Once upon a time in Paradiso village, there lived a fisherman with his wife and two children… As we all know, this is how all good stories start, and it was no different for the third day of the Kenyan workshop where the participants got to draw on all their creativity and story-telling skills to build positive stories of a future Kenya in the age of the Anthropocene. Stories are powerful things: they create our reality as much as they explain it and that was one of the main ideas that underpins the seed of Good Anthropocenes initiative. The aim of this Future Earth funded project is to collect ‘seeds’, i.e. projects, ideas or initiatives that exist, at least in prototype form, but are not currently dominant in our world, that people think have the potential for creating positive impact in the future. Our collection strategy varies from asking people to fill in an online questionnaire through to face-to-face discussions at workshops and our hope is that we will be able to collect examples that capture a diverse set of activities, values, and world-views. By collecting seeds from around the world, we are aiming to develop scenarios and other tools that will enable us to overcome the dominant dystopian narrative of the future in the Anthropocene- the age where human actions are the dominant force shaping the planet.
Paraphrasing Alex Evans, we refer to the argument that if the stories we reach for when everything seems to be coming apart, are ones that lead on themes of disaster, fragmentation, and breakdown, and that offer no hope of making it over the chasm to safety, then it becomes much more likely that we’ll find ourselves confronting just such a scenario. But if, on the other hand, we have stories, visions and signs that are positive, inspiring and purposeful, they could have the power to drive a different, and much more hopeful, kind of transformation. We call these “pockets of the future in the present,” small events occurring in the present that will shape the direction that the future takes.
Story-telling on the African continent is a well-known art and the participants at the Kenyan workshop did not disappoint. Having previously submitted their idea of an existing project or initiative that they believed could have a positive impact on the future, the participants gathered in smaller groups to share these ideas with each other. Having discussed the positive aspects, potential pitfalls and what problems their idea was trying to overcome, the participants and facilitators were then asked to put their creativities to the test. By findings connections between the ‘seeds’ at the table, each group had to build a story of a positive future where their ‘seeds’ had blossomed. This ‘mash-up,’ where using more seeds was highly encouraged, resulted in a rich, yet diverse, set of stories that each group came together to share with the others at the end of the session.
Some groups acted out their stories, others used a more traditional form of having a narrator and others used pictures to tell their story. There was a positive feeling in the room as everyone was able to see how small, positive changes now, can have a large impact on the future, which was a very empowering message. To add a bit of colour to the proceedings, everyone also got to vote for their favourite story- and after a pretty close call, the winning group walked away with chocolates as their reward.
As well as leaving with a more positive outlook of how change can be implemented in a system, the seeds that were submitted will also be entered into the project’s database to build the representivity of seeds from the African continent. An eventual goal of the project is also to analyse the stories that workshop participants have narrated and thus to contribute to the development of new methodologies that can help us to navigate the complexities of decision-making under conditions of uncertainty.