There are many different methods and approaches that can potentially be used at all stages of conflict to look forward in an intentional way to help shift conflict dynamics and move peaceful processes forward. We joined a two-day training, led by Reos Partners, in Athens, looking at how their Transformative Scenario Planning (TSP) approach can help tackle complex issues and unblock polarised or stuck situations. In an interactive process, participants from South Asia, the Philippines, Ethiopia, South Caucasus and other contexts gained an in-depth understanding of the TSP approach, which involves a group of diverse actors working together to develop a set of possible, plausible narratives about the future of a situation that they themselves are part of. These scenarios can then be used in a process of wider engagement to spark reflection, conversation, and action so as to influence the direction of the future as it unfolds.
Methods like TSP that look a long way into the future and consider broader trends such as economics and the environment shift the focus away from the immediate dynamics of conflict and onto scenarios for the different ways the future could look. TSP allows people to think in terms of multiple possible futures, rather than one future or their desired future and explore and compare new options. Scenarios need to be relevant, plausible and clear and may also be challenging, highlighting blind spots, and questioning current mindsets and narratives. Where many methods for scenario planning primarily focus on adapting to the future, transformative scenarios seek not only to understand and adapt, but also to shape and influence the future.
As Akiko Horiba, Program Director of the SPF’s Asia Peace Initiative Department, who participated in the training observed:
"I can see how this approach could bring a new perspective and hope to a context, even in a stuck situation. Preparation is everything. Deciding who would convene a process and its scope is crucial and may determine whether people come. Involving a diverse group of stakeholders is ideal, but we could also work initially with groups like women and girls or youth, whose voices are not always heard and who we are already engaging with in our peacebuilding work, to help them think through possible future scenarios and what they can or should do."
Following the training, participants undertook a day-long workshop to reflect on their learning with peers from other contexts and to consider the relevance of TSP, its added value for ongoing peacebuilding work, and how it might be applied in their own contexts.
Taking part from the Philippines were representatives from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity (OPAPRU) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). In March 2014, the Government of the Philippines and the MILF signed a peace agreement, which is intended to end the four decades of conflict and envisioned the establishment of a new self-governing region in Muslim-dominated areas of Western Mindanao, called the Bangsamoro.
In January 2019, a referendum paved the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Government, which will replace the current authorities. The first election after the transitional government is now due to take place in 2025.
Wendell Orbeso, Director of OPAPRU, who took part in the workshop summed up the potential benefits of a futures approach:
"There is clearly an added value of such a training to the ongoing peace process in the Philippines, particularly in the Bangsamoro. Through exploring this process, key actors will have a better grasp of what’s about to happen, what could happen more than just what should happen."
MP Lanang Ali Jr., previously the legal counsel of the MILF, found futures thinking to be of particular importance at this stage of the peace process in the Philippines:
"This approach on futures thinking and connecting it to mediation and reconciliation, is perhaps what we need in the current situation of the peace process. 2025 is fast approaching and we do not just want to plan for the political transformation, rather for the greater space where we can have sustainable development in Mindanao."
In the Somali Region of Ethiopia, too, a futures thinking approach could support the transition to peace. A peace deal was signed between the Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Government of Ethiopia in 2018, ending over two decades of conflict. Despite this, people in the Somali region continue to grapple with legacies of conflict. We work with partners to ensure victims of violence are heard and reconciliation is pursued, including by helping to establish a regional Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
One participant, Fowsia Abdulkadir, a Commissioner at the Somali Regional Truth and Reconciliation Commission Commissioner, was struck by the way that hope was framed in discussions:
"A quote that resonated with me from the workshops was, ‘Hope is the possibility of the plausible rather than the inevitability of the probable."
The TSP training and workshop allowed us to connect our research and learning on futures thinking to the contexts where we work and see what value the approach could add to a diverse range of peacebuilding efforts. Many of our teams and partners are now exploring next steps for how futures thinking can be practically applied in their peacebuilding work. Experiences and learning will be documented and shared, including with those potentially seeking to apply futures approaches in conflict-affected contexts.
The participation of Conciliation Resources’ staff and partners in this workshop was kindly supported by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.