Remaking Worlds: Summer Futures Course Recap

We’re just back from the 3rd annual Innovation & Futures Thinking course taught at IED Barcelona, trying to catch a bit of rest and recovery. We’re also collectively taking some time for reflection on the course experience, what we learned along the way, and capture some ideas for doing things better/differently in future studio courses and workshops.

The 2-week course itself was tremendous. The backdrop of the city itself is always fantastic (though this year’s 35C weather required a bit more hydration). The instructor crew for this year—John WillshireAndres Colmenares, and Natalie Kane—as well as visiting coaching talent—Susan Cox-Smith and Joy Blundell—gave us a nice mix of structure and creativity, experience and fresh eyes, to guide the students through what is always a challenging process. Elisabet Roselló also joined us to provide local knowledge on field work day, as well as to add to the conversation as we built scenarios. 

The 16 students themselves were, of course, the best part. We were joined by a great mix of curious, clever folks from Brazil, China by way of Italy, Spain, Italy, Argentina, India, Greece, France, Canada, and Pakistan by way of the UK. Students brought professional background from management, UX, film and media, design, psychology, and social policy.

In this moment of building refugee crises, post-Brexit miasma and ongoing redefinition of identity, this year’s course looked at futures through the lenses of migration, citizenship and belonging, with more of an experiential focus. We began by immersing the class in new ways of thinking and structuring data and signals about human movement—capturing trends about technological identity, movement driven by climate and politics, emergence of new communities and maintenance of old ones in the face of dispersion, and a wide spectrum of related issues and trends.

The class then took two days to structure and flesh out a common timeline of the next 15 years as a scaffold on which to build a series of loosely connected scenarios. A day in the city looking for signals, evidence and inspiration related to these scenarios—around societal fragmentation, divergence into a global networked class and local work, emergence of new forms of community, and new digital identities—was followed by iterative shaping of narratives, personas and artefacts to form tangible futures the teams could share with each other. 

The outcomes were rich, imaginative, and insightful projects that gave us glimpses into these future scenarios through critical services, artefacts and interactions (see images below).

Refugeen: a near future UN-funded prototype to help resettle refugees from Turkey and Syria into Canada. Refugeen used a mix of native natural language WhatsApp chatbot-based intake and support, biometric identification, and holographic on-demand information.

Pick and Mix: an integration service for frequent travelers using socialization around local food as the central focus.

Better World: a global virtual community using the body as a natural interface that allows members to slip into an AR-like immersive environment. Temporary skin-based wearables provide the gateway connector to user-defined communities.

Hidden Secrets: another AR-based system, providing migrants and travelers a way to access secrets and insider knowledge placed by residents.

SIDI: a post-May biometric digital identity system created by an alt’s Ministry of Digital Identities. This project came with additional artefacts exploring personalized travel for someone passing through the SIDI system. 

Thanks again to the hard work of students and staff who made it all possible, including hat tips to Madeline Ashby and Fraser Hamilton for drop-ins.  See below for videos and pics of some of the student work and the class in action. 

IED Barcelona Innovation & Futures Thinking Final Project - Arjun Singh, Li Zhu, Carolina Jule
IED Barcelona Innovation & Futures Thinking Final Project - Amelie Marcombes, Raul Fornes, Vanessa Bulhoes
IED Barcelona Innovation & Futures Thinking Final Project - Natasha Iqbal, Anderson Penha, Ilan Chame.



"How To Future"

Last week we went public with a project that has been taking shape for a while—How to Future. It's a result of the confluence of several things: a need to create a more formal teaching text to accompany classes and workshops we've been doing for a number of years, and a desire to streamline methodologies and approaches we apply in our everyday consulting work to a straightforward, repeatable toolkit that can be used for a diverse set of needs. 

I'll quote from the inaugural blogpost:

"This doesn't mean there aren't detailed texts and courses available for academic or professional use, but ways to get groups or individuals in the futures frame—and able to apply the skills and approaches we use in real-world projects—are hard to access. 
This project is intended to make it easier. This isn't a graduate course in Strategic Foresight (there are some great ones out there if you want to go deep), or a heavy tome of methodologies, but reflects the best way we've found to get the necessary basics—vocabulary, concepts, exercises and approaches—into the hands of non-experts as quickly and clearly as possible. Most importantly, we've modified and created hybrid approaches over the years that work with design, innovation, strategy, policy, creating stories and narratives for media, and many other applications."

We decided to start with workshops first, as writing may take longer than just rolling out what we already have prepared. These will take the form of 1-Day Intro courses meant to give professionals in a wide range of roles an orientation, vocabulary, and key tools to get started—running from front-end "sensing" through to communicative prototypes that share futures with others. We will also be announcing some limited 3-Day courses with partners soon, and even have the capacity to run 10-Day Studio Intensives, hosted by sponsor organizations. 

The assembled team who will be helping to manage and run this project are stellar as well. Susan Cox-Smith, partner and creative strategist at Changeist, takes charge of the project. Natalie Kane and Madeline Ashby will also support European and North American workshops. Everyone will have a hand in creating materials. Finally, there will be a book in here somewhere soon!

Contact Susan or me with any questions, follow along on Twitter, and let us know if you are interested in organizing a workshop—either inside your organization or bringing together an interested group of individuals.