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Seeing change on the horizon

So how will the change to a sustainable, low-carbon future actually come about?

I was recently introduced to the International Futures Forum three horizons model, which provides a very useful  ‘practical framework for thinking about the future’.  It builds on the observation that any system goes through the different stages of emergence, growth, peak performance, decline and death and how systemic change may be gradual or sudden.

This can be used to picture how we are currently in the messy (2nd horizon) space between the breakdown of the fossil-fuel dependent status-quo of the globalized growth economy, and the emergence of a way of life adapted to a sustainable, zero-carbon future.

The model suggests that socially and technically innovative initiatives, better adapted to newly emerging circumstances and values, are used to lay the foundations for building a new (3rd horizon) future. Whilst the transition occurs, these initiatives may also be co-opted to ‘prop up’ the (1st horizon) status-quo for a little bit longer. Crucially, they can also be used to help people step out of their habitual mindset and ‘view the future’, and understand people’s different perspectives.

Eight months in to TESS (Towards European Societal Sustainability) research, and we are about to start detailed work with a number of grass-roots Scottish community initiatives. Their wide range of projects include reducing carbon dependence through energy efficiency, generating local renewable energy, enabling cycling and public transport, reconnecting people to local food, creating value out of ‘waste’ and providing new opportunities for local employment. We will assess their current and future potential environmental, social and economic impacts. We will analyse the ‘success’ factors for emergence, persistence and spread of initiatives, and make policy recommendations to enable similar projects to emerge and flourish.

In particular, we want to understand how participants view ‘success’. What are their values and motivations, skills and interests, the life-stages that projects go through, the role of funding and of support networks.

We also want to understand how these projects are contributing to wider social and political change –and to the emergence of the sustainable, zero-carbon 3rd horizon. It will be fascinating to compare the situation in Scotland with other TESS partner countries, Finland, Italy, Germany, Spain and Romania. We look forward to sharing the findings on this blog over the coming months.





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