Back(casting) to the Future
On Tuesday I took the role as facilitator for the Durham Waste Awareness Partnership annual creative day. The Partnership consists of waste officers from Durham District and County Councils. It was felt that previous creative days had started getting repetitive, so they wanted someone to come in and shake it up a bit. Enter Terra Infirma.
I decided to do a bit of backcasting, that is, designing an idealised future and working out how to get there. This contrasts with the normal approach of forecasting where you start from the current situation and try and think of things that will improve it. The advantages of backcasting are:
– it frees the mind to think the unthinkable;
– you don’t focus on current barriers;
– it is participative;
and, not least,
– it is good fun.
The process is:
1. Decide the endpoint you want to achieve: in this case, zero residual waste in wheelie bins.
2. Draw up a number of future scenarios which demonstrate this future: in this case we looked at two households, both time poor, but one cash rich and one cash poor. For each we did two scenarios – one where the household consumed roughly the same stuff as today but did things better (like recycling) and one where we could radically change their consumption patterns.
3. Think up clever ideas of how to achieve those scenarios.
The day was a success – we did come up with a (small) number of things that no-one had considered before, plus a huge raft of stuff that some councils were doing and could be applied to members of the Partnership.
If I could go back and change one thing I would have been stricter on following the backcasting process ‘rules’. There was a tendency to fall back into the habit of forecasting when we got to stage 3.
Overall, feedback from the attendees was very positive and they really enjoyed the opportunity to think differently – hopefully they can take some of that back to their jobs even when they’re back in the world of full e-mail in-boxes, voicemails and intrays.