12 Tasty Futures Literacy Recipes for Sustainability Innovators*

By Nicolas A. Balcom Raleigh and Martyn Richards

* This is an excerpt of the forthcoming Futures Literacy Cookbook for Sustainability Innovators: Easy-to-use exercises and daily work practices for nurturing futures literacy of teams, eds., Balcom Raleigh N., Richards M., Damhof L., and Calnan M. The 12 recipes in this blog post were selected by Martyn Richards from a larger set tested by the FLxDeep consortium, supported by EIT Climate-KIC in 2020.

License: Creative Commons – Attribution – No-Derivatives 4.0 – CC-BY-ND 4.0. Please attribute whole blog post to Balcom Raleigh, Nicolas & Richards, Martyn, and individual recipes to the indicated contributors.

Why regularly taste futures literacy?

Futures literacy is a capability people can acquire and develop through practice and attention. A global network of UNESCO Chairs is actively advancing it worldwide — increasing human understanding of what it is and what it can do for different groups of people in different contexts.

A starting point for understanding futures literacy is to think of it as a collective and individual capability to diversify the futures you imagine and use when considering and making choices. This seed of an answer to ‘what is it?’ grows with practice over time.

Developing futures literacy with other people requires experimentation, patience, and continual ‘learning by doing’. These experiences offer opportunities to practice intentionally varying your modes and purposes of imagining futures. Through these experiences, you understand specifically how the futures you imagine drive what you (with others) perceive, choose, and do; and generate collective rewards and new value from imagining futures in a wider number of ways for different purposes.

The following 12 exercises can be used by any team to practice and experiment with futures literacy. These exercises originated from the ‘experimental check-ins’ of the FLxDeep 2020 consortium supported by EIT Climate-KIC. At each meeting our team would test out an experimental check-in prompt invented by one of the team members. After everyone answered, the group would reflect upon how the prompt could be useful for developing futures literacy.

We are pleased to share these 12 tasty recipes, enough to supply a team with check-in prompts for a full year’s worth of monthly meetings. Each one is tested and ready to use. We hope they bring you benefit and inspire you to invent your own future-themed check-in experiments.

List of Recipes


Recipe #01 — A Gift to the Planet

If you could give a birthday gift to the planet, what would it be?

Example Answers

  • A new kind of festival that everyone could get behind.
  • Inclusion: a space of belonging and co-creating together.
  • For everyone to have enough bandwidth to be able to see and hear each other.
  • A remanufactured vintage necklace, repurposed oil rig gems strung between a lattice of plastic capturing netting, putting that which is obsolete to some real work.
  • We should always be careful what we wish for, but I would hope for new kinds of wisdom that would open up our understanding.
  • A magical thing in our drinking water for empathy.
  • Free COVID-19 vaccines for all

Design intent of this prompt

This prompt makes an explicit connection between personal and planetary scale systems. It encourages consideration of what would be a valuable contribution that we could make, surfacing our own values in the process. By using the notion of gift giving we tap into a wealth of personal experience that is universal. It invites a creative and playful engagement with systemic themes. This prompt was delivered during the run up to the winter festive season but could be adapted for use at any time of the year or for any festivity.

Reflections on how this prompt may be used as part of a Futures Literacy process

  • This is a light way to open up talking about values while inducing a state of wonder.
  • People understand this prompt in different ways, “the planet” meaning nature, as well as “the planet” meaning people of the world, and so forth.
  • The notion of a gift connects to the metaphor of compost thinking; thinking about the future in terms of the gifts that we are giving to future people.
  • I could envision using this to explore how people are imagining planetary futures.

Contributed by Kacper Nosarzewski. First tried at the FLxDeep consortium’s regular meeting held on 27th November 2020.

Recipe #02 — Emergence of the Week

What is an example of something surprising, novel and emergent that you noticed in the last week?

Example Answers

  • Distribution of the COVID19 vaccine within two weeks in Finland.
  • Post-election discourse in the US.
  • An unusual wordless check in; using zoom to simply observe each other, you didn’t know who was observing you, nor did others know you were also observing them.
  • My son asked me many questions about what it means to be a good person (he is 14), what happens if your good motives are threatened or changed? He subsequently got the best mark in (his region) in a philosophy essay.
  • Surprisingly easy to make food for my child — through talking and engaging him.
  • Fermi Lab had a video about how large the universe is — 72 billion lightyears across — the edges of the universe are stretching faster than the speed of light: everything I thought I knew about the universe is wrong.

