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Discussing Regional Future Literacy Labs with Riel Miller

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

At the beginning of the DUST project, ideas of how to deploy our methodologies effectively and sensitively were a major focus. Establishing Regional Futures Literacy Labs (RFLL) is an important activity in DUST, where we focus on the proactive and strategic involvement of the least-engaged communities in four of our case-study regions. The principle is that through co-creative and experimentative activities, the RFLLs will enable citizens to identify and imagine alternative future scenarios in the just transition process, empowering them to work towards sustainable futures that work for them. Riel Miller is the former Head of Futures Literacy at UNESCO Paris and a pioneer of the theory and practice of utilising visions of the future to inspire social change. He is currently a senior fellow at The University of New Brunswick, The University of Stavanger and École des Ponts Business School, with many years of experience promoting processes of understanding the attributes and role of the future. As a pioneer of the RFLL process, Riel Miller’s knowledge is of great value for the DUST project. During the conversation, we discussed the RFLL approach in DUST, drawing on Miller’s experiences and expertise to identify key considerations for its deployment. Read on to learn more about these.


Design and decision-making depends on who is in the room

It is important to see design and decision-making processes as conversations, where multiple forms of knowledge come together to make societal change. Often these forms of knowledge rely on traditional and familiar processes of progression, that may make assumptions or leave out certain people from the conversation. By continuing processes of the familiar, policy-makers are seldom challenged to consider a future different to their own vision, and citizens buy into conventional narratives that seem secure and safe. Work like that of Riel Miller and the DUST project challenges this convention, arguing that inclusivity is of great importance to inspire societal change that is unified and where diverse forms of knowledge help to create novel futures. But to change convention is a huge task. One way to broaden who is in the room is to consider a plurality of futures, designed and owned by many different communities as a driver of change. To do this, however, we must inspire those left out of conversations to imagine new scenarios of change.


Perception is not choice

Over the course of Riel Miller’s career he has seen how decision-making processes often see perception and choice as the same. Policy adapts to what is visible. What is seen is what is done. But perception is not choice, and the invisible is often left out of decision-making. In reality, we need to look deeper than what is immediately available to us and remain open to the less-heard voices. These voices may at first glance appear smaller, but often contain a quiet power that could revolutionise conventional conversations and provide alternative ways forward, beyond what may seem possible. The task of untangling perception and choice is vital and yet complex. To challenge convention is to ask people to take chances and step out of their comfort zones. But what may arise from this process, where instead of asking what is probable we ask what is possible, could result in brighter and more inclusive futures for all.


Future Literacy is a process

To challenge our societies to imagine alternative futures and create new policy scenarios, we must build literacies of the future. This means supporting individuals and communities in their imagination of something new, by promoting collective intelligence. This way of thinking is often a big step for many people. It challenges narratives that have exist for years, where some may feel fearful to imagine different futures after years of a dominant perspective. It is a process where the outcome is unknown and where different ways of knowing may emerge. But, the work of Riel Miller and those alike has shown that imagination can empower representation and create immense social momentum. As researchers and practitioners, it also asks of us a different mindset. Not one in which we pursue solutions, but one where the process of future literacy supports new forms of ownership and authenticity, where it becomes about the people and their transition.


Approaching literacies means being open to ideas of capacity

Ideas of imaginaries, futures and new possibilities, to some may seem ungrounded. However, it is important to recognise that visions of the future can act as powerful catalysts for actions in the present. To invite people to consider the future and what they might want to see, can create very real societal action across a range of scales. Unlike other forms of participatory empowerment, this goes beyond providing basic tools and methods, and instead asks people what they are capable of, and how they might equip themselves to pursue a brighter future. It enables difference and complexity as drivers of capability and allows different people and communities to recognise their unique potentiality. In turn, this means recognising that visions exist at different scales. Different people may envision their futures at a local, regional, national and international level. Crucially, people can only be themselves and the future literacy approach seeks to recognise and legitimise this authenticity.


Laboratories are a way to understand anticipatory systems

Experimentations with future literacies and anticipatory visioning is central to the work of Riel Miller, and now the DUST project attempts to utilise these methods at scale. Vital to the success of this is the retention of an open mind and willingness to understand difference, authenticity and capacity. A major challenge lies in how to unify a process that must adjust to the different forms of expression and conversation in unique regions. Perhaps the key to this lies in seeing experimentation itself as replicable. We seek to draw on the experiences of experts like Riel Miller in enacting laboratories, understanding that the form and function of these will likely differ between our case-study regions and communities. We enter into the coming years with great excitement for what we will learn. Follow the DUST project on our social media channels, to join us on this journey!

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