We hear a lot about the harmful effects technological developments are having, and will continue to have, on our societies. Understanding, mitigating and preventing these harms is a fundamental challenge for all of us.
We believe it is also fundamental to propose alternatives. We cannot just fight back, mitigate harms and regulate retrospectively. We must build a vision for a more positive future, where technology is shaped and harnessed as a force for good. By imagining the future we want to see, we stand a better chance of reaching it.
'Our tech, our future: Digital social innovation in 2030' aims to be a first step in that journey. It is a collection of ten fictional, fun, accessible and thought-provoking stories, set in the year 2030, exploring different areas of society and the role technology might play.
They purposefully focus on tech as a tool, not an end, and we have placed as much importance on political, social, economic, demographic and environmental trends as we have on technological ones. We made a very conscious decision to base each scenario around people, rather than technologies, as it is people who will be at the heart of our envisioned future, and all of them draw upon existing digital social innovation (DSI) examples from across and beyond Europe. While they’re designed to be read as a whole (and are available together to download), they can be read individually.
'Our tech, our future: Digital social innovation in 2030' is part of the EU-funded DSI4EU project’s Futures work, which over six months involved more than 100 people in building and shaping alternative, positive visions for the future of DSI through three workshops and a new card game. As our colleagues at Nesta have pointed out, futures work is at its best when it is participatory, and radical and provocative visions of what a society could, or even should become, can’t rely on a few privileged minds alone.
We held three workshops in December 2018, January and February 2019 in London, Berlin and Barcelona respectively, each bringing together 20-30 people. Participants explored how digital technologies might be used to address some of the social and environmental challenges we might face in a decade, and together came up with tens of ideas, some more fleshed out than others, some more controversial than others, some more radical than others.
Our aim was not just to come up with ideas, but also to find good ways of getting people to think about the future. We want to share the methods we used, so we’re delighted to publish the templates, canvases and prompts we used for the workshops under a Creative Commons license for you to use, edit and adapt.
However, we wanted to make thinking about the future even more accessible, so we developed a card game, Cards for the future, which we played for the first time at re:publica in Berlin in May 2019. Based on The Situation Lab’s 'The Thing From The Future', it gets people thinking about possible futures in a fun and engaging way. We hope you might want to try your hand at it, and you can download the print-and-play edition if so.
Alongside this, we drew inspiration from existing research and literature in the field of tech futures from organisations like Nesta, the Joint Research Centre, the European Parliament, the UK Government, Civil Society Futures, DotEveryone, the Open Data Institute, the Open Knowledge Foundation, Stanford Social Innovation Review, the Berkman Klein Center, the MIT Media Lab and Stanford University. And we developed our own ideas using our workshop and game tools.
Finally, we brought this inspiration together to develop ten scenarios for the future of DSI. We hope they inspire people to think about the future, and that the stories will play a small part in helping us achieve technology’s potential as a tool for empowerment, education, democracy, sustainability, equality and social justice.