Authors: Clem McCartney, Sally Holt and Rachel Clogg

Futures thinking methods and approaches can potentially be used at all stages of conflict to help adversaries take a step back from confrontation, envisage what a more peaceful future could look like and think through potential pathways to get there.  Looking forward in mediation and reconciliation processes in an intentional way can help shift dynamics and move those processes forward.

Encouraging parties and groups in conflict situations to envisage a longer timeframe, and to consider broader trends, such as economic, demographic or geopolitical change, takes the immediate focus away from conflict dynamics and relieves pressure to find a solution. It provides a safe space to reassess and potentially move away from defensive or maximalist positions and consider alternative possibilities for a sustainable viable long-term nonviolent future that works for all parties.

Futures thinking methods in the corporate sector help businesses identify long-term challenges and opportunities, and make strategic decisions. Their use in fragmented and complex conflict-affected contexts – from South Africa to Colombia, the South Caucasus and the Pacific – shows how they can be adapted to try to tackle some of the toughest challenges of deeply divided societies.

Click on the graphic to find out how features of futures thinking that can help generate fresh ideas and open up possibilities for dialogue:

Click here to view the accessible version of this interactive content

Futures thinking is not a magic formula to resolve conflict, and the impact of futures thinking in peace mediation and reconciliation needs to be further evidenced. But experience to date provides proof of concept and suggests greater attention be given to the potential it can bring to conflict transformation and peacebuilding. There are many different approaches and techniques and, as yet, no agreed terminology. More clarity on how different components and activities – used alone or in combination – can contribute to a peace process would provide valuable guidance to those seeking to apply futures work in conflict-affected contexts.

Our new publication, Looking forward: connecting futures thinking, mediation and reconciliation sets out to do that. Drawing on case studies of where futures thinking has been used in practice in peacebuilding it also outlines the benefits and challenges of implementing a futures thinking process in conflict settings and provides some pointers for designing processes suited to the context.

Michelle Parlevliet explains more in this video.