Tag Archives: Foresight

Worldbuilding: A Workshop on Shared Futuring

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The first of two foresight workshops presented by Strategic Foresight and Innovation students was held in September with Maheen Zaidi sharing a methodology being proposed for long-horizon transition design and collaborative scenario thinking. Her workshop engaged about 30 participants in exploring futures through worldbuilding and narrative visioning practices. She organized the session around three inquiries:

  • Can the resurgence of science fiction narratives help us create a better society and social systems?
  • How can worldbuilding help us in designing practices for community and large system transition?
  • Can we combine worldbuilding and foresight practices such as backcasting to better inform social system design?

Over the past few years, an ongoing battle for the future of science fiction has plagued the literary community, and the crux of the problem was this: the genre was undergoing social change to better reflect the world’s diverse values and voices, and not everyone agreed that it should. Not only was this conflict a missed signal for the resurgence of social populism (and the Trump presidency), it raised concerns about who and what is informing society’s visions of the future, and what the implications of those visions are.

Though we can find science fiction at the root of most (if not all) of our technological accomplishments, it does not inspire society to adopt the moral and ethical lessons it imparts. As a result, we’re captivated by Orwell’s telescreens and Crichton’s Jurassic Park, but fail to act upon their warnings about mass surveillance or unchecked entrepreneurship. So where is the disconnect? Why is science fiction not leading the charge on informing transition and systemic design?

This Design with Dialogue workshop will introduce a model that tests if science fiction narratives and practices can help build better systems. The workshop will include an exercise that examines the fictional worlds in stories such as 1984 and Brave New World. We’ll also use the model to imagine a new society with more sustainable systems that are designed with a civilizational timescale in mind.








About the Host

Maheen Zaidi

Maheen is co-founder of The Innovation Shop, a design consultancy in Toronto. She specializes in strategic foresight, transition design, and narrative design. She is completing a Masters of Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation from OCAD University, and has an Honours Bachelor of Business Administration from York University. Her thesis explores the intersection of civilizational foresight, transition design, and science fiction.

A staunch believer that language is a critical medium of design and that foresight should be ambient, Maheen is a science fiction writer. In her previous life, she was a marketing executive who worked with multi-nationals, startups, and scale-ups to build brand equity.



Envisioning the Future of Toronto’s Public Lands

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Can we ecologize Toronto’s green lands and watersheds? Can we enhance access and inclusion of cultural uses of our parks, common places and spaces? How might we recover, restore, reimagine or rewild Toronto’s public lands?

Toronto’s urban planning team has been comprehensively revising its downtown planning – the DwD engagement held a session to cocreate citizen proposals for the Toronto Parks and Public Realm Plan as part of TOcore: Planning Downtown.




Unify Toronto Dialogues held its October session with the TOCore team, voicing indigenous perspectives on decolonizing the common lands and stewarding ecological restoration.  Following a presentation on the city’s regional public lands plan, over a dozen indigenous community members spoke up with visions and concerns for:

  • Restoring the native flora ecologies and balance of the Humber and Ontario shoreline waters
  • Opening up the ravines and public open space to urban farming and renewing healthy soils
  • Restoring and enabling the fish ecologies of Ontario, a lake that once teemed with indigenous freshwater fish
  • Ensuring indigenous access to land for ceremony, fire circles, and councils.


The live sketch (thanks Patricia) shows one of the maps of discussion and questions raised by particpants during this session.










Imagining Future Urban Challenges: A Dialogic Design Workshop

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A Collaborative Foresight Workshop for Imagining Urbanization Challenges

In late August, OCADU’s Strategic Innovation Lab engaged 18 academics and thought leaders from around Ontario in an intensive one-day panel on Imagining Canada’s Future, to formulate a short list of distinct future challenges that SSHRC should address through future research programs. The panel research continues with an OCADU-led research team involving York, Ryerson, Windsor and UOIT in developing the findings and report.

Affording an opportunity for public knowledge mobilization, the question DwD with an open panel of innovators and students in the DwD and university communities.

The framing of the panel was centred around the question:

“As Southern Ontario faces the effects of global urbanization, what are the highest priority social and systemic challenges, now through 2030?”

To further develop a public inquiry into the same question, a community design workshop was held on this important foresight perspective.  What are the opportunities and possible outcomes for a design-led approach to social sciences challenges?  With over 20 creative and professional participants, the session rapidly engaged (and experimented with) variations of dialogic design methods for problem framing and collective sensemaking in the “open sandbox” of the DwD community:

  • Framing of the Triggering Question
  • Generating Challenges – Individual, Paired, and Round Robin
  • Concurrent Clarification of Challenges
  • Voting on Challenges
  • Challenges Selection – Group Scenario Creation

A single visual map of the workshop goals, activities and scenarios was sketched in concert by Charlotte Young and regular Patricia Kambitsch.

