Experiential Futures works have been produced since the 1970s, starting with The Great Hawaiian Jubilee, but one of the mot elaborate was the Hawaii 2050 event held in Honolulu in 2005.
Hawaiian state legislators approached the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies (HRCFS) about launching a broad-based public conversation around sustainability, focusing on the year 2050.
HRCFS staff Jim Dator, Stuart Candy and Jake Dunagan created a series of four experiential scenarios in different spaces throughout the recycled Dole Cannery. Each room was designed and staged with the help of a group of improvising performers to afford the participants (up to 150 at a time) a half-hour experience of a different version of Hawaii’s future. Stuart Candy described the event as ‘a sort of theatrical hybrid of theme park ride and role playing exercise.’
Each room depicted one of the four archetypal future scenarios described by the HRCFS: Growth, Collapse, Discipline and Transformation, and how it played out in the context of Honolulu in 2050.
The Growth scenario depicted a live debate between two candidates for Governor of Hawaii in a future where corporations had been granted the rights of personhood. The Collapse room enacted an induction ceremony for climate refugees in a future where Hawaii is run by the military. In the Discipline scenario, economic collapse had been avoided by returning to a back-to-nature communitarian form of society, and the half-hour scenario depicted a Civic Education Center where Hawaiians learned traditional methods of subsisting from the land. Finally, the Transformation scenario took place in a private hospital which offered futuristic body modification options and genetic therapies.
Each of the 530 participants experienced two of the experiential scenarios, followed by facilitated discussions in small groups.
The purpose of the scenarios was to provide the participants with material to inform the discussions, shared reference points for the conversation. The response from participants surveyed after the workshop was extremely favourable, supporting the hypothesis that this kind of immersive experience stimulates both brain and body, leading to richer and more rewarding engagement with the subject.
In his 2010 PhD dissertation, Stuart Candy described the Hawaii 2050 event as only a partial success. Although the popular response to the event was extremely positive, subsequent consultation activities retreated to a much more traditional – and in Candy’s assessment, less effective – form of futures visioning.
Nevertheless, the popularity of the Hawaii 2050 workshop prompted a state legislator to approach the Center in 2011 and asked them to create an experiential futures program for the state government looking at climate change.
Hawaii 2060 was a two-day event run jointly by the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies and facilitator Donna Ching. On the first day, the Center created four experiential futures scenarios along similar lines to the Hawaii 2050 event. On the second day, Donna Ching took over as facilitator and held a more traditional butchers-paper-and-pens type workshop, trying to identify preferred futures and pathways to achieve them.
This project resulted in a report which was submitted to the Hawaiian State Government and which led to a piece of legislation requiring all government program and state development projects to include a climate change mitigation strategy.
The success of the Hawaii 2060 event in effecting a change in the state’s legislation prompts interesting reflections on involving the government in these kinds of exercises. Was the legislative outcome the result of the adoption of an experiential futures approach? Or was the involvement of experiential futures practitioners the result of a particularly foresighted group of policy-makers? Either way, the event hints at the importance of policy-maker involvement in projects from an early stage.
These images from the Hawaii 2050 event are from Stuart Candy’s blog – I highly recommend taking a look.