What Futures Literacy is

Image by Drew Beamer

Futures Literacy, an initiative developed by UNESCO, is a capability that offers insights on how we approach unforeseeable challenges by using the future to innovate the present (Miller, 2015). When we only use the past and the present to approach the future, detecting novelty becomes problematic. By expanding the ways on how to use the future, we can integrate complexity in our choices.  

Futures Literacy is a key mix of skills and capabilities for managing uncertainty and complexity in the 21st century. It democratises futures thinking & foresight science and integrates storytelling, drama and neuroscience into the discipline, thereby enabling everybody to think and act about the future in a deeply complex and uncertain world -  that has been made tangible to all of us through the Corona pandemic, but goes far beyond.

In other words, futures Literacy is the capability to use different images and ideas about the future to help present decision-making. It is not about the accuracy of predictions but about understanding why and how anticipatory assumptions lead people to different images of the future and how those assumptions influence today’s decisions and tomorrow’s construction.

Innovating the present by using the future

In other words, FL allows people to better understand the role of the future in what they see and do today. Being futures literate also empowers the imagination, enhances our ability to prepare, recover and invent as changes occur.

FL helps us to look at the present from the perspective of the future, instead of looking at the future from the perspective of the present. The latter all too often limits our views to what we know from the past and the present, and we extrapolate the future based on past and current trends, experiences, assumptions, values and myths. This traditional approach limits our ability to face new challenges by reducing the space of possible imaginable futures. FL as a concept makes visible this untapped space of possible futures, by learning from the future, to better understand and navigate in the present.  

Futures literacy rests on the human mental faculty that enables us to imagine and be creative. It is a broad competency for understanding how and why humans make use of their capacity to imagine the future, it can be used in many ways, and it pre-exists our ability to walk or talk. It enlarges the field of future studies to include both planning and improvisation. It involves combining a broad palette of planning horizons and methods with what might appear to be a surreal or absurdist imagination, detached from deterministic purposes and methods. 

FL also is the ability to use the rich toolbox of different foresight techniques to collectively reveal expected, preferred and alternative futures based on existing and/or emerging anticipatory assumptions.

Here's a more detailed illustration about Futures Literacy's virtues: