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Creating a future we cannot see

Creating a future we can’t see

How do we engage in a community-wide “think,” which provides access for all voices, values all voices, and works toward a stronger future together?

In our daily work at the Kauffman Foundation – to meet Mr. Kauffman’s vision that any individual, regardless of background, can be successful – I never in my wildest dreams expected to be moderating a panel at the Sundance Film Festival.

But the journey to that stage isn’t as random as it may seem for an organization focused on championing bold ideas in education and entrepreneurship. Indeed, it’s part of an effort by Kauffman to confront a serious challenge facing our communities and nation.

We’ve been grappling with a fundamental question: As we work today to build more inclusive and empowered communities, how must we adapt our strategies for a future economy that we can’t see and can’t fully predict, but we know is rapidly changing?

Some call this issue the future of work, the future of learning, or the future of place. We often approach it from the new nature of entrepreneurship, characterized by rapid growth and fewer jobs created, coupled with an urgent need to reimagine education. But whatever one calls it, these changes impact everyone. However, the conversations about “what to do” are not including everyone.

And, like any situation where change is involved, these conversations can be scary. The negativity of the daily news feed and popular culture’s trend toward the extreme – think of all the dystopic movies and shows out there – have created a future narrative that’s downright depressing.

We can solve this. But we need better tools to help communities collectively think and plan for a more positive future. Tools like backcasting or design thinking are frequently used by smaller groups to solve problems. But how do we engage in a community-wide “think,” which provides access for all voices, values all voices, and works toward a stronger future together? In short, how can an ecosystem design its own future?

Enter Pigeon Hole Productions and USC’s World Building Media Lab. Together, they are developing a community-based approach to future planning. The work we aim to do with them builds off their past work, which has engaged artists, entrepreneurs, educators, and activists. The approach doesn’t have a pre-determined end-state. And it doesn’t focus exclusively on solving problems. Rather, it’s an approach that evaluates current strengths and, based on authentic community engagement and dialogue, imagines a new future that a community can collectively work toward. It’s experimental, but shows great promise. That’s why the Kauffman Foundation is involved in a panel on this at Sundance.

Our hope is to create new ways to engage members of a community – especially its makers, doers, and dreamers – in developing a stronger, more inclusive future. From the Kauffman Foundation’s standpoint, we need to explore all available tools. We can’t be certain if any one approach will have the perfect mix of community engagement and “thinking together,” but this one is encouraging. Like entrepreneurs, we must try. That’s how we learn.


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