Collaborative Future-Making

Author: Per-Anders Hillgren, professor and researcher within the platform Collaborative Future-Making.

To stimulate and develop new research, the Faculty of Culture and Society supports four research platforms. Collaborative Future-Making (CFM) is one of them and it has been funded by the faculty for three years now. CFM explores how to envision inclusive and sustainable ways of living and thriving together. This is done through prototypes and discussions where people from all sectors of society are involved. CFM is a multidisciplinary group of researchers with backgrounds in the humanities, design, and social sciences.

During the pandemic we noticed a paradox – despite being forced to be physically distant, many of our research activities in the CFM became much more intimate, engaged, and personal. For example, within the “Grief and Hope in Transition” project people living in rural Skåne were invited to online workshops where they painted things that they might miss, wanted to remember, or were ready to let go of in the transition to a post carbon society. They were requested to pick things that concerned them and that were rooted within their own lived everyday experience. The particular format allowed the participants to zoom in and out between more concentrated painting activities, engaged reflections on potential losses, and collective attempts to carry loss into more hopeful engagements. Whereas different studies have shown that people find it hard to engage in longer discussions about the negative effects of climate change, this was not the case here.  These sessions felt alive, intimate, vivid, and sparked elaborate conversations on difficult and troublesome questions of climate change and grief and hope. Many of the participants expressed that they had been missing a forum like this.

Professor Per-Anders Hillgren. Photo: Håkan Röjder.

Another example of research activities that came “alive”, despite the online format, was the “Co-becoming in the Pluriverse” seminar series where Lizette Reitsma and our guest PhD student Nicholas Toretta played a major role. The series was enriched from their long engagements with decolonial scholars and community members from both Sapmi and the Penan community of Long Lamai in Borneo who generously shared experiences and reflections of oppression, complex dilemmas and more successful cases of decolonization. For example, how an art exhibition at Umeå University centering around the eight Sami seasons worked as an eye opener for people that have not previously engaged in Sami culture. Or how the people in Long Lamai struggle to find a way forward for their community without being caught in Western understandings of progress and development. This seminar series was also accompanied by “the River”, an online learning process for people interested in deepening their knowledge about how to decolonize their own projects. The River gathered researchers and activists who set out on a very emotionally demanding, but also rewarding journey, where the participants had to understand their own complex and multiple identities and how to carry their power and privileges. During the process many small things we take for granted in everyday life surfaced with new meanings. For example, how to understand the entanglement of the professional and the private? How to root yourself and your work in diverse settings? Or how to engage in a conversation with others to learn? The latter might be considered as a basic skill for academics, but within the River it rather emerged as something in need of much more attention, reconsideration, and care.

The online activities within CFM have also engaged public organisations and civil society.

For example the research project on “Transitioning towards sustainable water and waste management in a Swedish public organization” adapted to the format by co-developing an innovation and learning lab focused on digitalization. The aim of this lab was to engage cross-organizational innovation in relation to waste and water management in a Swedish public organization. One interesting and unexpected outcome, was an engaged discussion about creating a new narrative for innovation in the public sector as it applies to sustainability and other complex challenges. During the Autumn and Spring we also managed to hold a couple of workshops specifically focused around the concept of ‘integration’ – something that is complex and politically problematic for many, but through engaging people from the County Administrative Board, as well as civil society, and researchers, we were able to open up the concept as a means to consider new ways to imagine this policy area. Those online workshops, along with other seminars we organised, became the beginning of what we’re – for want of perhaps a better name right now – calling the ‘Future-Making Academy, where we use a collaborative focus on an imagined future as a starting point to help policy folk, civil society, and others to think outside the limitations of the present so as to perceive more sustainable ways of living and organising society.

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