Understanding realities: Foresight for development in Armenia

Dec 5, 2014

“Foresight protects against this impulse, grounding the future in a diverse and ever-changing reality”

In the past few months Kolba Lab here in Armenia has jumped on the “gold rush to the future“. This is the first in a series of blogs that aims to share our rationales, experiences, and results.

Today’s challenges – increased complexity and interconnectedness of development issues, alongside endemic deficiencies within static bureaucracies – are pushing us to rethink the way the development industry operates.

Organizations must adopt responsiveness and flexibility as a default posture: Strategies must get strategic.

This means a greater appreciation that future planning be seen as the defining backdrop upon which our policies are crafted.

As the UN in Armenia is currently engaged in its UNDAF strategic planning process, 2014 seemed like a good time to shake up our work through foresight.

How is this achieved?

Future planning requires a framework that maps what the future could potentially look like.

This is what foresight offers: a prediction of the future based on the ebb and flow of today’s trends – a bridge between the present (trends) and future (planning).

A panacea it is not, but the utility of this methodology is nonetheless being taken increasingly seriously and is being tested both inside and outside of the UN.

Whose future?

If scenarios of the future are decided by those at the top – policymakers, technocrats, development practitioners, etc – then inevitably development policies will be built to reflect only those futures.

Foresight can easily fall into the age-old problem of designing solutions for rather than with citizens. We can mitigate this threat through crowdsourcing.

By placing the citizen in the driving seat, foresight explores more inclusive scenarios, composed of current trends and their short and long-term impacts.

There’s another layer here.

Half a century ago Walt Rostow created a model of development unable to perceive of the future other than through the lens of Eurocentric utopias - a model that continues to influence the industry today.

Foresight protects against this impulse, grounding the future in a diverse and ever-changing reality.

That’s the idea, although there are other issues of which to be aware.

Edgeryders has been trying it, spotting the future by tapping into and harnessing the collective to generate more creative problem solving. Foresight methodologies have also been digitized in computer technologies like Futurescaper and Institute for the Future.

Armenia’s future

As a platform that is able to reach a mass audience, through a relatively straightforward survey format, we decided to go with Futurescaper.

Previous attempts at participatory visioning exercises, such as the post-2015 consultations, created a lot of unstructured data on development ambitions, which were not grounded in reality – in what is achievable based on current resources and trends.

The key comparative advantage for us in Futurescaper is the ability of the platform to combine respondents answers (gathered via crowdsourcing), thus creating a structured map of possible futures that are grounded in current trends.

This enables us to understand the complex interactions between trends in the present, their causes, and the nature of possible futures they could generate.

This was ultimately the driving motivation behind our decision to experiment with Futurescaper.

It takes these complex, interconnected datasets and packages the insights in a way not available to development practitioner 1.0.

This, we hope, will keep our plans grounded in what is achievable, considering the current resources available to the UN, and to Armenian society.

This was our plan at least.

Find out soon how we got on and whether our hopes matched with our experiences and results!



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