Futures CoLab

About Futures CoLab
Futures CoLab brings together scientists and innovators with diverse expertise, from all around the world, to develop scenarios of the future using an online platform. 

By combining the expertise of people with a broad range of knowledge and guiding them through a structured process that draws out and integrates what they know, we hope to develop rich, insightful scenarios that outline a range of plausible future developments that could emerge. 

Why Futures CoLab?
Futures CoLab seeks to combine the techniques of scenario planning with online crowdsourcing—specifically expert crowdsourcing.

Scenario planning is typically undertaken by groups working in face-to-face workshops. By using a web platform and decomposing the scenario development process into a sequence of discrete activities, we hope to engage a far-flung group of participants without incurring the travel costs or requiring the extended time commitment

Online participation allows for contributions by a large number of individuals, with a very broad range of expertise, from many regions of the world. By casting the net widely, our process seeks to bridge disciplinary and geographic boundaries and generate a broader perspective view on the possible futures that could occur that might arise with a smaller group of participants.

Who’s behind Futures CoLab?
Futures CoLab is a collaboration between MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and Future Earth, a network of researchers and innovators that collaborates with policymakers, business, and civil society and accelerate the transition to sustainability. Initial funding for the project was generously provided by the Skoll Global Threats Fund.

How does the process work?
Participants will submit their ideas during a structured four-week process (see diagram), guided at each stage by a scenario facilitator.

Having a broad group of contributions will be helpful in providing the wide range of perspectives that can lead to rich, nuanced scenarios. 

Phase 1: Drivers
Participants will first be invited to submit drivers of change that could influence the question being explored in the scenario exercise. They will then be asked to vote on the drivers they believe could have the greatest impact

Phase 2: Combining drivers
Participants will be asked to combine drivers that could occur together, either because they have the same root cause or because they would follow one another in causal chains. Participants will then be asked to vote on the combinations they believe could have the greatest impact.

Phase 3: Axes and matrices
Based on the combinations of drivers previously submitted, the facilitator will propose scenario axes and elicit support and comments from participants. Based on that input, he will propose scenario matrices and seek input on those.

Phase 4: Scenario narratives
The facilitator will prepare a matrix that outlines 4 scenarios and poses a series of questions about them. Participants will be invited to answer the questions about each scenario. Afterward, a writer will weave the ideas submitted by participants into scenario narratives. Based on that input, he will propose scenario matrices and seek input on those.

Henner Gimpel, Valerie Graf-Drasch, Robert Laubacher, Moritz Wöhl, Facilitating like Darwin: Supporting cross-fertilisation in crowdsourcing, Decision Support Systems, March 2020.