Design intent of this prompt

I have used many variations of this to push people to think of something else. I often use the example of Monty Python’s “And now for something completely different”. A follow up to this would be to dig deeper into the notion of emergence, “and what is new, in what is the same” what is new in the usual. Part of emergence is seeing the new/different in the old. This is linked to noticing transformation. Emergence is something else aside from weak signals or trends, novelty is not necessarily just something new.

Reflections on how this prompt may be used as part of a Futures Literacy process

  • This can be used as a follow up exercise after a Futures Literacy Lab or Training, to keep practicing this capability daily, once you know what it is.
  • This could also be used as a check in for the reframing stage to help get people into the mood for spotting novelty.
  • Alternative: What was something that was there before, but you hadn’t noticed?

Contributed by Leena Jokinen. First tried at the FLxDeep consortium’s regular meeting held on 20th November 2020.

Recipe #03 — Cooking Recipes

To what degree do you follow the recipe when cooking?

Example Answers

  • I precisely follow the recipe on the first time, I am precise and tidy that way but after the first time I will begin to hybridize and improvise.
  • I always feel like a recipe needs to be improved, I have the same feeling about technology, i take things apart and put them back together again, i do’’t care whether they get broken in the process. I do figure out some fundamentals however over the years, one pot recipes, finding the formula/fundamentals then you can begin to improvise.
  • Intuitive cook, I try to recall my parents recipes, over time they evolve based on a memory of their taste. I never follow instructions, relying on my senses.
  • I have a lot of stress and anxiety about recipes. But I don’t tend to read the whole thing. I miss the end. And then I panic in the final stages. The second time is better. Lately I have been channelling a character from a TV show who makes whatever his customers ask for–- attentiveness to whatever people want — can help make it more peaceful.

Design Intent of this prompt

This prompt was spontaneously conceived in response to the topic of cooking. Cooking is a personal and social process, and this prompt opens differences between these personal processes–- e.g., baking needing precision and involving a high degree of path dependency, compared to more creative and improvisational approaches to familiar dishes.

Reflections on how this prompt may be used as part of a Futures Literacy process

  • A lot that can be read into the different styles in terms of attitudes towards preparation and planning.
  • Understanding of systems and processes. Your ethical approach is revealed, and your comfort zone in doing work. Also, perhaps we uncover wholly different processes. This is also very anticipatory, futures oriented.
  • Personal element is helpful for building trust in a process–- few personal details need to be revealed: comfortable and familiar entry point.
  • This points to all the practices associated with cooking beyond the recipe–- the other kinds of knowledge you are expected to have

Contributed by Amos Taylor and Martyn Richards. First tried at the FLxDeep consortium’s regular meeting held on the 30th October 2020.

Recipe #04 – Three Futures

For our group, what futures do you fear, which are you hopeful about, and what futures would surprise you?

Example Answers

  • (That our consortium) continues with new and exciting frontiers (hopeful); fragmented funding makes it hard to hold the consortium together (fear); superventure funded by a billionaire that requires us all to move to the Mediterranean (surprising)
  • Fear that there is no funding; hope/surprise would be that the venture turns into a “proper business” in which I can be an entrepreneur, although this would require significant adjustment on a personal level
  • Do not fear lack of funding, other opportunities can be found; hope to use more creative methods; fear that other upcoming projects will eclipse this with their pressing issues and prevent deep engagement with what we have learned so far.

Design intent of this prompt

This prompt was created while our consortium was discussing strategic options for the coming year under conditions of high uncertainty. It gave us an opportunity to surface our fears and hopes but also to imagine some positively surprising futures. This is an example of a question that can be used to begin moving outside the typical mode of using futures (hopes & fears) towards being more receptive to the opportunities of change. This is a reminder that the focus of futures literacy is on making better informed decisions in the present using not only long-term futures but also near term futures.

Reflections on how this prompt may be used as part of a Futures Literacy process

  • Our reflections on this experimental check-in included the observation that seeds can be planted now and followed-up that would open further opportunities in the future.
  • Already discussed earlier in the week the possibility to talk about the shorter-term future of futures literacy work; short term view is also important now, perhaps more than before
  • Hard to think of a strange or surprising future, might even come up with something disturbing that you want to push away or are uncomfortable sharing; should it still be plausible?

Contributed by Nicolas Balcom Raleigh. First tried at the FLxDeep consortium’s regular meeting held on the 2 October 2020.

Recipe #05 — Exiting the Box

When you face a wicked problem and you want to think outside of the box, what do you do?

