Different Futures on Disaster Risk Reduction: Pioneering Innovation Among Young Professionals in Asia through Futures Literacy

11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
13 - Climate Action

What if we had cue cards to help foresee the future? With the ongoing threat of further waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, developing responses based on past knowledge and experience is no longer ideal. How then, do we use what we’ve learned in the past and apply it to governance that could help bolster the impact of future threats?

The first Futures Literacy Labs on Disaster Risk Reduction (FLL-DRR), a joint initiative by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Regional Science Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, the United Nations Development Programme's  (UNDP) Accelerator Labs Indonesia, and U-INSPIRE Alliance invited participants to discuss these issues closely during a recent participatory session.

Futures Literacy Labs (FLL) is a platform that explores assumptions and identifies alternative pathways to the future. FLL aims to build capacity to embrace uncertainties by challenging biases about the future. Futures Literacy Labs are possible through its two pillars – collective intelligence and anticipatory systems. Through collective intelligence, more people are involved to unpack communal assumptions about the future. Whereas anticipatory systems are embedded within participants’ processes when they consciously imagine the future.

The FLL-DRR provided an avenue for young professionals across Asia to harness the power of images of the future to re-think alternative approaches. The participatory session discussed the topic of The Futures of Disaster Risk Governance. This FLL-DRR was conducted between July 14th-16th and was attended by 42 participants from 12 countries, from government and intergovernmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, universities, entrepreneurs and practitioners. Participants were asked to reflect on their existing knowledge and practices and envision different sets of the future – probable, desirable and reframed. The probable future is one that participants are most likely to experience based on emerging trends, while the desirable future serves as a platform for their aspirations.  

Comparing these scenarios shed light on opportunities for future innovations, based on the common challenges that participants faced. Another crucial process was ‘Reframing’, where participants navigated foreign territory – a prescribed future scenario. With limited control, participants were encouraged to go beyond their imagination and to be comfortable in unfamiliar situations.

Adopting an exploratory mindset, participants shared powerful reflections that included questioning a suitable future while becoming aware of their sources of hopes and fears. During the sensemaking process, several patterns emerged such as the increasing role of youth and government in decision making, transformation following COVID-19 pandemic, the role of technology-led innovations, the need for collaborative action among different stakeholders, the urgency for evidence, and science-based policies, and the integration of local experience and traditional knowledge. Moreover, the Futures of Disaster Risk Governance highlighted that an intergenerational and inclusive approach is essential to support adaptive systems and governance in the future.

Participants expressed interest in translating these skills into implementation and decision-making, even inspiring some to join forces on a call to action. Participants came into the session with strong ties to their existing visions for the future. However, at the end participants were able to leverage different aspects from the future to inform and reflect on current decisions - such as acknowledging that the future disaster risk management system has infinite possibilities, taking more variables into planning, setting an ambitious scenario and developing a roadmap for a more desirable future.