Decolonizing Our Future
"We cannot postpone the design of a shared vision of our planetary future. And that cannot happen without dismantling the colonial structures of our present... We cannot lose sight of the structural transformations that are required."
We cannot incrementally tweak our way into a future that is equitable and just. Transformational change is needed. One of the ways we can envision these transformations is through decolonized futures practices - ways of envisioning the future (and its relationship to the past and present) that help us let go of Western ways of knowing.
Below are a few resources assembled in partnership with Jen Heeg, a complexity and systems change expert, as we went on a learning journey together to build our understanding of decolonized futures practices. These same resources are explored in a short video as part of the MacMaster University innovation series, including how to use decolonized foresight in emergent strategy.
Please know that these resources are just a starting place, recommended to us by colleagues and leading practitioners. We encourage you to delve deeper, following up with the people named here and exploring these methods and how they can help inform your work.
In addition to these curated resources, check out the annual Futures Festival, where decolonized approaches are often centered.
A few resources to get you started on an exploration of AfroFutures include:
Lonny J Avi Brooks explores the role of Black storytelling and imagination in exploring the future
Ingrid LaFleur dialogues with Afrofuturists and Afrofuture lovers about their work, and the global shift we are currently experiencing as a result of COVID-19 in these regularly posted series of videos: What Does the AfroFuture Say?
Inverse produced a five-minute video entitled Afrofuturism Explained: Not Just Black Sci-Fi that is impressively comprehensive for its short time span.
The report from the 2019 Institute for the Future AfroFutures Festival highlights many different futurists work, including the work of Amara Tabor-Smith.
Rasheedah Philips is doing amazing work with Afrofuturism in a community project in North Philadelphia. You can learn more about her work with AfroFuturist Affair here, and her collaboration with fellow Philly-based Afrofuturist Camae Ayewa in the Community Futures Lab here.
Finally, the book Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown will help you connect Afrofuturism with social change interventions and evaluation.
The general concept of Afrofuturism has been around a long time (some connecting its earliest inspiration with the likes of WEB Du Bois and Harriet Tubman). The term itself was coined by Mark Dery in the early 1990s, and sociologist Alondra Nelson led early explorations in the late 90s. Afrofuturism entered mainstream discourse in 2018, with the enormous success of the Marvel film Black Panther. If you haven’t yet seen that masterpiece of Black excellence - close this browser window immediately and download it!
One early influencer was science fiction writer Octavia Butler, whose work was mostly published in the 70s and 80s, and who herself was influenced by the Black Power movement. Butler was the first science fiction writer (of any race or gender) to win the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant. We’d recommend Butler’s Parable of the Sower, amongst her other works.
Grace L. Dillon edited the volume Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science-Fiction. In the book’s introduction, she writes:
“All forms of Indigenous futurisms are narratives of biskaabiiyang, an Anishinaabemowin word connoting the process of ‘returning to ourselves,’ which involves discovering how personally one is affected by colonization, discarding the emotional and psychological baggage carried from its impact, and recovering ancestral traditions in order to adapt in our post-Native Apocalypse world.”
Also helpful in introducing us to many Indigenous futurists is this 2016 blog post from Alexandra Wikler, entitled Indigenous Futurism: Reimagining Reality to Inspire an Indigenous Future.
Working with Indigenous populations requires a different approach to cultural responsiveness, because Tribal Nations are not simply sub-populations in the US; they are autonomous sovereign units. To that end, Dr. Nicole Bowman-Farrell (Mohican/Munsee) recently published in New Directions for Evaluation a “Nation to Nation Conceptual Model” using Indigenous Critical Theory. In addition, her firm Bowman Performance Consulting has put forward this “Emancipation from Colonization Declaration” that is a must-read for any evaluator looking to engage with Indigenous peoples.
She also has a set of core values for working with Tribal Nations on her website.
Next Generation Foresight Practitioners
Interested in seeing what can come from applying decolonized foresight techniques to explore the future? The Next Generation Foresight Practitioners have produced a Futures Manifesto using storytelling, backcasting, and immersion. It reflects our new reality and its future - a post-pandemic 2050.
Pupul Bisht is a leading voice among these next generation practitioners and has developed and tested a storytelling methodology that builds on the culturally-inclusive Kaavad storytelling tradition of India. For more about the practice, read her paper: Decolonizing Futures: Exploring Storytelling as a Tool for Inclusion in Foresight
One of our favorite presentations Pupul has online is her keynote at the PRIMER conference in 2019. Over the course of this presentation, you'll learn not only about an inclusive storytelling practice for futures thinking, but also a core set of principles that can transform your own practice.
Causal Layered Analysis
Sohail Inayatullah, a Pakistani-Australian futurology researcher developed this bold technique for creating alternative futures.
“Causal layered analysis is concerned less with predicting a particular future and more with opening up the present and past to create alternative futures... Causal layered analysis is based on the assumption that the way in which one frames a problem changes the policy solution and the actors responsible for creating transformation.”
Causal layered analysis works at four levels, and importantly, explores what happens as you move between these levels instead of investing attention in just one or two. These levels are:
The litany or problem: The official and public description of an issue, bolstered by quantitative trends, and often exaggerated in the ways they are described and talked about publicly.
Social science analysis/causes: The economic, cultural, political and historical factors that are changing, often with many technical explanations and academic analysis exploring them. This is the systems analysis that explains the problem.
Worldview: The worldviews that support and even legitimate deep social structures, including culture, values, language, etc.
Myth/metaphor: The stories, collective archetypes, the unconscious dimensions of how we define problems, the emotional and gut level experiences we have. The visual images, how we touch the heart instead of the head.