Post Pandemic Scenarios — Part 1: What is the new normal?
This post is part of a series documenting my work on a pandemic-focused project with Big Foresight, a futurist meetup group created by Mike Courtney and Quyen Nguyen from Aperio Insights. While futurists typically look out 10+ years into the future, the current COVID-19 coronavirus situation requires planning for BIG changes in just the next few months. My role involves helping create foresight exercises for online workshops such as future wheels, archetypes of change and more to imagine what implications might be waiting for us when we emerge from this wave of disruption.
What I Did
In the first meetup for the pandemic series, I worked remotely with about forty other online participants in Coggle to map out post-pandemic patterns for the future. Our goal was to visualize what we thought the “new normal” might look like after the pandemic crisis ends.
What started out as a few ideas in four categories branched out into an immense and ever-growing map of possibilities.
Scenario 1: Continuation (all things continue as they normally would)
In this section, we explored what might happen if things continued and resume as normal after the pandemic ends. This was the least likely scenario to happen, according to the professional futurists at the meetup.
Scenario 2: Collapse (worst case scenario)
In this section, we explored what might happen if things collapsed in society due to the pandemic. People tended to have more negative thoughts and concerns than hopeful ones, and this section got quite full.
Scenario 3: New Equilibrium (some things change and stay changed after the pandemic ends)
In this section, we explored what might happen if the pandemic leads us to adapt, adopt some new changes and rethink interactions that have changed during the pandemic such as the switch to working from home. Surprisingly, we had the most ideas here out of all the categories.
Scenario 4: Transformation (completely new way of life, evolving lifestyles)
In this section, we explored what might happen if the pandemic leads to permanent, revolutionary changes in all areas of life post-pandemic. Some brave futuristic ideas are listed in this section, possible but also unlikely because they would require complete transformations of society and cultural norms as well as swift advancement of technology.
Other Ideas and Thoughts
Ideas that didn’t fit into one of the main categories but were worth documenting, such as changes in personal habits, value changes, and various effects on the economy. These observations helped us understand changes that are currently taking place and concepts that should be considered in all scenarios.
What I learned
- There are many, many possibilities and ideas that can come out of a simple exercise when you collaborate with others. Online collaboration was possible and more effective than I expected. The tools we used (Zoom, Google Docs, and Coggle) synced quickly and worked smoothly with all the users as we were making changes. Since meeting in person was not an option, everyone also seemed determined to make it work and did their best to get up to speed on how to use the digital tools to work effectively together
- Diversity in background, interests, and careers brought up different perspectives for the pandemic. Having a diverse set of participants shed light on problems that other participants had never experienced or thought about
- Talking to experts in a different fields or subject matters sometimes yielded new, previously unknown info that changed or even negated a whole series of assumptions for scenarios. Their knowledge of facts and deeper understanding in certain areas helped develop more realistic scenarios
- Future-focused people (like the attendees for this meetup) have more positive and innovative expectations of the future. Some of the professional futurists at the meetup were surprised at how full the “New Equilibrium” scenario section was compared to what they usually see in these type of exercises. This might be because actively thinking about the future and exploring possibilities removes some of the fear of the unknown and allows people to use their curiosity rather than reacting defensively with fear.
- Mind mapping diagram exercises can be useful for all kinds of topics, not just crises. These exercises help gather ideas, learn different perspectives and find obscure connections. When we use these exercises, we gain understanding of how things work within a system, not in a vacuum. This can help us make smarter and more informed decisions to change things or make improvements
New Questions and Ideas to Explore
- How might this collection of ideas become actionable tasks or information that can be used to make smart decisions for the future?
- Now that we are farther along in the pandemic, which scenarios seem more likely? Are any of them unfolding yet?
- What work is being done regarding the post-pandemic future by other people or groups, and what can we learn from them?