Example Answers

  • Drawing it out as a diagram systematically, e.g. mind-mapping
  • Go for a walk or cycle.
  • Embody different perspectives, e.g. mentors etc.
  • Sitting by water and doing something else
  • Diving into the idea and then letting it sit and stew. An indirect approach.
  • Utilizing the space between sleeping and waking to meditate on ideas.
  • Doing something else for a while. Then wait for it to come — anger is directed at the challenges and problems.

Design intent of this prompt

We have noticed that quite often the practice of reframing poses a significant challenge. At the same time “out of the box thinking” seems to be well understood and appreciated. In brief, reframing involves the reconceptualization and experiencing anew of a situation by reconstructing or developing a new frame. As such the concept of reframing does not directly equate to outside the box thinking, as the latter is often considered to be an isolated activity detached from a process of frame (re)construction. Despite the conceptual and practical differences we consider inviting participants to reflect on the process of thinking outside the box to be a good first step towards gradually introducing them to reframing, as practiced in the second stage of a futures literacy lab.

Reflections on how this prompt may be used as part of a Futures Literacy process

  • Listening to myself and others is the interesting part of this. Now I want to have a discussion about how our preferred process orients our assumptions.
  • Writers do this, poetry could work in contrast to more technical mindsets.
  • The difficulty of changing perspectives is that we are prisoners to it, also using archetypes helps us to plug into deep things, like poetry bypasses the rational, archetypes do as well (Jung, tarot).
  • Students in collaborative learning journeys; social confidence helps students lean into the uncertainty of the unknown. Trusting people that you are working with.

Variants contributed by Marianna Ferreira-Aulu and Irianna Lianaki-Dedouli. First tried at the FLxDeep consortium’s regular meeting held on the 28th August and 25th September 2020.

Recipe #06 — Transformed Thinking

Which of your present ways of thinking do you think could be radically different in the future?

Example Answers

  • Starting a course soon (…) tapping into indigenous wisdom and emergent learning. I think that it will change the way that I think about learning.
  • When applying for PhD studies I have been thinking about that process a lot, I think that my belief that degrees matter will change.
  • I am the product of an aspiration, conflictual and judgmental world, the opposition of ideas and beliefs, I wonder if i could change my own judgmental behaviour and position. It would be a fundamental change for me. I come from a place of judgement.
  • We are on the verge of having a second lockdown because of covid here, the way that I think about what is normal will change soon, from politics to economics to other paradigms may radically change.

Design intent of this prompt

This prompt explores the intersection between futures literacy and transformative learning theory, which understands deep learning as the transformation of habits of mind. Futures literacy gives us a process for acting on the habits of mind that relate to the future. This prompt asks people to identify routine thinking and unquestioned mindsets under conditions of change. It helps us to realise that our current habits of mind are not perfect, or set, and that we are constantly in a process of metamorphosis. To reflect on that as a group is challenging as it requires openness, trust and a willingness to set aside our need to be the expert.

Reflections on how this prompt may be used as part of a Futures Literacy process

  • We invite people to notice things, especially change and the conditions of change. These ways of thinking establish the conditions for the way things are, as we acquire new knowledge the conditions change. A lab changes those conditions of change.
  • Thinking about your thinking, some groups find it challenging to think on that meta level.
  • We can use this prompt to introduce the new questions phase of a workshop.
  • An FLL develops a new capability — consciously using the future, being more reflexive. Our goal is not to change participant’s thinking patterns. That is futures therapy. They have to raise their hand and say that they want to be involved in this kind of change.

Contributed by Martyn Richards. First tried at the FLxDeep consortium’s regular meeting held on 18 September 2020.

Recipe #07 — Retro-futures

What futures did you think would be here by now?

Example Answers

  • A medical lab on a chip
  • That Poland would have replaced the złoty with the euro, after 10 years.
  • That my son would be a professional football player
  • That I would be living in a village in the middle of nowhere, but unfortunately still in a city.
  • I thought manufacturing 4.0 would have been happening in small companies already.
  • I thought we would have stronger value chains — sugar not being phased out.
  • 10 years ago I attended a singularity U event — it might have to do with how it was framed — but I had that expectation, but it is not really happening.

Design intent of this prompt

The world is rich in imagined futures. As we live our lives, we develop a variety of expectations that arise from these futures — which can be from our own ideas, ideas of others’, or wider society. This exercise helps a group notice the variety of expectations they have had for the future, reflect upon what has changed or hasn’t, while implicitly and safely sharing some of their hopes and fears. It was first used in Balcom Raleigh’s Question Launch workshops piloted between 2013 and 2015 which aimed to help participants identify desirable collective conditions they would want to nurture in the present.

