Participants in the Futures Literacy Lab reflected upon the paradigms and systems they use to create, describe, and revise their images of the future and its link to evaluation. Photo: © Drew Beamer
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A window of collaborative, creative thinking dives into the future and its relevance for evaluation

Hosted by NIRAS, UNESCO, and the European Evaluation Society, the first Futures Literacy Lab examined how evaluators can “use the future” in their work and the role of evaluation in future societies.

20. Jan 2021

Futures literacy entails the capability to imagine multiple futures for different purposes in different contexts and to use the future for different reasons and in multiple ways. A futures-literate person is aware of his or her anticipatory system and assumptions and uses different futures to innovate the present and make more informed decisions and assessments, while being open to emerging novelty. They are able to determine why and how to imagine the future. As a result, they gain a better understanding of the origins of their expectations, hopes, and fears to better inform today’s decisions.

Futures literacy can play an important role within the evaluation discipline since evaluators’ assessment of whether a project, programme, or intervention is replicable or sustainable is, in essence, a judgement about the future.

Inventing new frames to imagine tomorrow

During the virtual Global High Level Summit on Futures Literacy, NIRAS, together with UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences (SHS) sector and the European Evaluation Society, arranged the inaugural Futures Literacy Laboratory for Evaluators. The Lab examined the intersection of futures literacy and evaluation, and it worked as an action-research tool, enabling participants to reveal, think, and challenge their anticipatory assumptions.

12

the number of countries (from Asia to Europe and the USA) participating in the Lab with evaluators, practitioners, commissioners of evaluation, researchers, and academics

24

participants representing 21 different organisations took part in the workshop. The Lab grouped participants together and worked as a window of collaborative creative thinking.

During the virtual workshop on 9-10 December, participants learned to challenge the ways images about the future are constructed and invent new frames to imagine tomorrow. That way, they developed their understanding of why and how to ‘use-the-future’ and considered the future of evaluation in society. On 11 December, Lab participants came together virtually again to discuss learnings and experiences as well as the way forward for applying the future in evaluation work.

This was a fresh way of looking at the same old challenges that we evaluators always struggle with.

Lab participant

A stimulating challenge

To development economist, Paddy Siyanga Knudsen, the Lab posed a stimulating challenge in actually “using the future” to position the role of evaluation as an essential element in bringing about transformative change. It showed that evaluators needed to first “shut down” the boundaries and limitations that that they are aware of (including our presumptions) to come up with diverse frames of desired future.

“The Lab demonstrated that evaluation can evolve to become a more integral part of design and planning processes, naturally-fitting and internally appreciated by the programmes, systems, structures, and beneficiaries it seeks to benefit,” says Paddy.

Paddy Siyanga Knudsen

Lab discussions highlighted that the evaluation field needs some finetuning with collective and inclusive perspective for evaluation practices and methods to support transformative change and the state of our world presents a good opportunity. This inspired Paddy to start coordination of a small group of evaluators in her sector of work to indulge further on potential ideas.

The Lab really made me think about the role of imagining alternative futures, and of the difficulty in doing that … the importance of delinking from the present to be more open and creative to find solutions or paths forward

Lab participant

Paddy furthermore found it motivating to get a general sense from evaluation specialists and emerging evaluators alike seeking the need to reshape the discipline so that evaluation is effectively branded for those it serves and adds real value to programming.

Cecilia Ljungman, NIRAS consultant and co-facilitator on the Lab, is happy with its success: “I look forward to more efforts that help people become aware of how their hopes and fears colour their images of the future, so that we can move beyond colonising tomorrow with ideas of today.”

One thing is for sure: the future will bring more Futures Literacy Labs on Evaluation.

Further information about NIRAS’ evaluation work can be found here.