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How Futures Literacy Can Change Life As We Know it

Humankind has been fascinated by the future and the secrets it holds for generations. Prophesies, philosophers, tales and runes, art, and divination are rituals and practices that demonstrate the human desire to acquire the knowledge of their fortune. Humans often fall into wishful thinking and tend to visualize how life can be. There is now a way to morph this hopeful daydreaming into a beneficial experience through a skill called Futures Literacy.

Literacy is a concept closely linked to education. Common dictionaries define literacy as the ability to produce and understand language properly. In the plainest manner, it means being able to read and write.

Languages take many forms. Written and spoken word, musical phrases being sung or played, computer programming languages, mathematic equations and art creation are all different examples of expressions and levels of literacy.

The evolution of literacy is inextricably linked to the evolution of humankind. Different cultures, origins, lifestyles, customs and upbringings produce different ways of communication and interpretation. A new emerging approach links the concept of literacy with the human imagination. Essentially, the term literate is not used to describe a person that knows how to manipulate language efficiently anymore but a person that can also use their imagination to prepare, plan and anticipate possible and less possible scenarios in the future. Being conscious of all possibilities and anticipating multiple versions of the future is the essence of being Futures literate.

Dusk - The Tree of Life Series Painting, Dirksen/2015

FL is a capability. It is the skill that allows people to better understand the role of the future in what they see and do. Being futures literate empowers the imagination, enhances our ability to prepare, recover and invent as changes occur.”. (UNESCO, 2020)

People base the decisions of the present on the events they think will take place in the future. They anticipate situations based on their experiences, their background or community and act accordingly. However, because of the current fast-paced lifestyle most people adhere to and the constant changes that they are experiencing nowadays, it has become difficult to think of the long-term future. People only plan for the short-term, are only prepared for minor setbacks in the near future and are simply trying to get through the day, the week, and eventually the year. This 'burn-out' has resulted in limiting their experiences and horizons and turning a blind eye in practices that are clearly harmful long-term such. A great example is the the damage they are inflicting to the environment but are able to ignore as a problem that can be solved in the future. But when the future comes they are not prepared.

How many times have we watched the news and learned about an unexpected situation? The heat wave, the economic crisis, the oil crisis and so on. Every day people witness unexpected circumstances and crises that they did not see coming, are not prepared but are faced with either way. Governments have to adapt and overcome a difficult situation at a moment’s notice and most of the time their decisions are not taken well by the citizens.

What if the Government was prepared for the unexpected event? What if part of their work was to imagine what the future can bring and how to prepare in order to manage the outcomes of an unforeseen situation?

To make the best possible decisions and take measure of crisis management, it is smarter to plan for the impossible rather than the possible. Governing a region comes with a complex set of responsibilities and constant uncertainty. Security is a major concern in international relations and it influences all the decisions made by a nation’s leader. Governments are always searching for a way to navigate between the uncertainties and emergencies that might put them in a compromising position. Having specialists that are Futures literate in advisory committees, able to provide reports and analysis, will guarantee that worst-case scenarios are mapped and handled before they become insoluble. Before citizens are in outrage due to the disappearance of welfare state. Before problems of the future become problems of the present.

Futures Literacy as explained by the official site of UNESCO. (UNESCO, 2020)

The secret lies in using uncertainty as a resource. Moving beyond illusions of certainty will reduce vulnerability. When a nation or organization are in prosperity, they often do not take into account their long-term existence but look to reproduce the current reality with minimal changes. Using the last 10 or 20 years for reference, one can realize that humanity has evolved in entirely unexpected ways, ways that it was not prepared for. Taking into consideration the covid-19 pandemic and remembering life 2 years ago, no one had anticipated lockdowns, a high death toll, followed by a global crisis. Humanity has been and continues to be exposed to sudden changes that can jeopardize the future that was planned and expected. Placing the unexpected into the frame of expectation can be transformative for how humanity evolves.

Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has been a supporter and representative of this new initiative for quite a while now in the hopes of incorporating it into the arsenal of teachers, students and researchers. In 2019, Unesco hosted the first Global Futures Literacy Design Forum at its Headquarters in Paris and presented a variety of tools that will help organizations, corporations and governments integrate Futures Literacy in their practices.

This is how new possibilities, new horizons and opportunities are made. Futures literacy can be integrated in policy making, climate change management, and in the financial system. The planet, as we know it, is currently changing. What we consider valuable now might not be anymore in the future. Our everyday lives, professional and personal, have been completely transformed. But we still gaze out of the window and think of a better world and a better future.

The future can only stem from imagination and humans own that ability. So why not be prepared for it? Why not make the best of it?

Visualizing a different world. Medium,2020


Accardo, N. (2017, May 28). What does it mean to be literate? Medium. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from,for%20these%20different%20social%20contexts.&text=This%20could%20be%20a%20written,music%2C%20or%20any%20other%20way.

Futures literacy. UNESCO. (2020, December 1). Retrieved January 29, 2022, from,and%20invent%20as%20changes%20occur.

Global Futures Literacy Design Forum. UNESCO. (2019, December 12). Retrieved January 29, 2022, from

Interview about futures literacy with Riel Miller, head of foresight at UNESCO - climate-kic. Climate. (2019, December 13). Retrieved January 29, 2022, from

Jonathan H. Westover, P. D. (2021, October 7). Council post: Futures literacy and developing a futures-thinking mindset. Forbes. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from

Larsen, N. (2020, June 25). What is 'futures literacy' and why is it important? Medium. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from

Larsen, N. (2020, June 25). What is 'futures literacy' and why is it important? Medium. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from

Leal, K. (2021, November 15). What is futures thinking? Medium. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from

Michael Shaun Conaway - The Generative Futurist. (2022, January 24). A future beyond grievances. Medium. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from

Papaterpou, N. (2021, January 18). Futures literacy-a 21st-century skill for young people. Futures. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from

Image Sources

Image 1. Dirksen, C. R. (2015). Dusk - the tree of life series painting. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from

Image 2. Futures literacy. UNESCO. (2020, December 1). Retrieved January 29, 2022, from,and%20invent%20as%20changes%20occur.

Image 3. Larsen, N. (2020, June 25). What is 'futures literacy' and why is it important? Medium. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from

1 Comment

Great ideas and well written article!

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Konstantina Manta

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