Reflections on how this prompt may be used as part of a Futures Literacy process

  • This is a light one, everyone can contribute. For a reflection, you are going back in time to think what you were expecting and how things turned out.
  • It helps verify past assumptions about futures.
  • Reminding yourself, where you wanted to be, gives you more motivation that you could start changing something.
  • It places emphasis on what didn’t come to be.
  • More about inflections of the younger self with a more mature one.

Contributed by Nicolas Balcom Raleigh. First tried at the FLxDeep consortium’s regular meeting held on the 17 July 2020.

Recipe #08 — Ask Future Bambi

Imagine that you wake up thirty years from now, you come across a baby deer, what one yes or no question would you ask them about how we have done as a species?

Example Answers

  • Can I borrow your smartphone?
  • Are you going to take me someplace today, my guide?
  • Are you happy with your life?
  • Have you forgiven humankind?
  • Do you think your offspring will have a better life than yours?
  • Do you live in my building complex?
  • Did the FLxDeep project support your survival/have a positive impact on you?
  • Do you have enough food for your herd?

Design intent of this prompt

This is inspired by the Rip Van Winkle technique which was developed by RAND corporation in the 1950s and the environmental writing of Lovelace. It can be used to uncover assumptions as quickly as possible.

Reflections on how this prompt may be used as part of a Futures Literacy process

  • We have used it as a warmup, and to help people become explicit with language, it gives lots of information and it is enjoyable. It can tell you a lot about the group dynamic if you use more questions.
  • Engaging, participants often try to outsmart each other making it a lively activity.
  • Interesting to see what people come up with pre/post Futures Literacy Lab.
  • What does the baby deer do for this? This is hybridization — the forced combination of incongruent elements to stimulate an emotional reaction and creative response.
  • It opens us up to more futures. We did not question why we could talk to the animal, maybe that future is not as nonsensical as the first impression.

Contributed by Kacper Nosarzewski. First tried at the FLxDeep consortium’s regular meeting held on 26 June 2020.

Recipe #09 — Future Storylines

What story would we tell about the future if each of us wrote only one line?
Example Answers

  • Sometime in the not so distant future a new island has been established in the middle of the ocean made of plastic, a new habitat has sprung up there…
  • … the island people are elderly people who have moved there to protect themselves from a coronavirus…
  • …what they didn’t expect was that the plastic had been incubating an unusual strain of bacteria…
  • …which are sentient beings capable of establishing telepathic communications with the residents of the island, which results in a surprisingly high rate of…
  • … new forms of relationship between the residents, but the problem is that it is also eating the plastic resulting in a tense stand off…
  • …which only the new organisation set up to regulate interspecies conflict can intervene in…
  • …the united nations had to be renamed the United Species organisation which helped humanity to move away from being a dominant species to being able to coexist with other species on the planet.

Design intent of this prompt

The collective story-telling approach has been widely used in a variety of settings that involve participatory group work. In our context, we asked participants to come up with a story placed in the future. The prompt was designed and tested with a view to assessing its potential for revealing anticipatory assumptions and encouraging improvisation.

Reflections on how this prompt may be used as part of a Futures Literacy process

  • Collaborative — setting up others to come up with good ideas just as much as coming up with good ideas yourself.
  • The iterative nature of the process can help people to pick up on what is going on, and it has a low barrier to entry.
  • Can be used for engaging real issues, a light introduction, a way of starting the ball rolling on difficult topics.
  • Creativity brings in the topics that people are thinking about.
  • At first it was difficult to enter into, but with more voices it became easier, needing inputs from other voices to provoke a response. It also reveals these assumptions that we have, when all of a sudden you need to actually do futures literacy.
  • It can produce a ‘good enough’ reframe scenario to use for widening perception.

Contributed by Irianna Lianaki-Dedouli. First tried at the FLxDeep consortium’s regular meeting held on the 12 June 2020.

Recipe #10 — Other Ways of Knowing

What do you know to be true but you have no scientific evidence to support it?

Example Answers

  • I know the most efficient possible path to cycle to my house.
  • You can only relax when skiing after your first fall.
  • Trust your gut.
  • It makes a difference to do the right thing.
  • Magical thinking — that there are some powers that exert energy or vibes.
  • A tiny ghost lives in our apartment, and changes little things.
  • That there is something about motherhood that is bigger.
  • That things are more connected than we can prove.
  • Only when you are really, really old can you know who the true love of your life was.
  • That I know the exact abandoned quarry in Wales that inspired Tolkein’s Mines of Moria.

Design intent of this prompt

This prompt taps into feelings, emotions, intuition and other ways of knowing that are not easily addressed by a quantitative, scientific approach. The intent is to open participants up to the unusual, the strange and the unthinkable, as this is the mindset needed to engage with anticipation for emergence in which reframing takes place.

