What will Europe look like in 2040? How will we travel, how will our society be organised, how will our schools function and what kind of jobs will people have? These are just some of the questions we have been asking Europeans to reflect on as part of the #OurFutures project launched by the EU Policy Lab. Through it, we collectEU citizens' images through a narrative inquiry method.
We recently did this in Greece, in close collaboration with foresight experts in the Greek government by reaching out to Greek citizens to gain insights into how people in this part of Europe would like the future to look like.
We have spoken to Epaminondas Christophilopoulos (UNESCO chair on Futures research at the Foundation for Research and Technology) and Vivian Efthimiopoulou (communication expert), focusing on some of their findings which demonstrate the value of citizen-generated future images for developing people-centric policies at both national and EU level.
Why did the UNESCO team in Greece join the #OurFutures initiative?
Epaminondas Christophilopoulos (EC): During the last 10 years, we have been systematically collaborating with the EU Policy Lab of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) on various foresight initiatives. For example, we have extensively used the Scenario Exploration System (SES) in various projects, as a tool for communicating scenarios and for developing ideas for strategies. This is why we were excited to participate in the #OurFutures initiative, which offers people the opportunity to freely express their images of the future, their fears, hopes or anxieties.
In most foresight projects we tend to collect the views and the future images of a rather small group of experts. The questionnaires used in these exercises are usually based on a specific set of questions and define a specific agenda of topics of interest. On the contrary, #OurFutures helps to 'decolonise' the future, offering participants the opportunity to select any topic of interest, both local and global - while also allowing them to self-evaluate their stories.
What is interesting with Greece is that most of the focus has and is being laid on the present and the past, but there are practically no studies exploring society’s views for the long-term future - this is why I like the #OurFutures project, which provides both the structure and the content for initiating a conversation among groups of participants.
We therefore decided to fully support the initiative, to use it in all our workshops and public events, and also to utilise the collected information in parallel with other studies we have been running in Greece, like Innovation 2040.
What key findings you were you able to draw from the stories #OurFutures collected so far from Greek participants?
Vivian Efthimiopoulou (VE): During these first months of the project, we have collected extremely interesting data on which we can base our further research, but we have already identified some telling insights.
It was interesting to see that the future images are shaped mainly by personal experiences and social media. It comes as no surprise that younger people (18-25 year olds) believe that it is mainly their personal experiences which shape their future image. But as people get older, they probably learn to recognise most of the factors that shape their perception of the world, their future as well as their past.
Another important and optimistic, if I may say, finding is that the vast majority of respondents feel empowered to bring change. Especially after Greece's difficult past two decades, many of the participants were able to think not only positively, but also beyond their own county, imagining stories with a global interest.
Perhaps one of the main takeaways from this project is that most participants in the project believe that the responsibility for making change happen falls on politicians, businesspeople and scientists. Therefore, political and financial leadership is necessary for a better future: from where we can extrapolate a very positive element of this exercise, namely the belief and trust in public institutions, but who need to step up in the face of current crises.
As Chief Scientific Advisor on Strategic Foresight for the Presidency of the Greek Government, what policy-relevant insights can you draw? Why is the #OurFutures initiative valuable for policymakers and policymaking?
EC: Greeks are very proud about their past. Even the recent, difficult periods of modern Greek history are present in a constant passionate and heated public discourse.
In this context, it came as a surprise for many - although not for us - to see that the #OurFutures survey generated such interest. This entire process has been extremely useful to demonstrate an alternative way to communicate and listen to what broader society has to say.
Another important finding, which can come in handy to any government, are the topics of interest that emerged and that are quite different from the ones usually brought up in the mainstream media. One example that springs to mind is migration: although Greece is on the eastern border of the EU and one of the main points of entry into Europe for a lot of migrants, migration scored very low as an issue for many respondents.
Another noteworthy takeaway is that most participants are very concerned about the future, underlining the need for politicians across the political spectrum to start addressing the serious environment challenges, societal imbalances and the impacts of technology. It also becomes clear that education systems need to invest more in the study of the future(s), not only of the past and to integrate futures literacy, in parallel with other soft skills, from primary and secondary education onwards.
#OurFutures continues! It is an open-data base designed by the Competence Centre on Foresight of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, to inspire a collective dialogue about the future of Europe. You can find out more about #OurFutures and contribute to it via the website.
Epaminondas holds the UNESCO Chair on Futures Research at FORTH, he is Chief Scientific Advisor to the Special Secretariat for Foresight, at the Presidency of the Government, and President of the Metropolitan Organization of Visual Arts of Thessaloniki (MOMus).
Vivian is an Athens-based communication expert working actively with clients across private sector industries and institutions on strategic planning and crisis management.
Featured image by Max Petrunin on Unsplash
- Publication date
- 15 May 2023
- Joint Research Centre
- EU Policy Lab tags