Future Tense Stories
IMAGINING UTOPIA: I think you’ll have to admit it’d be pretty cool to go to a school that had roller coaster elevators and flying shoes — and that is run by animals. Such are a few of the innovations dreamed up by the kids at a New York City public elementary school, at the prompting of the folks from the Center for Artistic Activism (CAA) during an “Imagining Utopia” workshop. These wacky inventions are not likely to be implemented, but they yielded what CAA calls “practical ideas about how to make lessons and books more accessible, and the architecture of a century old school building more kid-friendly.” Though the “Imagining Utopia” workshops involve what you might think of as kids’ stuff — brainstorming, storytelling and drawing — they’ve also been done with economic justice activists from Boston and an “art and social change” delegation from Pakistan. It’s a good example of telling stories about the future to stimulate the social imagination.
SCENARIO THINKING: Plenty of businesses plan for the future by charting out different scenarios — how revenues might grow or shrink, what their competitors might do. The practice is not as widespread in the philanthropic sector, but a 2004 publication called What If? The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits showed how groups like Tides and Casey Family Programs put it to work to help with organizational restructuring or constituency-building. What If? says that “scenarios are stories about how the future might unfold,” and that “scenario thinking is a tool for motivating people to challenge the status quo, or get better at doing so, by asking ‘What if?’ Asking ‘What if?’ in a disciplined way allows you to rehearse the possibilities of tomorrow, and then to take action today empowered by those provocations and insights.” The publication takes a prosaic, five-step approach to scenario thinking, but some of the fun inherent in the process peeks through, such as in the example of how Tides imagined four scenarios it titled “Bladerunner,” “Lilies of the Field,” “Rebels With a Cause,” and “New Waves.”