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Imagining Filipino futures

American writer Stewart Brand tells us: “This present moment used to be the unimaginable future.” We have ushered in the year 2020 and the Filipinos’ sense of control over their collective future remains as nebulous as ever.

Individuals and families do try to discern their alternative futures, “back-casting” from career and lifetime goals to the present, identifying those critical milestones and tasks they need to undertake to achieve their preferred future.

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But Filipinos in collectives — neighborhoods, villages, communities, barangays, municipalities, cities, provinces, agencies, departments — do not make any serious attempts to map their futures in a similar manner. Without an image of a collectively aspired-for future, there is hardly any motivation and systemic process for strategic thinking and purposive implementation.

The year 2020 is as good a year as any for individuals and organizations in positions of leadership and in control of critical resources to attempt the conjuring of collective visions. A good handle is to think of this engagement as “community future problem-solving.” Filipinos have taken to social media to try to participate in national future community problem-solving (West Philippine Sea, China, water and rice crises, natural and man-made calamities, graft and corruption, drugs and crime), but have not habitually initiated or engaged any such problem-solving at their community or barangay level. Why they have to do so is clear — future problem-solving at the national level is seldom fully understandable and directly actionable by citizens. Local community problem-solving (bottom-up-budgeting, solid waste management, flooded streets, lack of streetlights, unregulated karaoke singing, drugs and crime, poor or tardy delivery of public services) are within the collective local competence and efficacy of citizens.

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How might such future local community problem-solving exercises be undertaken? The work of the Innovations at the Base of the Pyramid in Southeast Asia (iBoP Asia) team I headed at the Ateneo School of Government in 2013 is a good template. The project was undertaken for Metro Manila, using five informal communities as focal areas for drawing informal community participants — central (Welfareville in Mandaluyong), north (Barangay Doña Imelda, Quezon City), east (Banaba, Sto Niño, San Mateo), west (Estero de San Miguel, Manila), and south (Manggahan, Pasig City).

This project, the “Informal City Dialogues,” was a six-city project which the Rockefeller Foundation, on its centennial year, launched covering Accra in Ghana, Bangkok in Thailand, Chennai in India, Lima in Peru and Metro Manila in the Philippines. The project sought to understand the relationship between the formal and informal in our cities to envision a different, more inclusive and resilient future.

To acquire deep and meaningful insights, the study sought to engage a diverse group of citizens representing public, private, civic, industry, nonprofits, local philanthropies, workers, street vendors, urban poor groups, academe, women and youth to formulate scenarios for the future of the city. The ultimate goal was to surface and encourage innovative solutions that will help cities build on the strengths of the informal city.

The whole process took two days of futures mapping, and two days of innovative community problem-solving workshops participated in by almost a hundred participants. These workshops were additionally preceded by preworkshop community mapping workshops.

There is a certain level of system and methodology that must be used to make these exercises fruitful. The Scenarios Visioning Process used develops in the participants the realization that while we are unable to predict a single, specific future, we can conjure, anticipate and prepare for multiple, possible futures. Futures mapping enables us to imagine what changes might take place in the coming decades and use those scenarios to guide strategies. Through futures mapping we can imagine what tomorrow might bring, inducing greater foresight in us today. Scenarios are not predictions; they are best understood as plausible, coherent and challenging descriptions of possible future worlds. They can help understand the shape and impacts of global trends, and inspire organizations or groups of people develop better strategies, and spur solutions — new products, services and processes — to respond to collective problems and needs.

In the Informal City Dialogues futures mapping workshop undertaken for Metro Manila in 2013, four scenarios were formulated based on what the workshop considered to be the most important drivers that were also the most uncertain over the period 2013-2040. These two drivers are population growth (slow or fast) and urban planning (effective or ineffective). See the scenarios here: https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/report/the-informal-city-reader/).

Futures mapping is a strategic way of renewing purposive civic participation at the local community level. It is a mechanism for awakening self-help, mutual help, and institutional help to anticipate and solve future community problems. This is one way to reverse the observation, “Filipinos have strategies for individual and family survival, but no strategy for national survival.”

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TAGS: collective future, Filipino futures, futures mapping, Informal City Dialogues, On The Move, Segundo Eclar Romero
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