To get off to a defiant start when creating different scenarios for possible futures, it is useful to formulate a central theme or question as a starting point. It is important that this question is chosen and shared by your whole team of futurologists. We recommend finding a theme or question that the whole team is really passionate about, because you will have to live with this question and take it seriously. If you don't choose the right question, the whole process of futurological divination will remain at a distance for everyone involved.
Sometimes the question is self-evident, depending on the group and the situation. Other times you will have to walk a long path before finding a common working subject with the group. Look for urgencies that are shared within your group.
Ask everyone in the group to bring a constructive attitude: try to make existing proposals better or sharper, rather than focusing on what is not working well in them. Push the group towards a general consent.
Some tips for finding the right question:
- Ask strong questions! (avoid 'yes' or 'no' questions). How, what, what if, why (but be careful with why).
- Be careful with the wording and keep it short so everyone can easily remember the core question.
- Choose a question that everyone involved can act on.
- Continue to rephrase the question until it is good enough for everyone to live with.
It sounds easy, but often isn't. We tried to articulate core questions with different groups on different occasions. When there isn't a clear demand, desire or starting point for the group, it can be handy to use the old principle of 'snowballing' or exponential multiplication: start in duos that join another duo once they agreed on a common question, then this group of 4 comes to an agreement, and joins another group of 4, etc. On some occasions we applied tricky strategies like extremely strict time pressure to push the group forward. Make sure that in the end everyone in the group can 'live' with the question –and if they can't ask them to change it in such a way that they can.
Some examples of questions that came up in different sessions we were involved in with groups of several sizes: What would our life be like if we moved to the countryside? How to escape the general feeling of powerlessness? How to put an end to private ownership of habitats and land? What can we do to make our festival more welcoming and more inclusive? Where should we make cuts in our budget? What should our organisation be doing 20 years from now? How can we learn to live together again with the otter in our region? How can we break capitalistic habits by means of collaboration? How can we develop our relationships with our pets?
Maja Kuzmanovic tried to teach us how to ask strong questions during her Futurology-workshop in February 2019 at PAF. We still find it hard.