In times of uncertainty, imagination can help to navigate through possible futures and to outline visions which may be useful to face the challenges of today. These aspects are crucial when debating on future of work, not only to provide insights on desirable realities to young professionals but also to formulate more ideas and options in a multifaceted debate.
Encouraging co-creation of our collective future may look as a very ambitious task to be carried out by Cluj-Napoca in the framework of the UIA project Cluj Future of Work, but the creation of future scenarios can provide useful elements not only to trainings and actions designed for specific targets at local level but it can be visionary and inspiring also to other cities in Europe.
The use of methodologies, originally conceived for the creation of military strategies, to anticipate how the work in different sectors will look like in the future is part of Cluj-Napoca’s plan to combine the use of future literacy tools to the elements emerged from the main strands of action (Culturepreneurs, Work 4.0 and Informal Work) of the UIA project.
The first of four scenario planning sessions, organized in Cluj-Napoca at the end of October 2019, was focused on global changes in work in culture and involved 25 participants among students, cultural entrepreneurs, innovators and artists. The attendees constituted a diversified group of individuals who contributed to reimagining work starting from current macro-trends and studies, used just as a basis for reversing the conceptual implications connected to the topic.
In other contexts, it is relevant that the predicted future is also likely to happen. In an artistic framework this is not so important, it is actually more valuable to be as imaginative and far from reality as possible - says Rarita Zbranca, programme director of Cluj Cultural Centre, who facilitates the research and scenario planning activities of the project - We are particularly interested in what shifts of paradigm may appear. Just like science fiction movies and literature, these exercises help feeding a collective imaginary and creating narratives about possible futures. And these in turn enable public debate and personal reflections on the consequences of our current choices
Three different scenario planning methods
The session held last October was not the first occasion in which scenario planning methods were used by the Cluj Cultural Center and other local organisations. In fact these methodologies were tested in the framework of different projects involving local and international partners, and were used also for imagining different futures connected to the candidature to European Capital of Culture 2021. Imagining scenarios in which European Union would stop existing contributed to focus on the main challenges faced by the different actors of the cultural sector in an unlikely future, but also to highlight strengths and weaknesses of the city.
In the latest years, different methodologies were tested through immersing the participants in role playing exercises which enabled them to experience the world of tomorrow in a direct way.
Some of the most interesting methods tested for creating future scenarios are the following ones:
- Alternative Future
This method, created by Jim Dator at the Hawaii’s Manoa School, charts four directions differently shaping the future changes. Continuation, Collapse, Discipline and Transformation are the four archetypes used to conduct a futures visioning process, to generate different stories and to express a preferred future scenario.
- Future Forecast
Developed by AltArt, a cultural foundation based in Cluj-Napoca, is an intervention model based on the collaboration of a plurality of stakeholders in a multidisciplinary approach to foster change in local communities. Collecting data, spotting trends, fictionalizing scenarios, dramatizing scenarios and assuming future are the five phases of a process put in place by a team of sociologists, anthropologists and artists.
- Critical Uncertainties
This method, created by Peter Schwartz, identifies a key question, the important factors of the local situation and the driving forces, then ranked by importance and uncertainty. Two areas with the highest level of uncertainty and the highest potential impact on the question focused are selected and serve as basis for the creation of scenario narratives.
The impact of future planning methodologies on Cluj-Napoca’s experience
On topics as future of work in urban contexts, the implementation of scenarios techniques can produce more interesting results than any other types of forecasting analysis, because it guides different types of stakeholders in reasoning over alternatives which can help them in being better equipped to face the future professional changes due to unavoidable factors, such as automation or evolution in cultural consumptions.
A mix between the different scenario techniques mentioned above was put in place by Tina Auer and Tim Boykett who co-founded Time’s Up, an artistic laboratory for the construction of experimental situations based in Linz, and animated the first scenario planning workshop of Cluj Future of Work.
Getting different perspectives of the future and see how them are visualized by the participants is the most interesting and special moment in every process of this kind conducted by the two artists in the different cities of the world where they carried out their workshops, from London to Tokyo.
“The collaborative development of ideas and thoughts allows us to develop images and ideas of a preferred future but also to be motivated and come up with actions to be done in the present” says Tina Auer.
One of the main results of applying future literacy to concrete cases is to make future accessible and to enable people to broaden their individual approach, contributing at the same time to improving the way local communities deal with the questions related to the world we want to live in in the future. The level of commitment and the success of the exercise depend also on the place where these scenarios are co-developed.
“In big cities you see much more determinism, while Cluj-Napoca has more openness on what is going on, more motivation and a strong cultural interest: these elements are fundamental to make interesting visions emerge from scenario planning workshops” says Tim Boykett.
Making future scenarios a crucial part of the local debate on future of work is a key element to make the visions emerged part of a collaborative perspective on the long view.
The next three workshops, to be organized online and in presence by the first half of 2021, will be open to the participants of the training modules of Cluj Future of Work -Culturepreneurs and Work 4.0 and to experts on different topics related to informal work, but also to artists (selected through a public call to be launched soon) who will turn the main elements and vision emerged from the workshops into artworks.
The artistic representation will contribute to make the vision developed within the sessions more understandable by a wider public in the second half of the project, with a public exhibition of the artworks open to the city.
“Through the artworks, people have the opportunity to immerse into and experiment with representations of possible futures. This is why we chose this approach, because it helps us communicate about the future of work in a way that is hands-on, accessible and appealing for the wider community.” says Rarita Zbranca.
How the Covid-19 emergency may valorize future scenario planning (not only in Cluj-Napoca)
Since decades business and military sectors included future scenario planning methodologies in decision-making strategies, even from very different perspectives. The current pandemic crisis, with public authorities confronting unexpected events, can push also national and local authorities to use more extensively these methods in order to be more resilient and able to manage the consequences of shocks and events unimaginable until a couple of months ago. But not unimaginable enough for who push the others to deal with uncertain and alternative futures.
“The theme of pandemics has always been an issue for future scenarios. It could be one of the elements changing the world a lot, in some of our past exercises it was presented as an opportunity for change” says Tina Auer of Time’s Up.
What in the past would have been presented as an absurd or implausible point of departure for future scenarios, now is a reality posing challenges also to the role that speculative thinking exercises, as the ones performed by Cluj Future of Work, can play in urban governance.
“It is very interesting to see how imagination is increasingly relevant in understanding and shaping what is going to happen in the next years” says Rarita Zbranca.
Developing a widespread future literacy, to be applied to a wide range of fields (not only to jobs and skills but also to urban planning, inclusion or sustainable growth) with flexible tools and methods, can be one of the lessons to be transferred by the experience of Cluj-Napoca to foster a different way of reasoning in decision makers and stakeholders on the long term.