Reflections on how this prompt may be used as part of a Futures Literacy process

  • Primes the reframing phase of an FLL and being open to something different.
  • The future does not only consist of data, what it is that we actually know and how do we know it? There is much in science and knowledge creation that we depend on.
  • Takes us to postmodernism — epistemological and ontological assumptions and different ways of knowing — and these are in us. it is good for people to be aware of it.
  • Not sure that this can be used as an icebreaker in all contexts due to cultural issues that could arise which might prohibit later daringness in the discussion.
  • Potentiality, explores new untapped ways of thinking and gaining knowledge and ways of knowing.

Contributed by Loes Damhof. First tried at the FLxDeep consortium’s regular meeting held on the 5 June 2020.

Recipe #11 — Pleasant Surprises

Name in three words a surprisingly desirable future within the next 90 minutes? And then, in the next 90 years?

Example Answers

  • Nourishing soul soup — Teal as usual
  • Integrate lunch and conference call — Learn to ride the storm
  • Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod — Twenty again and happy
  • Plant pepper seeds — Own instant farm
  • To sprout wings — Embrace (not pretend) unpredictability
  • Rid self of nausea — Travel pollution free
  • Melting pot of creativity — Develop self awareness as global human value
  • Flows of unusual things — Multiplicity of values
  • Delicious pizza-digesting discussion — Balanced human-nature coexistence
  • Big sudden alignment — All the above ^.^

Design intent of this prompt

This prompt taps into Anticipation for Emergence while justapositioning short-term futures and long term ones. The emphasis on surprising futures encourages participants to look for a future they aren’t expecting to happen, a proxy to emergent novelty. The tight word count drives time efficiency and focus in the responses.

Reflections on how this prompt may be used as part of a Futures Literacy process

  • The low word count and advance warning of the prompt elicited poetic responses through a need to tap into metaphors for rich meaning.
  • How about having a middle point, so that there can be a surprise during someone’s life.
  • Building on establishing this frame of mind systematically, returning to this at a later point in a workshop, taking the time to reflect together on what has been surfaced. We have spent the time tapping into the unconscious and spontaneous, so we should exploit that.
  • A check-in is about presencing, it should be low-threshold; being here in the moment, something sensory or physical. A heavy activity is already taking us to the future.
  • We use a lot of time on this check in activity, why? Because we are entering the meeting as whole people. This is a generative playful activity rather than an emotional human check in.
  • This meeting is more generative in nature, this sets the tone for the upcoming conversions.
  • Could this meeting have been an email? We’re not bonding en mass with an email.

Contributed by Nick Balcom Raleigh. First tried at the FLxDeep consortium’s regular meeting held on the 24 April 2020.

Recipe #12 — Scalable Fruit

Prompt A: What new friend are you occupying your space with since the Covid 19?

Example Answers

  • A late flowering sunflower
  • A black and white photograph… a French family from the past enjoying a sunny day.
  • A pair of travelling headphones, noise cancelling, first used to go to a conference in Mexico. And now I am using them to have a sense of privacy in my own apartment. They became about travelling in a different way.

Prompt B: When you dream, do you dream about the past, present, or future?

Example Answers

  • Dreams about the past: our city, in the time of WW2, walking the streets or taking the train, often travelling in the past, meeting people from the past.
  • I have never dreamed about the past, in another reality, watching a film, some things are set in the future, seems to be mostly in the present, never the past.
  • Whenever I recall a dream I have generally experienced it as being in the present, but when I recount it and look for meaning it seems to me to be about the future.

Design intent of this prompt

Originally used as part of the ‘scalable fruit’ workshop method to facilitate conversations about identity and practice. The second of these questions locates one’s unconscious and conscious relationships with the past, present and future. The role of nostalgia for the past constructs a space of strength or safety in which you can define identity, which can then be revisited and reimagined. The future, we might assume is about the potentiality of being. The present can be about emergence or knowing who I am. All are using temporal, time frames differently.

Reflections on how this prompt may be used as part of a Futures Literacy process.

  • The second one was very nicely introduced, instead of describing a dream, it provides a way to talk about dreaming in an interesting way.
  • Choosing an object with which you have a meaningful relationship; antagonism, possibility, lasting, abandon? It opens up a deeper level of assumptions.

Contributed by Amos Taylor. First tried at the FLxDeep consortium’s regular meeting held on 11 September 2020.

That’s all 12 from this batch. Please let us know if you try them or if you invent any of your own! Send your stories to nabara@utu.fi and with your permission we will share them here.

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