Thinking concretely about alternative futures is harder and rarer than it should be. THE FUTURES BAZAAR is a public imagination toolkit for anyone to use. It contains a participatory co-creation process – a kind of scalable, in-person game, for as many players as you like – designed to make exploring times to come easier, more fun, and more common.
At a Futures Bazaar event, people bring in ordinary household objects that would otherwise be thrown away, and, step by step, turn them into artifacts from various future worlds. Funny or sad, thrilling or scary, the imagining of the gathering, as well as its themes, can be taken in whatever directions are important to the group.
The world we live in can be a turbulent and scary place. But to picture where current changes might lead, and how we might shape things in different directions, is a way to claim and channel the future's extraordinary power in the present. This calls for the development of a playful capacity for collective imagining. That's what this project is all about.
THE FUTURES BAZAAR started out as a one-off event to introduce some key foresight concepts and practices to hundreds of participants from across the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), for the annual away day of the whole design side of the organization.
The striking volume and variety of imaginative energy unleashed there, exceeding expectations, soon led us to run a second pilot event in a different context – and to consider that the structure, though it had originally required our presence in-person to facilitate, might be adapted into a turnkey framework to let anyone, anywhere, stage their own Bazaar. Over almost three years a self-contained toolkit format took shape, ultimately co-published by Situation Lab and the BBC itself, whom we worked with to make it available to the public for free.
As a public imagination toolkit, THE FUTURES BAZAAR invites people to materialize new worlds through physical making. Its approach to inviting participants to this intersection revolves around playfulness and accessibility. These values are designed in at multiple layers.
Open access publication removes a financial barrier to entry. The framework is fueled by participants' creativity, applied to items readily available at little or no expense. It works at the scale of a dozen people, or hundreds. The toolkit consists of three parts; a Manual to support event planning, Slides to run it, and Printouts to distribute on the day. All are supplied as PDFs requiring no special software or licenses. The printable assets are set up to minimize paper and ink usage, and to work in color or B&W. And the concept or vernacular at the heart of the event, the bazaar (marketplace, souk, fair), is a form of community gathering that exists around the world. No prior knowledge of futures/foresight or special skill in design/making is needed to take part. The project is geared especially towards enabling access for first time players of all ages, in all fields – to expand horizons, explore new ideas, and use design for diverse futures-oriented storytelling. Anyone who wants to can organize a Bazaar, as a stand-alone event, or within a larger workshop, course, series, or festival.
Conceived as a catalyst, the publication of THE FUTURES BAZAAR has so far been put to use by groups in various parts of the world (#FuturesBazaar). We are eager to see it adapted for different locations and cultural contexts, and interest from language groups other than English speakers has begun to appear. The kit, not only free to download, is also licensed to support participant-led growth and adaptation.
The project also marks, and seeks to accelerate, a growing mainstream awareness and uptake of hybrid design futures practice; integrally and visibly involving the world's largest broadcaster. At the end of 2022 it was recognized with the first ever award for Inclusive Foresight issued by the Association of Professional Futurists.
We are excited to see this design-driven, play-enabled portal into futures awareness taken up more widely, especially in schools, introducing numbers of younger people to participatory design and experiential futures practice. Such movement towards widening thoughtful attention to how preferred futures can be shaped and brought into being – continually, creatively, collectively – are vital steps along the path to a much-needed civilizational capacity for social foresight.