Image: Tomorrowlands

Foresight for Citizens’ Participation: Tomorrowlands & Leveraged Play

From workshops empowering young people in Brazil to games exploring the future of elections, 2019 NGFP Fellow Rodrigo Mendes and 2021 NGFP Fellow Randy Lubin are using their respective expertise for participatory futures.

Almost two decades ago, when he was still a university student, Brazilian economist and 2019 NGFP Fellow Rodrigo Mendes co-founded a social project near Manguinhos Favela, in Rio de Janeiro, that generated many opportunities for the local young people. Years later and with a successful career in the public sector, he felt a strong desire to give back to the community again. 

With his recent background using foresight methodologies in participative scenarios to address Brazilian development challenges, he got back in contact with one of his partners from that project, Paloma da Silva Gomes, who was local to Manguinhos. Together, as part of Tomorrowlands, a collaborative project between NGFP Network members, they piloted a series of workshops harnessing the power of foresight to bring new perspectives of the future to the young people from the favela.

Tomorrowlands is a collaborative project between NGFP Network Members, supported by the NGFP Impact Fund. It aims to pilot open, inspirational, safe spaces or community networks where youths from different walks of live come to co-imagine radical, preferred futures, produce artefacts of their envisioned futures and sustainably act on identified projects of interest in Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, the Netherlands and the UK.

This programme was structured into four weekly workshops, each led by one local facilitator, who applied their own personal experience in Manguinhos and professional expertise in designing activities. The first workshop was focused on understanding how the 20 young people aged 14-19 years old saw their futures. The following workshops, with the same youth, centred on exercises such as creating a future map of the favela together, discussions about their desired future, and identifying common issues and potential solutions and ideas to put into practice. 

Rodrigo explains that it is important to be inclusive and to make futures methodologies accessible to everyone. 

 “The workshops gave young people an increased sense of empowerment, agency and ownership. This was the first opportunity for many of them to think about a better future for themselves and their community in a more structured way, and in which steps to take, collectively, to get there. It allowed them to form a network from which new ideas can grow. The project was named ‘Semente’, which in Portuguese means ‘seed’ – we are planting a seed so that it can prosper and grow into better futures. This is just the beginning.”

Rodrigo Mendes

There are several ways in which foresight can be used to generate citizen’s participation.

In a rapidly changing world, the call for anticipatory governance that reflects the interests of future generations is more urgent than ever. By emphasising the importance of citizens in contributing to deliberative democracy processes, foresight methodologies can equip actors to make intergenerationally fair decisions that foster representation and meaningful youth engagement, as well as allowing for citizens to take an active role in expressing and shaping the future of their communities.

Through participation, citizens gain a sense of ownership and empowerment, and can make a valuable contribution to public policy and decision-making.

With a very different approach, 2021 NGFP Fellow Randy put together his background in early stage tech startups, his passion for games and his experience in foresight and founded Leveraged Play, a studio that designs and runs custom games that take a variety of shapes and explore the future of a diversity of topics. Having designed a handful of games exploring the future of elections, Randy believes foresight games can help increase citizens’ participation in their local and global communities by allowing for a more interactive and fun approach to understanding complex issues, as opposed to more traditional and often intimidating methods. 

For example, in 2022, they designed a game to explore opportunities and threats around upcoming elections in a specific country. They ran it with both a group of civil society folks and youths from rural areas to ensure everyone was represented and had a voice in the process. The game jumped forward a decade at a time, focusing on election hot points. It had a series of prompt questions which participants would answer and then swap with another group, which enabled them to build on each other’s ideas.

By providing a platform for citizens to think critically and creatively about their future, foresight can lead to tangible solutions to the challenges we face and lay the foundation for more community-driven participatory democracy. 

“Through intentional design, it is possible to support people into articulating their hopes, dreams and visions for the future and help them express things they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. This allows them to see new possibilities and can inspire them to take risks, collaborate with others and take action. This also enables NGOs to better understand them and incorporate their views into planning processes.”

Randy Lubin

Find out more about Tomorrowlands here and Leveraged Play here.