Befriending Uncertainty: Tools for Thinking and Collaborating

Published:
Topics: 101, Future of Learning, Systems Change

The uncertainty of the future has come to greet us here in the present. We are always making decisions and plans amid uncertainty, but that reality is starker than ever. Recently, I have had the opportunity to work with two groups of early childhood stakeholders to introduce them to our forecast Foundations for Flourishing Futures: A Look Ahead for Young Children and Families and to tools that can help us navigate uncertainty, even when we cannot resolve it.

Organizing our thinking with a Futures Triangle

Futures Triangle: a triangle, with "Pull of the Future" in the top corner, "Weight of history" in the bottom right and "push of the present" in the bottom left, surrounding "Plausible Futures" in the center.

The Futures Triangle is a versatile tool that can help us organize our thinking about the interplay of the past, present and future. At the Waters Center for Systems Thinking recent early childhood forum, Maria Romero and I introduced the tool. We guided the group through experimenting with it and reflected with them about ways it could support their systems thinking efforts to redesign equitable early childhood systems in this moment of great change, challenge and opportunity.

They reflected that the past, present and future all feel important to grapple with as we make sense of the times we live in now and consider how we might respond, but that often conversations that aim to tackle them all become overwhelming. The Futures Triangle offers a way to categorize and clarify and to identify connections while also putting boundaries around the conversation.

The Futures Triangle is a versatile tool. See how it can be applied with Maria Romero and Rita Pello.
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Taking a future-oriented look at our newsfeeds

The challenges facing young children and families seem to compound every day. Those external obstacles are real. So too are the obstacles created by our own hidden assumptions and beliefs about the future. On October 1, I collaborated with our partners at Capita and Openfields to introduce funders and other early childhood stakeholders to a process we called Reading for the Future. The process invites us to notice changes described in our newsfeeds, to consider a wide range of possible long-term consequences, to examine our assumptions about those consequences and to set a scope for our attention.

a loop with "detect change" feeding into the next stage "consider consequences" leading to "examine assumptions" leading to "set the scope" leading to "detect change" and enters the loops again

Together, we considered how child-care needs have become even more complex due to COVID-19. We wondered how the unregulated child-care landscape might evolve, envisioning some troubling consequences around children’s safety but also possible positive developments, such as families being paid to care for one another or a reinvention of regulation itself. From this conversation, we explored nuances of the challenges we face and recognized some beliefs we held that would not have otherwise found their way into a discussion.

Reading for the Future and the Futures Triangle both provide accessible ways to invite collaborators into nuanced, far-reaching, creative and sometimes difficult conversations about the uncertain futures that might emerge and the ones we hope to create.

When we talk about the future, we talk about children. Foundations for Flourishing Futures: A Look Ahead for Children and Families© will help leaders across sectors navigate that gap, understand their own work in new ways and do their part to ensure that every child and family can flourish in the future.