open lab blog
A survey by the Institute for the Future found that thinking about the future is not a habit people come by easily or practice often. Particularly in times of austerity, it’s often much easier to focus on what we’re doing right now, rather than planning for the future.
But it’s becoming more important than ever to start thinking about the future. Whether it’s the potential devastation of climate change, constant technological developments or frequent struggles in politics – the future is coming, whether we like it or not.
In 2019, Barnardo’s got in touch with Open Lab, asking them to help them find out what young people between the ages of 13 – 25 wanted from their future.
They were interested in our approach after seeing the work we had done with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), using WhatsApp to engage over 400 volunteers to feed into their strategy for the next ten years – Strategy 2030.
Taking inspiration from large scale Alternative Reality Games (ARGs), WhatFutures used an existing platform in a new way – bringing together 4,000 players overall.
Meeting young people where they are
Barnardo’s wanted to do something similar – rather than using surveys or formal interviews – they wanted something that would engage young people, and get them thinking about not only what they want from the future, but what they could do to get there.
Children and young people’s voices often go unheard in politics. Yet the decisions made in Westminster affect their daily lives and their futures. Barnardo’s wanted to find a way to help amplify the voice of young people on the issues that affected them most.
Open Lab had a month to go from concept to running an event Barnardo’s wanted to hold in London on 25th October. A team was formed, and we got to work.
We called the project It’s Our Future, channelling the energy and visual design of movements such as the School Strike for Climate. If young people often aren’t heard in politics, then this could be their chance to have their voices amplified and start making direct changes for their future.
The plan originally started following the unplatforming model of WhatFutures, using platforms that people are already using – rather than creating new apps or websites. Many organisations will spend time and money creating new applications, only to find they aren’t used because people don’t want to download a new app or learn how to use it.
Open Lab believes in meeting people where they are. From our other work with young people aged 13 to 25, we knew this would be across social media channels from Snapchat to Tik Tok.
We came up with a plan of action, identifying the stages of different social movements and trying to work out how we could start our own. Our approach focused on infrastructuring across different social media platforms – trying to work out how we could have long-term and engaged conversations about important issues whilst maximising engagement by meeting people where they are.
However, with a short deadline looming, we realised that getting momentum on social media in such a short time period was likely unachievable.
Instead, we decided to make our digital process into a physical one, developing new engagement and design methods for the event itself.
From cards to creating change
We wanted to do more than just asking people what they wanted from their futures. Based on activist work like Adrienne Maree Brown’s book Emergent Strategy, we realised it was important to understand how to build these futures too.
Our methods focused on important elements of building a social movement as we understood it:
- People need to feel comfortable sharing experiences of things they care about.
- People need to be able to connect their own experiences together – to see the politics at work behind it all.
- People need to be able to imagine a future that they would want to live in – what it felt like, looked like, and how things are different there.
- People need to be able to understand what changes could be made now in order to get closer to the future they want.
Because people often feel more comfortable when they’re being playful, we decided the best approach for doing this would be to create a game.
Our game was inspired by Tarot readings, and mimicked the look and feel of Tarot cards.
The rules of the It’s Our Future card game
- Write down (up to) three things that would transform your life if it happened over the next three to five years.
- In a group, shuffle the cards and deal them equally.
- On your turn, place a card – and say why someone might think that issue is important – or connect a card to another one – and say why you think those issues are related.
- Once everyone’s run out of cards in their hand, you can either connect two clusters – or discard cards that you think are less related to the others on the table. This should allow your group to focus on a handful of issues that are important to you all.
- As a group, think about why things aren’t like that now. Who could have been involved in things being that way? How did that happen? When did that happen?
- Then think about a world where the changes you want have happened. Really try and live in it. What are everyday things like in this world? How would your life be different? How would going out for a movie with friends be different if there were better mental health services, for example?
- Finally, think about how to get there. What changes can you make right now to start building that world? What can you do to make that happen? What can other people do?
On the day, people did this last activity with their own blueprints for the future, which they took home with them.
We used over 500 cards over five hours, working with 40 young people and 40 youth workers, project workers, civic leaders & researchers. The aim of It’s Our Future was not just to research what young people want for their futures, but also to give them the chance to have these discussions with people in positions that could make a difference.
Writing a Manifesto
Only five days after we ran the It’s Our Future launch event, a general election was called. Barnardo’s saw this as an opportunity to put the voices of young people on the agenda for all politicians.
At breakneck speed, we examined the 500 cards, taking over a large section of the Lab and creating a large intricate map – which we dubbed ‘the future’.
Six major issues that came from the event, which we used to create Our Blueprint For the Future.
Here are the main points from the manifesto.
The It’s Our Future launch showed that young people are engaged in the issues that affect their lives.
They often understand the services they use, such as Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) or problems in our current education services, as well or even better than many of the adults who work there.
They care about climate change, the impact of technology on their lives and often feel excluded from politics – particularly those who are under the age of 18, and therefore cannot vote.
If you want to read more, each of these issues had a huge amount of detail which can be seen in the manifesto, released by Barnardo’s last week.
It’s important that young people get their voices heard, as they are citizens too. And this is their future we’re talking about.
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