In the past seven years, I’ve discussed the future outlook with dozens of groups, formal and informal. There’s a huge range of views on what may happen, and how to prepare for it: but everyone agrees that strengthening local communities will be crucial.
For several years I’ve been exploring initiatives which could raise community resilience, and this has led to the Future Conversations project, which is currently running pilot programmes with a number of communities across the UK.
The basic idea of FC is to facilitate a series of 6-8 conversations with members of a local community, enabling them to explore hopes, fears and questions around the future outlook for themselves, their community, and for global issues, especially climate change.
Each conversation would last 2-3 hours, and the content clearly needs to serve the needs of each participant group. The project team have created an extensive menu of processes, skills training, and information resources which we hope will meet a wide range of needs.
Our aim is to work mainly with disadvantaged communities who may be the most vulnerable on a range of issues, such as service cuts, or rising food prices caused by climate change.
A crucial question for the project was whether these communities, where people are struggling to cope with today’s problems, would have time or interest to engage with the future. Through local partner organisations, we ran several taster conversations, and found there was a strong desire to know more about the troubles ahead, and explore how to face them.
After an initial open taster session, the aim is to recruit a committed group of 8 to 16 people for a further 5-7 sessions. This group can work with the facilitators to shape the content to meet their needs. There are three main themes we suggest for these sessions:
- How about you: a chance to explore hopes and concerns for yourself and your household. Plus some training in basic group skills, such as active listening and handling disagreements.
- The big picture: briefing on possible impacts of climate change and other global concerns, and on movements responding to them, such as Deep Adaptation and Extinction Rebellion. We will offer the Deep Ecology process to help people to face and grow through feelings of despair and helplessness which can easily cause denial or apathy.
- Community matters: space to review the future needs and threats for this local community, and collective responses to them.
This project has moved rapidly, from an aspiration in August 2018, to an actuality in February 2019. In January 2019, we ran a 3-day Train the Trainer programme for Future Conversations facilitators. We now have agreement in principle with several local host organisations to run a pilot series of 6-8 conversations, during March – July 2019. We will be monitoring and evaluating these carefully.
If the pilots prove effective, we hope that the Future Conversations format will be taken up by many communities in 2020 and beyond. We are happy to make our material freely available to facilitators who have trained with us.
Our funding will support the project until Autumn 2019 only. Beyond that, expansion will depend on external grant funding, or on national and local partners who can cover the modest costs of delivering these programmes. We welcome approaches from anyone interested in working with us.