Creating a vision of a desired future is one thing, but how to identify the steps to actually get there?
Backcasting is straightforward and follows naturally from visioning (see Starting out 7, page xx). I’m sure it has been around for a while, but I first heard of it in Natural Step for Communities: How cities and towns can change to sustainable practices by Sarah James and Torbjorn Lahti (see Resources section). They recommend visioning a desirable future and then working backwards.
Backcasting helps us to identify the structures and institutions we need in place in order for Transition to become a reality: where should we start and, indeed, what we have already done that might also be useful.
Backcasting is straightforward and follows naturally from visioning (Starting out; 7). I’m sure it has been around for a while, but I first heard of it in Natural Step for Communities: How cities and towns can change to sustainable practices by Sarah James and Torbjorn Lahti. They recommend visioning a desirable future and then working backwards.
For example, if by 2018, 50 per cent of new buildings in a community are to be built to Passivhaus standard, using 80 per cent local materials, backcasting identifies what new infrastructure, what training and what skills would need to be in place by when. If, for example, construction-grade hemp is to be a key part of that, backcasting allows you to consider:
- When would the infrastructure for processing locally grown hemp need to be in place?
- When it would it be necessary to begin training local builders in using hemp?
- When would the first trials on local farmland need to begin?
. . . and so on.
When Transition Town Totnes (TTT) was creating its Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP), backcasting played a key role. In the first round of workshops, people identified their key assumptions about the kind of future they were anticipating. Then they looked at future scenarios, and what they felt to be most likely, concluding with a visioning exercise, inviting people to imagine the scenarios they had created. After this was done, the backcasting began, in two stages. Firstly workshop participants were invited to backcast in groups, moving around between the tables to share ideas, identifying what felt like the crucial stages in the journey towards the vision of the future that they had created. They also made use of ‘The Transition Timeline’ – a long laminated board showing a line running from 2009 to 2030, on to which people were invited to post future events or stories written on Post-it notes (see photo below). Secondly, the team creating the EDAP then pulled together the material created in the workshops and used it as the foundation for a more detailed narrative; a more thorough timeline for Transition.[i] Backcasting proved to be a dynamic and highly creative process, involving a great mixture of serious thought and silly, but fun, imaginative flights of fancy.
[Insert pic: Ing 2.10 - Caption: Backcasting using the ‘Transition Timeline’ developed by Transition Town Totnes, at the launch of its EDAP creation process.]
One exercise that is a good way of bringing backcasting to life is the 2030 School Reunion exercise, which was first done at the launch of the process that led to the creation of TTT’s EDAP.[ii] Here four actors play different characters who all attended the local secondary school in 2010. The audience divides into four groups, each with cards that tell a different aspect of the story of what happened in the character’s life in the intervening years. The audience share what they know about the character, and then, after discussion in the four groups, the actors role-play a school reunion, with the characters meeting each other and catching up on their lives. If done well, with good actors, it can be a surprisingly engaging and moving exercise.
[i] Which can be read in Hodgson, J, Hopkins, R. (2010) Transition in Action: Totnes and District 2030: an Energy Descent Plan. Transition Town Totnes/Green Books.
[ii] You can read a write-up of this exercise and how to do it at http://tinyurl.com/4lapp4