To preserve time, only one well-defined challenge per participant was selected.

Four breakout groups composed scenarios from selected challenges, assembling both a set of related problems from challenges and the proposed solutions.

Scenarios were designed to highlight salience of relationships over a 20 year timeline, with guidance to show Milestones, Headlines, and Solutions.

The Open Equitable Diverse society showed the  transformation of government and citizen engagement, from top-down governance to bottom-up “poll” or pull governance. The concept of a Social GPS was proposed as an advanced global social network enabling this transition.

Socially engaged ownership and new systems of urban design, resource management, equitable housing arrangements and neighbourhood communities was envisioned.

A combination of challenges in a problematic network was envisioned being addressed by a positive scenario involving social health, participatory engagement,education services and considering the renewal of the family as a unit of planning.

Two diverse society scenarios were developed. The Feeling Canadian scenario expressed the possible scenarios of a deeply values-centred view of a socially-designed approach to enhancing diversity and while managing urbanization pressures, considering the impacts of city governance, neighbourhood management, and the preservation of Canadian history. Mediators of good government, an educational mandate, and community engagement were proposed.


Another team constructed a classical 2×2 matrix defining four quadrants against the problems of food security and income inequality led to a timeline and solution focus on the quadrant of significant income inequality and managed local food sources. This may be seen as a “highly likely” scenario approach inspiring immediate social action to address probable effects, rather than farsighted solutions.

We started the workshop with a presentation of the dialogic design approach and an overview of the SSH-sponsored panel from the Imagining Canada’s Future project.


Peter Jones, DwD Community Convener and OCADU professor is guiding the workshop and the trial of experimental approaches (visual, technical) to complement the dialogic design method. The session was co-convened with the team of Strategic Foresight and Innovation graduate student Uma Maharaj and visual recording from Charlotte Young and Patricia Kambitsch.





Business Model Innovation for Social Entrepreneurship

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How can social organizations thrive in a post-funding society?

A special innovation circle session was held with Maya Roy and the Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto.  Through turbulent economic times, Maya and staff leadership grew a team of committed members and made the organization a successful NGO for helping new families settle into Toronto. With impending budget cuts, they are faced with an immediate need to change their business model from a publicly supported service to a social entrepreneurial model.

York University’s Antony Upward presented the “Strongly Sustainable” Business Model Canvas (an innovation of the BMG canvas) the framework for group ideation and collaborative design. In large and small group sessions, the group explored innovation of business and revenue models, service provision, new relationships and communications channels.  As the first public unveiling of the research and design of the  “strongly sustainable” business model, we gained valuable and practical feedback on the applications of the new approach.

Generating one group’s model based on its “What If” starting point (orange label).

Sharing the group’s model with the whole and Antony collecting and aggregating the unique values of each in a common map.

This was the first public application of the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Canvas – and most of the participants were unfamiliar even with Alex Osterwalder’s original Business Model Canvas. Therefore, even with all having watched Alex’s videos and our handout materials, we found the session required a significant degree of education in the methods. The SSBM Canvas is not a tool that can be applied “out of the box” but requires context setting and some training in the concepts.

May Roy shared her experience with the process in terms of outcomes for Newcomers:

The use of the expanded canvas allowed NEW staff, volunteers and members plan though how the organization will continue to innovate in the next 3 years. We used the DWD session and day long strategy sessions to discuss, argue, debate and sometimes cry over the challenges and opportunities inherent in a time of economic restructuring.

Long-term Thinking

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How might we bring a long-term perspective to near-term decisions?

Consumers, organizational leaders and politicians make daily decisions that will affect our families, communities, prosperity and habitat for decades into the future. How would our culture and world be different if we made decisions in consideration of the well-being of our children’s children, rather than only looking at the next tweet, fiscal quarter or electoral cycle?

February’s DwD explored approaches to over-coming “short-termism” with a long-term view to make our resources and systems more sustainable.

  • Unpack the assumptions that keep us locked into a short time frame
  • See what our decisions might look like if framed in a long view
  • Explore how a values shift might reframe our perspective
  • Jam ideas on new incentive structures that could influence our behaviour


 Images from the session

How do our values drive our decisions? How might that skew us towards a short-term view?



What incentive structures might shift values such that our decisions will consider a long-term view?