World Game Seminar at New York Studio School (1969, New York). Courtesy of Stanford University Libraries Special Collections
By Rok Kranjc
»Make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone« – Buckminster Fuller
»Imagine a future where cities are modeled, tested, designed, and reshaped through interactive, collaborative games« – Ekim Tan
In recent years there has been a major upsurge in theories around and prefigurative experimentation with various alternative institutional models (e.g. commons-based urban co-governance, platform cooperativism, alternative currencies, universal basic assets, circular economy) that challenge the unquestionability of the neoliberal narrative and reflect and integrate to various degrees new and old ideas about possible alternative forms of societal and political economic organization. The many (political) challenges associated with the uptake, experimentation with and scaling of such path-deviant models have prompted parallell developments of more nuanced theories around innovation and institutional change, as well as the articulation and development of novel techniques, tools and platforms that may help incite and facilitate transformations towards sustainability.
With regard to the latter, sustainability foresight is increasingly recognized as a key component. Foresight in short entails various typically participatory and transdisciplinary engagements – e.g. in the form of creating visions, scenarios, backcasts and transition pathways – that help actors better understand and account for possible futures and the processes of change, so that wiser preferred futures and pathways can be created. Additionally, developments in experiential futures and speculative design, generative city gaming and internet and communications technologies (ICTs) enabled network foresight have begun to outline exciting new possibilities of more engaging, strategic, cross-scale, multi-actor, collaborative and anticipatory (i.e. futures oriented) forms of deliberation, cosmopolitan city-making and governance.
Two concepts crucial to zoom in here are anticipatory governance and global foresight commoning. Anticipatory governance may denote practices that involve tools, systems and open knowledge platforms that empower futures-inquiry and futures-making by enabling the smaller and larger scale pre-imagining and exploration of dynamics of change and near and distant future possibilities and in turn informing the development of strategies, pathways, policies, designs and experiments. Global foresight commons has been taken up by some scholars as a concept denoting »a network of globally distributed and shared resources between people, institutions, businesses and other communities, which provides an increasing and useful pool of knowledge, ideas and capabilities that potentiate all of humanity’s capacity to think about shared futures in effective ways.«
While as of yet largely speculative and/or experimental, in very recent years projects have emerged that may be considered as prefigurations or components of more integrated, cross-scale, polycentric and collaborative foresight, knowledge, design and governance supporting systems, i.e. systems that support »wiki-commoning«, social innovation, policymaking, socio-technical-ecological transition design and reflexive transition management. Interesting existing examples of such projects include:
- Seeds of Good Anthropocenes: a repository that maps more than a hundred initial case studies, and allows, by means of a questionnaire-type interface, for the crowdsourcing of ‘seeds’, i.e. initiatives, at least in prototype form, that represent diverse »social, technological, economic, or social–ecological ways of thinking or doing.«
- TRANSIT Critical Turning Points: a platform that contains a database and global map of social innovation initiative case studies, and an overview of ‘critical turning points’; i.e. the »breakthroughs, setbacks, and surprises« concerning their emergence and development.
- Open Futures Library: a »publically contributed, indexed, searchable collection of future scenarios and other images of the future.«
- Play the City: a transdisciplinary research organization and online platform that researches, develops with urban stakeholders, and offers a database of games around issues such as urban transformation, social change, smart cities, and sharing and circular economy.
- Foresight Engine: a »platform for engaging various publics in rapid conversation about pressing issues of the future, using basic game dynamics to make it fun and encourage participation.«
The Co-Cities project’s Commoning.city (www.commoning.city) platform may also be regarded as a possible prefigurative constitutent of such systems, which, much akin to Seeds of Good Anthropocenes, counts more than a hundred initial case studies and offers a global map and questionnaire-based crowdsourcing of new entries, albeit with an explicit focus on forms of collaborative city-making and participatory urban governance, and the teasing out, application and refining of institutional design principles for the urban commons.
Numerous questions regarding such systems however remain, of which, to conclude, I outline some of the most pertinent:
(1) In what ways may such and other (digital and/or face-to-face) tools and platforms complement each other in creating more robust and comprehensive toolboxes, or pooling, co-creative and moderation systems; e.g. linking »seed« case studies, designs, design principles and repositories; existing scenarios and other tools for and ways of expressing, experiencing, exploring, playing and experimenting with possible, plausible, probable, desirable, utopian, dystopian, heterotopic and other alternative futures (e.g. films, games, theatrical performances, comics, interactive virtual reality experiences, and artefacts from the future); with ICT enabled network capabilities; new tool and content generation; transition pathway mapping; »citizen sensing«, simulations of (gl-)urban socio-ecological metabolisms; and value and »strong sustainability« based service and product design; in virtuous cycles of open sharing, co-production, experimentation and co-evolution?
(2) In what ways and by what means can lessons learned from such endeavors be transposed to the real world by trandisciplinary communities of practice?
(3) How can such engagements commensurate different interests, worldviews and ways of knowing, and/or make any inherent tensions, discomforts and knowledge gaps productive?
(4) Whose and what kinds of »transformative capacities« are being and can be developed through the use of such approaches, and how do and can these contribute to smaller and wider transformative change?
(5) In what ways may these approaches represent new »emancipatory and egalitarian modalities of politics« and cosmopolitan forms of city-making, and how may these correspond to (i.e. be in conflict with, compliment, transform) existing institutional and actor constellations, norms, roles, responsibilities and power relations?
(6) What are the useful and appropriate forms of analysis, moderation, transposition, codification and meta-data enrichment of small and larger scale workshop, interview, questionnaire, deliberative poll, scenario, game-play, etc., results, for various applications in open knowledge pooling and (co-)creation?
(7) How can »seeds«, theories of change, design tools, etc., be integrated in the form of engaging game based, network enabled, and other (hybrid?) practices of foresight? How can and/or should the mechanics, design and set-up of these today account for and/or incorporate the politics of transformations towards sustainability?
(8) What kinds of tools can enable the evaluation and (re-)combination (through »bricolage«) and multi-tier scaling (i.e. scaling up, out and deep) of »seeds« or social innovations to foster more future-fit, multi-dimensional and complex socio-ecological systems oriented experiments, transition pathways and institutional alternatives?
(9) Assuming that today radical transformations are necessary to stay within surmisable planetary boundaries, how can the design and set-up of such tools, systems and platforms ensure that co-creation involving different stakeholders is deliberatively yet normatively geared towards path-deviant and more radical innovation, rather than path-dependency and the status quo?
(10) Can immersive and confrontational experiential futures (e.g. confronting actors with ‘voices of future generations’, or undesirable socio-ecological futures extrapolated from scenarios and simulations of continued status quo) accelerate (social, political, economic, etc.) paradigm shifts, and what may be the ramifications of such tactics and strategies?
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Rok Kranjc is a graduate student at Utrecht University, where his focus is on Geosciences and Sustainable Development. This article originally was published at Labgov.city and has been republished with permission.