The image we have of the future determines how we act today. Futuring is a method that helps us envision possible futures and generate insights that can inform policy and decision making. Futuring is commonly used in fields such as sustainability science, futures studies, and scenario planning.
At Lowlands Science 2022, TNO applied the futuring technique of “closed eye visioning” to bring festival participants to a dystopian or optimistic perspective in the year 2050. Both perspectives were based on realistic energy scenarios. The insights generated will be used for policy recommendations and further research on the future of food lifestyles.
The objective of this exercise was double:
1) To find out how individuals envision the future of food, and the dynamics of the future food chain (main players, threats, etc.). The aim is to get a feel of the people’s fears, wishes and ideas and thus understand how they might be tempted to choose sustainable food alternatives;
2) To test whether the futuring methodology, in such a setting, can actually lead to relevant insights for policy advice and interventions.
A scenario of disharmony is associated with dominance of market players (farms, processors and retailers) operating on a large-scale. People focus mostly on their own survival in a heated and conflictual society. In this scenario participants fear increased inequality, focus on elements relating to food supply efficiency and scarcity. To prevent this scenario from happening participants rely on government intervention.
The harmony scenario, on the other hand, equals scale operations and locality. This points to a great unease attributed to the massive scale that is predominant now in the foodchain. Sustainability is largely a collective effort. Participants in this scenario care more about seasonality in the availability of food. They envision access to more knowledge to produce sustainable food and make the right choices (e.g. with VR glasses you use to inform yourself while shopping). Participants also foresee scarcity in this scenario, but it is managed and dealt with through communal cooperation. Government interventions are also foreseen to support the locality aspect.
Almost all participants are unified in the perceived need for more government intervention. In the harmony scenario this intervention is a given; in the disharmony scenario it is a wish.
The government’s main tasks are to push progressive tax policies (e.g. tax according to CO2 emissions), provide subsidies for local sustainable production, and access to obligatory sustainability information on food packaging.
Also locality is a unifying theme; there is great unease with the globalisation aspect of the foodchain and the dominance of a few big players in this market.
The futuring methodology lands itself well for the Lowlands Science setting and without exception led to vivid visions and contributions by the participants. With the insights derived from this workshop, new actions will be taken to shape the foodchain policy intervention.