespace to bring people together for more hands-on futuring engagements that explore more futuring methods, history, and concepts. (If you are part of a group that might be interested in holding a Question Launch conversation, please let me know in the comments.)

Overall, the Question Launch prototype went well. Some parts went very well and others raised questions. It did what a prototype needs to do—test a new idea to discover how to make it a better idea.

I was fortunate to have local expert arts facilitator Kirstin Wiegmann there to gather participant feedback. After closely reading that feedback, and going through the post-conversation process of preparing the group’s work for publication (practicing this post-conversational work was also part of the prototyping), I have found Question Launch is missing something crucial.

The exercise at the heart of Question Launch explores a two-sentence dystopian scenario. Over the past few months of designing this conversation, I have talked with friends about my plans and heard reactions like “talk about something positive,” to “not prescribe an outcome,” and to make sure participants feel “energized” through their participating. I listened, but really wanted to test my original idea. The two-sentence dystopian scenario has been the constant element in every draft of the idea during development. Why? I want to challenge myself and others to become better at talking about difficult and negative possible futures in calm, genuine, and thoughtful ways. For many months, as it is with most emerging works, the importance of this core concept was more a gut feeling than a defined design goal. Now it feels more clear.

In the collected feedback, the five Question Launch prototype participants shared what they liked about the designed conversation and raised questions. While reviewing the feedback notes, one participant’s question jumped out, “I was left wondering what we are supposed to do? I mean, what actions are we supposed to take?” I read this feedback soon after I typed up the group’s responses to the Question Launch scenario. One of the large bright yellow post-it notes simply asks, “How many people will have already died?”

It made me sad. For a week. I realized Question Launch was missing hope.

Not entirely. I generally am a hopeful person. I believe that when people are given the chance and support to make something good happen, they will. And my intentions for Question Launch and futurespace are not motivated by cynicism. I believe hope was very much part of my motivation to bring people together. The design of the Question Launch prototype simply didn’t bring the group back to a hope filled space after working through a possible dystopian future.

I have a new design goal for Question Launch: To amplify the hope of participants and empower them to project that hope forward to the people of the future. I look forward to incorporating this design goal in the next iteration.

We, the people of now, need hope. People of the future will need their hope even more than we did.

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