Many of us are struggling to find time or willingness to consider our future. The changes we’re facing in the next two or three decades are complex, often contradictory, and can feel daunting. Research shows that our main strategies for coping with future changes are denial and avoidance.
Moving people from ostrich to active participant in a positive future is the key aim of Future Conversations. The project aims to use natural spaces to start conversations about our shared future, working primarily with disadvantaged individuals and communities facing social and economic hardship, and with community organisers who support them.
A series of guided conversations will enable people to explore their hopes, fears and needs for the next 5-20 years. We will explore facts and feelings, and provide processes and information to grow the confidence and skills to shape the future positively.
Hosting community conversations in natural settings, Future Conversations will offer a menu of process tools, practical techniques and activities including natural resilience and deep ecology, but with content geared to participants’ needs. We are currently exploring locations for pilot groups in England, Wales and Scotland, aiming to start in early 2019.
Future Conversations (FC) is one of three initiatives to foster future resilience that make up Seeding our Future. Seeding our Future (SOF) is a small, non-profit initiative, started in 2017 by Alan Heeks, a social entrepreneur and writer (see www.naturalhappiness.net). Our partner organisations include Schumacher Institute, Westminster Centre for Resilience, the Centre for Future Thinking at Hawkwood College, Community CoLabs, and others. Alan has been exploring resilience for many years: he has led workshops on this theme, and has set up a woodland retreat centre showing how to learn resilience from natural ecosystems.
Work Plan and Target Timetable
A. Scoping and feasibility. Research existing best practice and identify local partner organisations. Currently underway.
B. Research conversations with participants. Run one-off pilot sessions with a number of potential participant groups, co-hosted with a local delivery partner, to assess the viability of the idea, and guide content development. Autumn 2018.
C. Content development. Development of initial core-content material and pilot facilitators’ training. Content Development Workshop Dec 12-14. Facilitator Training workshop: January 15-17, London
D. Pilot programmes. Deliver 4-6 pilot programmes in a range of locations, each probably consisting of 6-8 sessions. Monitor and evaluate. Feb – June 2019.
E. Strategic review. Major go/no go review regarding wider roll-out. Assess content, facilitation methods, funding sources, etc. Explore the implications of running this concept at scale, and refine and revise content and facilitation process as needed. July 2019.
F. Roll-out. Agreements with roll-out partners, create the full set of materials and processes, recruit delivery partners, train facilitators. Late 2019/early 2020.
Format and content
This is subject to refinement in the scoping stage. We envisage a series of 6-8 conversations, each about two hours long, for a group of 8-14 participants, with two facilitators. The interval between sessions would be between weekly and monthly.
The aim is to recruit people with an actual or potential connection, e.g. living in the same neighbourhood, members of one organisation such as a community group, etc. The venue could be a city farm, community garden, local community centre, allotment, library or similar public space with green space close by.
The first session would be a ‘taster’, preferably for 12-18 people, at which people would be invited to commit to the full series of sessions. All details of the sessions are open to negotiation with local partner organisations. Sample session content for the series could include:
A. Taster: sharing how you feel, what you think about the future, or how you avoid it. Some ways to consider the future (e.g. the 3 scenarios, circles of influence/concern). What Future Conversations offers. Consensus about the shape of the series.
B. How About You: your present and future concerns about your own life and work, e.g. health, finance, housing, food supplies. Some basic resilience and positive psychology skills.
C. Community Matters: what does community mean to you: what do you need, what can you offer to your communities (e.g. your neighborhood, family, faith, work groups?) Skills and resources to enable community groups to function better.
D. Natural Happiness: learning about human nature, and how to grow your own happiness, by learning from nature and gardening. For example how to ‘compost’ your stress and anxiety, how to nourish your roots and support network.
E. The Big Picture: using a deep ecology process to help people face fears about the future, find new perspectives, and a sense of fellowship and purpose. Finding a sense of hope and what you can believe in.
F. Essential Services: exploring current and future issues around the front-line services that you and your community need, such as the NHS, local authority services, education, care, and the voluntary sector. Resources and skills for an empowered approach, including community action.
G. At Home with the Planet: exploring fears, facts and practicalities around environmental sustainability and climate change.
H. Completion and beyond: wrap-up session. Celebrating the shared journey. Exploring follow-on hopes and plans.
We are interested in contact with additional partners for the next stages of the project.
- Pilot partners: these could be local projects, or national organisations.
- Roll-out partners: we are seeking a few regional or natural partners who could use this process through their network.
The research and development to date, has been funded by Seeding our Future. SOF has limited funds for the pilot programmes, and we are seeking to share the costs with local partners. Roll-out would need funding from partner organisations or external funders.