Using futures methods to create transformative spaces: Visions of a good anthropocene in Southern Africa

Laura M. Pereira, Tanja Hichert, Maike Hamann, Rika Preiser, Reinette Biggs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The unique challenges posed by the Anthropocene require creative ways of engaging with the future and bringing about transformative change. Envisioning positive futures is a first step in creating a shared understanding and commitment that enables radical transformations toward sustainability in a world defined by complexity, diversity, and uncertainty. However, to create a transformative space in which truly unknowable futures can be explored, new experimental approaches are needed that go beyond merely extrapolating from the present into archetypal scenarios of the future. Here, we present a process of creative visioning where participatory methods and tools from the field of futures studies were combined in a novel way to create and facilitate a transformative space, with the aim of generating positive narrative visions for southern Africa. We convened a diverse group of participants in a workshop designed to develop radically different scenarios of good Anthropocenes, based on existing “seeds” of the future in the present. These seeds are innovative initiatives, practices, and ideas that are present in the world today, but are not currently widespread or dominant. As a result of a carefully facilitated process that encouraged a multiplicity of perspectives, creative immersion, and grappling with deeply held assumptions, four radical visions for southern Africa were produced. Although these futures are highly innovative and exploratory, they still link back to current real-world initiatives and contexts. The key learning that arose from this experience was the importance of the imagination for transformative thinking, the need to capitalize on diversity to push boundaries, and finally, the importance of creating a space that enables participants to engage with emotions, beliefs, and complexity. This method of engagement with the future has the potential to create transformative spaces that inspire and empower people to act toward positive Anthropocene visions despite the complexity of the sustainability challenge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number19
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the incredible visioning workshop participants for their enthusiasm and willingness to throw themselves into this process. Without you nothing would have been possible. We would also like to show our gratitude to the great comms team who captured so much of the material that we have used in this paper on film and photo. Comments from two anonymous reviewers also helped us to strengthen our argument and we extend our thanks to them. This paper has been produced as part of the Guidance for Resilience in the Anthropocene: Investments for Development (GRAID) Programme led by the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, and funded by the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).


  • Anthropocene
  • Futures
  • Imagination
  • Scenarios
  • Southern Africa
  • Transformations
  • Transformative spaces

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