Searching for unknown unknowns

Photo credits: Thinkstock

Photo credits: Thinkstock

In future studies one of the ultimate results is becoming aware of things that were previously unknown to most people. Especially in horizon scans, like the current STT project in the Netherlands, we want to know what is beyond the horizon. What are the unknowns that are unknown to most people? STT took up the fascinating journey of organizing a group session to explore just that. I was one of the facilitators that day.

Experimenting to look beyond the horizon

Jacintha Scheerder, project leader of the Horizon scan bravely explained that this exercise was an experiment also to the project team. She brought together a group of futurists, strategy experts and others with professional interest in the future. The Dutch Future Society has been a great resource for this. She also emphasised that what is unknown for some, has already received lots of thoughts others.

Explore blind sides

The point of the exercise was to explore our blind sides. Throughout the session we tried to make tacit and implicit knowledge explicit. Working from topics that people know they know, and explore from there on the things that are unknown. This is a shared exploration to find out what is beyond our knowledge.

The previous seven workshops in the Horizon scan had already delivered some insights into future events that are way beyond the ‘business as usual’ scope. People came up with things like immortal life, robotized humans, and contact with alien life forms. Other potential events were for example seeds or microbes from the permafrost wake up due to climate change and bring a worldwide plague.

Some wild ideas

This long list of already ‘far out’ ideas were used as inspiration. In small groups we explored new ideas and made further associations upon what was laid down at the table. It was hard thinking to look around the corner. In our group we discussed the potential effect of people aging to 130 years old. Then there would be many generations of people with no job and little money. But because of technology they would be able to produce, create and share. So they could be relatively affluent and for a great part autonomous. We also elaborated upon the idea of cities becoming autarkic, as not only citizens but also on the level of the city itself production and consumption would be generated in a circular economy.

Opening up for uncertainties

Could these kind of futures stories be the unknown unknowns? I don’t know. This elaboration on developments that are impossible right now with current technology in this society could be very meaningful. Technology developments may go exponential, and society changes everyday. Thinking about these almost science fiction type of futures, like for instance of H.G. Wells could be very important as a means to explore. It shows that the project team of  the Dutch Horizon Scan opens up for uncertainties. And that is very promising for the final results of this project, which are to be expected in one year. A future study to look forward to!

About Freija Van Duijne

Twitter: @FreijavanDuijne Futuring is my passion. I am fascinated about what the future might bring. Always looking around for leads about the future and open for new insights. I am futurist, trendwatchter and strategist at the The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, a thinktank in the Netherlands. My background is in Human factors psychology. I did my Masters at Leiden University and I did a PhD in Delft University at the faculty of Industrial design engineering. I have been involved in foresight studies since 2006. I am frequently asked as an expert for future studies in area of food, natural resources, health and governance. I am also a speaker and workshop facilitator on futures studies, trend presentations and the many topics that I blog about. My contributions to Futuristablog represent my own personal opinion and is never a statement of the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
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