Preparing for the Future(s): Foresight, citizens’ insights and serious games
BY Ana Dautovic, Marija Novkovic | October 20, 2015
Most people feel that the future is linear: if you perform well in school, you’ll get a job; if you work hard, you’ll be promoted; if you save, you’ll be able to live well through your retirement age, et cetera, et cetera. There is a great level of comfort in the IF → THEN causal link because there are fewer variables, fewer elements that could go off the rails. There is more certainty and we feel more in control.
However, through Futures Studies there are alternative futures (possible, probable, plausible, and preferred); consequently, there are multiple development pathways.
Professor Jim Dator, the pioneer of modern futures studies once said that “the future cannot be predicted because the future does not exist.”
Indeed, the last few years brought forward unfathomable changes with deep, far-reaching ramifications. The global financial crisis, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, nuclear power plant disasters, the rise of extremism, and the ongoing global refugee crisis, to name just a few. The linear path from A (The Past) to B (The Now) to C (The Future) in these occurrences has been more challenging, if not impossible, to pin down.
Because of the rapid pace of changes, development organizations are, in fact, asked to be more resilient and more agile so as to navigate uncertainties.
We in the UN System in Montenegro were mindful of the fact that the realities of the present day and age require innovation at the highest point of impact – the five-year strategic plan of support to the country. We created a strategy that would infuse our long-term planning with foresight and civic engagement. It consists of three steps.
1. Serious games for empowering new voices in strategic planning
Working in Montenegro over the last few years has brought us closer to the country's rising new voices -- a generation witnessing and creating unprecedented changes to the social fabric. Working across think-thanks, academia, statistical office and NGOs, they are disruptive innovators, digital champions and active youth.
We engaged them through collaborative workshops, where they learned about foresight, and most importantly, created alternative futures for Montenegro.
We are particularly proud to have used a serious game that was custom-made for Montenegro by John A. Sweeney, another member of the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies and deputy director of the Center for Postnormal Policy and Futures Studies. The game, beautifully designed to showcase elements of the national costume, served as an enhanced survey tool, prompting the players to ponder on values, challenges, opportunities, stakeholders and actions, which will likely shape the future of the country.
2. Digital engagement fit for the 21st century
Civic engagement, particularly through social innovation and online platforms, has been high on UN Montenegro’s agenda. So far, we’ve engaged thousands of Montenegrins and garnered their insights through the massive post-2015 national consultations (12,000 people), the Youth Employment Solutions platform (10,700 people), and uncovered social change heroes through the Open Ideas and Be Responsible campaigns (over 7000 civic reports of informal economy leading to generating public revenue in excess of 1 million EUR).
However, public consultations on the next five-year strategic plan of collaboration between the UN and the Government of Montenegro were the new peak we had to conquer. We turned to digital technologies, and moved our serious game into the online space, hoping for a wider outreach.
We are both anxious and excited about receiving citizens’ insights into the future!
3. Innovating at the point of strategic prioritization
While this summer seemed like one giant roller-coaster journey, we do have few more rides ahead of us! Moving away from traditional planning processes, we are bringing in foresight into strategic planning with the Government.
Applying foresight should allow us to unlock a much broader scope of analysis. We plan to use backcasting, i.e. a forward looking planning process where we start from future(s) scenarios to define programmes that will help make them a reality.
This strategic meeting with the government will be as collaborative and hands-on as possible, to inspire everyone to engage more than they would by filling out a survey or validating pre-defined strategic priorities. It will enable considering new horizons of the five-year plan, the integrated nature of sustainable development and human rights, and creating a more resilient society.
Thinking critically about preferred futures will lead the way towards creating a more fluid and agile structure so that when challenges arise, we can navigate them. This approach will ultimately promote proactive versus reactive attitudes.
In our next blog post, we will share what we have learned so far. Stay tuned, check out the video feature, and join the ride!
The stories behind the numbers in Kivu
June 10, 2016
Results, results, results. The age old monitoring and evaluation question: how do you [actually] draw a connection between transformational changes in the lives of people and the development projects that aim to help them?
The hard part is that the traditional monitoring approach does not focus on measuring outcome indicators, a weakness corrected by a new monitoring method: SenseMaker Narrative Capture. This initiative focuses on transformational changes, and uses qualitative and quantitative methods and collects narratives shared by the beneficiary populations.
As head of the Monitoring and Evaluation unit in the UNDP Democratic Republic of Congo country office, I led the implementation of this new monitoring and evaluation approach in South Kivu. Overall, the project was designed to to support the stabilization of the South Kivu region, which has been part of a conflict since 1994 among several actors looking to expand their territories in the Great Lakes Region.
Overall we believe that strengthening community management of conflict resolution and social infrastructure will help reduce potential sources of tension, which will help displaced and refugee populations return and reintegration process.
Monitoring change with a participatory approach
Generally, we were interested to learn about the changes in the life of communities involved in this joint programme developed by UNDP, UNICEF and FAO and particularly, we wanted to capture people’s experiences and feelings around the Kivu conflict, peace-keeping efforts surrounding the conflict, and the reintegration experiences of displaced individuals.
For this purpose, we approached different organizations and community leaders involved in the peace process following the conflict in the region. Our idea was to seek for their support designing monitoring tools and instruments we were planning to use and, because they took part in this first phase of the process, the tools obtained added value to the project. This participatory approach ensured that the content of the tools and questionnaires was well aligned with the reality in the field. This reality check empowered us to move to the most challenging part of the process, the data collection.
Capturing the stories behind the data
During the the data collection process, more than a thousand community members shared with us their story about the conflict, the stabilization and the peace process.
On this process of capturing the stories, what mostly amazed us, beyond their content, was the storytellers’ feedback:
“By sharing this story I realize how was my life before, during and after the conflict, I realize how bad a conflict can be, why it is important to live as a community, to bring our children up with a new mindset. I realize how the different actors: the local authority, the church, the national army, the self-defense groups were interacting to either maintain crisis situation or to improve the situation of the communities”.
Some of the participants also shared their positive feedback on the way the data collection was done:
“The way you designed the questionnaire without asking me to share my opinion but to tell my story was fantastic. I used to give my opinion for surveys conducted by other organizations but I was never able to look back on the conflict and all the horror, the death, the tears, the food insecurity that we had to face everyday.”
Through this methodology, we realized that assessing the situation helps the storytellers focus not only on their opinion but also on their past experience. That is why we believe that Sense@Maker is an interesting and relevant addition to the M&E exercise as it is a realistic tool based on the commitment and strong participation from the beneficiaries and we plan to use it to influence future programme design and implementation.
Among the findings, one pointed out that education is a top concern for the communities. According to the results, communities find education a key component to promote skills, knowledge and new employment opportunities. So we are currently studying how education can be used to achieve a deeper impact in shaping attitudes towards conflict resolution and expanding access to social services. We will keep you in the loop!