Recognizing the fast-changing context of humanitarian aid, in 2016 the Federation began exploring the possibility of integrating a formal institutional foresight capacity, to think broadly about how the organization may need to change in order to continue fulfilling its mission in the coming decade. A global Foresight Advisory Board was convened, and an in-house Foresight and Futures team formed.
With partners both internal and external, the team staged an exhibition called “The Future Is Now” at the IFRC General Assembly, held in late 2017 in Antalya, Turkey, attended by 1,000 senior leaders from around the world. Delegates at these biennial strategic gatherings typically receive thousands of pages of documents to read in advance. In an unprecedented effort to move beyond traditional written analysis and statistics, The Future Is Now revolved around “experiential futures”, the design and deployment of media, artefacts, and encounters to bring possible futures to life in the present.
Examples from the exhibition included an interactive installation on air pollution, simulating a scenario for Mumbai’s air quality in 2030; a special IFRC edition of imagination game “The Thing from the Future”, played in the corridors to prompt exploration of various alternative futures for humanitarian aid; a design fiction hypothesizing the use of artificial intelligence to predict disasters and deploy automatic responses; and a range of “guerrilla futures” artefacts left in meeting spaces for attendees to discover, such as business cards for future jobs that might someday exist within the organization itself.
This range of experiential scenarios, grounded in key trends and emerging issues identified during prior research, extended strategic conversation opportunities to a highly diverse, global cohort of leaders and decision-makers. The intent was to help anticipate potential challenges, provoke new ideas, and create a long-term progressive agenda that could lead to system-wide innovation throughout the network.
Following this initiative, the General Assembly, the highest decision-making body of the Federation, commissioned a strategy that for the first time ever would utilize a foresight process, and the Secretary General tasked the Futures and Foresight team with leading global consultation and designing the strategy. A large-scale horizon scanning effort ensued, involving leaders, staff, and volunteers worldwide, through workshops, interviews and other participation mechanisms. Novel approaches to engagement included a digital game called “WhatFutures”, hosted entirely on WhatsApp, and played by more than 4,000 people from 80 countries.
This work gradually yielded a systematic assessment of the possibilities that stakeholders were excited or concerned about, how humanitarian vulnerabilities could look in the coming decade, and what kind of organization would be best poised to navigate them. Over 10,000 people participated in the futures consultations, and more than 120,000 visited the “Future Red Cross Red Crescent” online platform.
At the next General Assembly in 2019, as the Federation celebrated its centenary, a foresight-informed global strategy was unanimously adopted. The internal team has since expanded, and the Solferino Academy has been formed, to help disseminate and integrate futures and foresight methods across the world. Numerous National Societies have now begun using them in their own strategies and work.
“We recognise that new approaches are needed to drive global change. We have a responsibility to use our reach and our resources effectively. To do this we must listen, think and act differently, and be open to learning and adapting along the way.” (IFRC 2018, p. 5)