FutureCoast: “Listen to your futures”

Friday, 19 December 2014: 11:05 AM
Stephanie L Pfirman1, Ken Eklund2, Sara Thacher3, Benjamin S Orlove4, Gina Diane Stovall-Soto4, Jessica Brunacini5 and Theresa Hernandez6, (1)Barnard College, New York, NY, United States, (2)writerguy, San Jose, CA, United States, (3)Independent Designer and Transmedia Producer, San Francisco, CA, United States, (4)Columbia University of New York, Palisades, NY, United States, (5)Columbia Climate Center, New York, NY, United States, (6)Columbia University in the City of New York, New York, NY, United States
Two science-arts approaches are emerging as effective means to convey “futurethinking” to learners: systems gaming and experiential futures. FutureCoast exemplifies the latter: by engaging participants with voicemails supposedly leaking from the cloud of possible futures, the storymaking game frames the complexities of climate science in relatable contexts. Because participants make the voicemails themselves, FutureCoast opens up creative ways for people to think about possibly climate-changed futures and personal ways to talk about them. FutureCoast is a project of the PoLAR Partnership with a target audience of informal adult learners primarily reached via mobile devices and online platforms.

Scientists increasingly use scenarios and storylines as ways to explore the implications of environmental change and societal choices. Stories help people make connections across experiences and disciplines and link large-scale events to personal consequences. By making the future seem real today, FutureCoast’s framework helps people visualize and plan for future climate changes.

The voicemails contributed to FutureCoast are spread through the game’s intended timeframe (2020 through 2065). Based on initial content analysis of voicemail text, common themes include ecosystems and landscapes, weather, technology, societal issues, governance and policy. Other issues somewhat less frequently discussed include security, food, industry and business, health, energy, infrastructure, water, economy, and migration. Further voicemail analysis is examining: temporal dimensions (salient time frames, short vs. long term issues, intergenerational, etc.), content (adaptation vs. mitigation, challenges vs. opportunities, etc.), and emotion (hopeful, resigned, etc. and overall emotional context).

FutureCoast also engaged audiences through facilitated in-person experiences, geocaching events, and social media (Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube). Analysis of the project suggests story-based games such as FutureCoast can serve as effective, accessible tools for engaging diverse audiences in thinking and talking about future “what if?” scenarios related to climate change and its impacts.