Making an idea come to life: The World in 2050

19th April 2021
Imperial Tech Foresight has worked with Grantham Institute of Environment and Climate Change to develop vignettes of the future. They aim to point towards positive futures based on innovations from start-ups that have been supported by Climate-KIC.

Imperial Tech Foresight worked with Imperial’s Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment to develop vignettes of the future, and it has been a hugely successful and important piece of collaborative work. These stories showcase how technology innovation can help tackle climate change from waste to wealth technologies to decreasing over-fertilisation in agriculture. 

Check out The World In 2050 article in full here.

Right now, inventors and entrepreneurs at Imperial College London are developing world-changing ideas that could transform our relationship with the planet. The stories show the potential for a cleaner, greener, fairer future for us all, hoping that everyone can see the new future potential.

This blog post to share our process for making this future come to life together with Grantham Institute, and how our thinking can be adopted by your organisation too.

How did we bring the concept to life?

It was an iterative process, but also kept true to much used foresight methodology. We wanted to release this blogpost to share how we came to these vignettes through iterative discussions and research. As everything, the future changes and some of the predictions may or may not come true. But it aims to inspire and drive change. 

The process started like most foresight-based projects by broadly exploring signals, trends and drivers. We decided not to limit the process, but explore these interventions across both urban and rural spaces. However, we kept the vignettes to a United Kingdom perspective (as you may see in the image that has landmarks from the British Isles).

Methodology and practice

In the exploration, we used horizon scanning to explore changes across the STEEPV (Social, Technology, Environmental, Economical, Political and Values). In the process, we identified key challenges, such as:

  • What does self-sufficiency look like?
  • How might urban areas be rejuvenated?
  • What might be different driving forces across impermanence over permanence?
  • What role might government vs. citizen-led interventions have? 

These questions, alongside the research helped us identify critical uncertainties (drivers of change that both express high importance vs. high uncertainty for the topic area).

We developed five vectors that we thought expressed high importance for these ideas, such as: short-term vs. long-term thinking.

We ended up with three overview themes that expressed different potential worlds and realities. These helped us shape how the different futures might look like, such as one expressing importance of short-term fixes often led by technologies.

Each of their worlds had specific challenges to them. After identifying the overview worlds, we explored emerging concepts, ideas and startups that offer sustainable interventions to the challenges. We understood the technology, but how would they impact human experiences. Each of these ended up in unique stories for how different individuals would live in the worlds. 

However, as some of the worlds expressed a negative outlook, we took the decision to make them more positive (expressing solar punk futures). With the ongoing pandemic and often dystopic perspectives on humanities addressing climate change, we wanted to share a positive vision of what could happen if we took responsibility and explored these sustainable interventions. We believe that by painting these positive future visions, we can hopefully help to create positive change. Hopefully, allowing us to think of a better version of today especially as most of the startups already exist.

The final result is intended to inspire us all to think positively about the future we can create together. 

The work explores seven different vignettes about the future in 2050, it shares perspectives for transport, food and bio-economy. There are many global startups that are doing disruptive work in the space, but the most important is that we are all striving towards the same positive futures. 

The process took about four months of iterative work, and we hope that it helps you and others around you to imagine the future potential. Contact us at Imperial Tech Foresight if you want to hear more about the process or find out about working with our team – we would love to hear from you.