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Using futures methods to create transformative spaces: visions of a good Anthropocene in southern Africa

Laura M. Pereira, Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Tanja Hichert, Hichert and Associates Pty Ltd; Foresight for Development
Maike Hamann, The Natural Capital Project, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, USA; Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Rika Preiser, Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Reinette Biggs, Centre for Complex Systems in Transition, Stellenbosch University, South Africa; Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-09907-230119

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Abstract

The unique challenges posed by the Anthropocene require creative ways of engaging with the future and bringing about transformative change. Envisioning positive futures is a first step in creating a shared understanding and commitment that enables radical transformations toward sustainability in a world defined by complexity, diversity, and uncertainty. However, to create a transformative space in which truly unknowable futures can be explored, new experimental approaches are needed that go beyond merely extrapolating from the present into archetypal scenarios of the future. Here, we present a process of creative visioning where participatory methods and tools from the field of futures studies were combined in a novel way to create and facilitate a transformative space, with the aim of generating positive narrative visions for southern Africa. We convened a diverse group of participants in a workshop designed to develop radically different scenarios of good Anthropocenes, based on existing “seeds” of the future in the present. These seeds are innovative initiatives, practices, and ideas that are present in the world today, but are not currently widespread or dominant. As a result of a carefully facilitated process that encouraged a multiplicity of perspectives, creative immersion, and grappling with deeply held assumptions, four radical visions for southern Africa were produced. Although these futures are highly innovative and exploratory, they still link back to current real-world initiatives and contexts. The key learning that arose from this experience was the importance of the imagination for transformative thinking, the need to capitalize on diversity to push boundaries, and finally, the importance of creating a space that enables participants to engage with emotions, beliefs, and complexity. This method of engagement with the future has the potential to create transformative spaces that inspire and empower people to act toward positive Anthropocene visions despite the complexity of the sustainability challenge.

Key words

Anthropocene; futures; imagination; scenarios; southern Africa; transformative spaces; transformations

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087