Tunisia imagines a new future

UNESCO teamed up with the Tunisian Institute of Strategic Studies to deliver a Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Futures Literacy School in Tunis, Tunisia, from 3 to 4 March 2016. It involved 60 participants exploring the link between foresight, social transformation and four distinct themes with respect to Tunisia: health, territory, women and youth.

The entire event was aimed at connecting the latest thinking in the social sciences with the specific challenges facing Tunisia and the Middle East and North Africa region. The two-day seminar hosted a series of panel discussions and workshops that built capacity (Knowledge Laboratories) by using the future to explore the full range of governance challenges, targeted in Sustainable Development Goal 16 (Peace, justice and strong institutions).

“Thinking about the future is a way to get one’s head out of the water, to see further,” Mahmoud Ben Romdhane, Tunisian Minister of Social Affairs, said as he opened the proceedings on 3 March 2016.

In his speech, the Minister stressed the importance of working on foresight and fostering a democratic debate on the future that is open and accessible to all Tunisian citizens. “Today [in Tunisia], it is important to work on foresight because we are coming out of an intense moment of democratic transition,” he said.

Minister Ben Romdhane also emphasized the importance of challenging the perception of tomorrow. “The collective consciousness, that considers tomorrow as the reproduction of today reflects a general feeling of weariness, a lack of perspective. […] Foresight is […] an act of liberation from the chains of the present, an introduction to dreaming.”

Participants had the chance to be engaged in a process of imagining the future in innovative ways. They put their collective intelligence to work to understand the structures they use to invent tomorrow and discover new sources of hope. Immediate follow-up activities were sketched out by participant’s enthusiasm to use this innovative approach to facilitate change in Tunisia.

The Knowledge Laboratory (KnowLab) provided a creative space where participants were able to make explicit their anticipatory assumptions – the foundations for imagining the future. As a result it was easier to think of innovations and new questions for policy in the country.

Riel Miller, from UNESCO, designed the learning-by-doing KnowLab process. “The labs are designed and run in close collaboration with the partners. The KnowLab process enables participants to use the future differently, liberating them from a dependency on yesterday’s futures and opening up new insights and horizons for action and hope,” he said.

In conclusion, Mr Miller summarised “implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for an enhanced capacity to rethink how the future enters into efforts to achieve sustainability, inclusiveness, well-being and peace. This is what MOST Futures Literacy Schools are all about.”