Futures literacy & climate action: building on COVID 19 experience

The COVID 19 pandemic constituted a major disruption worldwide having tremendous impact on the socio-economic fabric of many countries and regions. We share the belief that it is urgent not to allow COVID 19 dire socio-economic impact to derail climate action efforts and instead to treat it as an opportunity to reinforce resilience and adaptation efforts within European societies and communities and further advocate the need for sustainable development.

We argue that sustainable development and the respective large-scale transformation required can be meaningfully supported through the development of Futures Literacy capabilities within communities and organizations. 

Futures Literacy is a capability that can be nurtured and learned. The concept was developed by UNESCO (Miller, 2018). It encompasses anticipation for the future, which translates to preparation and planning about future developments and anticipation for emergence. The latter refers to the ‘unknown’ or to the ‘becoming’. The objective is to simulate emergence in order for the beneficiaries to develop capabilities that go beyond preparation and planning, namely to develop collective sense-making capabilities: to be able to learn in complexity, discover and innovate. In other words, we simulate conditions of emergence in order to empower people to be adaptable and to restore trust in their inner creative capacity not only to cope with unexpected change, but also to be innovative and thrive. To be resilient. 

The appeal to think outside the box, which is central in innovation efforts, is undoubtedly an invitation to reframe.

To move from what is already known and established, to exploration and experimentation with the unexpected and unknown. This capacity entails both a cognitive/mental move and an emotional one.

Indeed, COVID 19 pandemic offered a large-scale reframing opportunity. In all its difficulty and adversity, it offered a space to rethink, re-evaluate, re-conceptualize basic aspects of human activity. In addition, it constituted a testbed for sense-making of a new, strange reality and experimenting with new innovative practices.     

Drawing on this collective experience, we aspire to build on the momentum and further cultivate the creative capacities of communities with the view to mobilizing them in the context of sustainability initiatives. Futures literacy processes such as the futures literacy labs offer safe, control environments for undertaking such a work. Building on collective intelligence and learning by doing processes participants engage in long-term thinking, explore different futures, negotiate shared meanings, experiment and come up with new mental constructs. They are enabled to think outside the box. Future is used as a tool to rethink the present.

The whole process can be interpreted as a divergence process that can subsequently inform innovation efforts.

In addition, if not more importantly it has the potential to catalyze systems transformation, by activating community engagement and enabling the formation of new thinking patterns.

A concrete example of such a work is the FLxDeep project undertaken in the context of Climate KIC Deep Demonstration Programme.

UNESCO Chair on Futures Research hosted in FORTH is leading the Futures Literacy work for the CKIC deep demo “Net Zero Emissions Maritime Hubs”.


Stay tuned!

by Irianna Lianaki Dedouli

About the author

Irianna Lianaki – Dedouli is Coordinator for Research and Training Activities at UNESCO Chair on Futures Research, hosted in Foundation for Research and Technology – Hellas (FORTH). She also acts as focal point for Futures Literacy. In the past, Irianna has worked as consultant for intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations including UNESCO’s Foresight Unit and UNESCO’s Intersectoral Platform for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence and Intercultural Dialogue. She is a PhD Candidate in Turku School of Economics. Her research focuses on futures literacy and intercultural communication.