UNESCO’s Imagining Africa’s Futures Project inviting Applicants to become a ‘Local Champion’

Deadline: 24 March 2019

The Imagining Africa’s Futures project is launching a call for expressions of interest to become a local champion in Futures Literacy in Africa. Local champions are expected to be key constituents of UNESCO and its partners’ effort to conduct research in Futures Literacy by co-designing and co-running Futures Literacy Laboratories in their local communities. Local champions can be a team of driven individuals or organisations.

The aim of the Imagining Africa’s Futures (IAF) project is to complete an ‘innovation cycle’, specifically that part of the cycle involving the testing of the prototype to ensure that the final “product” is ready for “mass-production/ mass-diffusion.”

UNESCO is moving forward with its partners to understand why and how people ‘use the future’. Through the collaborative and interdisciplinary Imagining Africa’s Futures (IAF) project, UNESCO and the OCP Foundation are joining forces to change the way the future is conceived and used in Africa.

IAF conducts scientific research into why and how people ‘use-the-future’ by undertaking prototype testing of Futures Literacy Laboratories (FLL) in Africa. Its aim: to prove that by changing the way they approach the future, they can better understand our present fears and hopes.

IAF is a rare and cutting-edge research project that is conducting the ‘prototyping phase’ of the ‘innovation cycle’ where the prototype being tested is a specific kind of Futures Literacy Laboratory, the Futures Literacy Laboratory – Novelty (FLL-N).


The aim of this phase is to test generalizable procedural goals, rules and methods that will in most situations ensure that FLL achieve the following objectives:

  1. Revealing people’s anticipatory assumptions,
  2. Enhancing their capacity to use the future for different reasons and in different ways in different contexts (this is what it means to acquire the capability that is called Futures Literacy),
  3. Enabling them to ask new questions, and
  4. Allowing for a better understanding of what is FL and how to design/conduct FLL
  5. Reveal Novelty rather than Predictions: the shift Futures Literacy suggests is from Anticipation-for-Future to Anticipation-for-Emergence.

The testing of FLL-NP during this prototyping phase will occur in two waves: The first one will target initiation and co-design (Stages 1 & 2) with ‘local champions’ during the Spring/Summer of 2019 in order to run the Lab (Stages 3 & 4) during the early Fall 2019. The second wave will launch in the Fall 2019, with the aim of running more Labs in the Winter of 2019.

Eligibility Criteria

  • FLLs will be designed to invite, appreciate and advance the foresight capacities of a diverse range of local actors – from decision-makers in government and business to local community activists promoting youth and gender agendas.
  • FLLs will generate new and innovative strategies, policies and networks to be put to use for Africa, by Africans.

The FLL-NP consists of five distinct stages:

Stage 1: Initiation. This is when a ‘local champion’ first engages with the idea of Futures Literacy and takes the initiative – by contacting a source of FL expertise (which could be a FLC, but not necessarily) to undertake a Futures Literacy Laboratory-Novelty Prototype (FLL-NP) in their community. In the case of this ‘call for expressions of interest’ the initial contact is the encounter and decision to submit an expression of interest.

Stage 2: Co-design. The FLL-NP co-design process requires close interaction with UNESCO’s Futures Literacy team and a Futures Literacy Centre tied to the IAF project. The first FLC is at the University Mohammed VI Polytechnique, Morocco. Key parts of the co-design process and training for ‘local champion’ designers and ‘peer-facilitators’ (3 to 4 people) are planned to take place at the Moroccan Futures Literacy Centre or, at a second centre envisaged by the IAF project that is still in the process of being established.

The codesign phase has a number of steps, including discussions of the topic for the FLL-NP, who to invite to participate, how best to invite them, how to structure the FLL-NP learningby-doing process and what are the most appropriate tools to use at each stage. Typically the actual Lab part of the FLL-NP (stage 4 below), when a group of interested and committed participants work together for 1.5 to 2 days in an action-learning collective intelligence process, involves some 25 to 35 participants.

Stage 3: Rehearsal. Prior to actually running the Lab it is necessary for 2 or 3 additional peer-facilitators to be trained (since generally speaking there are 4 to 6 small break-out groups of 6 to 7 participants, each with a peer-facilitator) and the Lab agenda needs to be tested by running a ‘dress rehearsal’ on site with key members of the ‘local champion’ group.

The training of the peer-facilitators and the testing of the learning tools and phasing of the Lab agenda go hand-in-hand, providing a feedback loop that adapts the agenda to the actual time, place and social/narrative context. The list of participants in the Lab is also now very close to being accurate since the Lab will take place very soon after the rehearsal (next day in most cases).

This allows for a highly personalised approach to specifying the annotated agenda that will guide the plenary and break-out group facilitators. In the case of the FLL-NP, which involves researchers testing the performance of the prototype, there is also the inclusion of the observers role and the various instruments for testing performance into the overall design of the FLL-NP.

Stage 4: Running the Lab. The Lab consists of 4 phases.
Phase 1 is Tacit to Explicit on the basis of imagining probable and desirable futures related to the topic.
Phase 2 involves a double reframing, one that disconnects participants from their anticipatory assumptions by evoking non-probabilistic and non-normative futures.

Inducing this anticipatory disconnect requires that participants plunge into a set of narrative and analytical frames that disallow the elements they usually use to describe imaginary futures – in other words the ‘play’ with a new set of anticipatory assumptions. Note that this ‘reframing’ must be co-created with the ‘local champion’ prior to running the Lab.
Phase 3 engages participants in a comparative exercise, recalling the assumptions and images of the future generated by the break-out group discussions in Phases 1 and 2. The focus of Phase 3 is on aspects of the present that can be sensed and made-sense of on the basis of different imaginary futures.

The ability to detect, invent or give different weights to different (often previously invisible) aspects of the present provides participants with a clear demonstration of the power of the future to influence perception. It also provides an opportunity to point out that different anticipatory systems and processes, why and how the future is used, are what makes the expansion of perception practical.

In particular, participants can come to appreciate the role of non-probable, non-normative imaginary futures is enlarging perception of the present. They start to become more futures literate.
Phase 4 is highly context dependent, related to the expectations and aspirations of the local champion. The purpose of Phase 4 is to consolidate lessons, celebrate learning, open up avenues for sharing and consider next steps.

Stage 5: Follow-through. The content of this stage is determined by the local champion and the specific intentions of this group. A variety of outcomes are generated by running a FLL-N process, ranging from specific policy options to initiatives to build further Futures Literacy.

The elements selected for FLL-N follow-through are specified during Stage 2 Codesign and Stage 4 Running the Lab. The Lab will alter expectations and outcomes, generating new ideas for follow-through and diffusion. In this respect the FLL-NP is similar to an FLL-N, with the main difference being that with the prototype version there is an additional research/observer that will help with the testing/refinement of the prototype.

How to Apply

Applicants can apply via e-mail given on the website.

For further information, please visit https://en.unesco.org/news/call-expressions-interest-become-local-champion-futures-literacy-africa