Post Pandemic Scenarios — Part 2: A futurist view of the next few months
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. Please start by reading Part 1.
In our second meetup for Post-Pandemic Scenarios, we went through a series of futurist exercises to try and make sense of all the ideas we came up with in the first meetup.
What I Did
Assumptions and Reversals
As a group, we came up with two pages of assumptions (things we assume to be true or a given) and reversals (flipping the assumption). We focused on thinking about what long held assumptions are changing due to COVID-19.
For example, “Physical presence is required at work & for social interactions” was an assumption that now seems to be changing with the coronavirus pandemic. The fact that we were working on this project and socializing online/remotely for this exercise shows that this reversal is already becoming a new reality.
Critical Themes and Clusters
Next, we spent a few minutes reading through everyone’s assumption reversals. We noticed some ideas being repeated more than others and used that information to identify key themes and clusters of ideas
Uncertainties and Risks
Once we narrowed down the critical themes, we were able to identify new uncertainties and risks that relate to the pandemic situation.
This exercises also brought up some new questions:
- How does this affect our political life? (voting, governance, etc)
- How will manufacturing of key items change here vs overseas: Medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, food, etc?
- Will we become more isolationist on politics & economy? Return to “Made in America”?
- How do we get needed income?
- How do people at margins create resilience?
- How is our relationship to risk changing?
Master Efforts Board
After our meetup, the Big Foresight organizers created a Trello workspace called “A Time for Action”. The purpose of the workspace is to organize information about COVID-19 and make a comprehensive collection of sources that are doing innovative work and serving critical needs that we discovered in our earlier exercises.
I contributed to the “Master Efforts” board, where we collected resources and links for logistics, supplies, testing, personal protection, medical innovation and more.
From our brief research so far, it seems that there are many individuals and groups focusing on addressing immediate needs such as distributing and making masks, gloves and cleaning supplies, emergency funds for people in need, and data tracking sites and apps that give live updates on the amount of COVID-19 cases. We found fewer resources that focus on the bigger picture and long-term solutions, such as developing medical innovations that fight the virus, mass-testing solutions, or inventions that adapt everyday interactions for this era of social distancing like touchless interfaces and new business models that allow people to shop or work safely.
What I Learned
- Identifying key uncertainties helps us figure out which issues to address and what spaces need more attention. A lot of effort is being put towards addressing urgent needs and making sure people are staying safe and healthy right now, but the results of our exercises suggest that things like social structures, business models, and economic policies will need more attention in the coming months as things progress.
- There is a lot we don’t know. Throughout these exercises, we came up with plenty of questions that we don’t yet know the answer to. We may not discover answers to unknowns until we live through this and see how things like the way we social and greet people change (or potentially return to how they were before).
- How might this pandemic impact the development and popularity of technologies like VR, AR and touchless interfaces?
- How might work and school interactions such as meetings, classes and training change in the next year? We have made many things online and virtual temporarily, but will these changes last post-pandemic and if so, how?
- How might businesses and organizations that rely on in-person and physical interactions adapt to stay afloat and relevant with social distancing and the shutting down of non-essential businesses?