Learning from the EU-Innovate Project
What might sustainable lifestyles look like in Europe over the coming decades, and how can we enable the radical shifts that are needed to make the transition? Forum for the Future has been working with our network of 'Futureshapers' and EU-InnovatE, a ground-breaking initiative funded by the European Commission to explore how to accelerate the shift towards sustainable ways of living.
The power of citizen-driven innovation is key to catalysing the shift towards sustainability. Increasingly, we see people – citizens - developing and adapting their own ideas and innovations as they attempt to make their lifestyles, and those of others, more sustainable – we call this “citizen-driven innovation”.
Citizen-driven innovations focus on meeting a need through an offer shaped and developed by citizens, or users, which promotes and enables sustainable lifestyles and behaviour. They may be driven by small entrepreneurs or corporations – examples range from Airbnb’sintroduction of a community marketplace for accommodation to Landshare, a social enterprise connecting those who have land to share with those who need land for cultivating food, or BoKlock, a socially and environmentally sustainable housing concept. Whether large or small, a common factor is the participation of citizens, often through an enabling digital platform to communicate, co-create and share.
This participation of users – linked with an encouraging rise of people acting as citizens, rather than consumers, and taking on greater responsibility for the co-creation of a sustainable society – plays a vital role on the pathways we’ve been exploring through the EU-InnovatE project that lead to a sustainable future. We wanted to explore how to enable innovators of the future to create the products and services that support the transition to a significantly lower impact way of living, and to bring those innovations to scale.
The scenario workshops – meeting citizen innovators of the future
To do this, we invited members of our Futureshapers network – a diverse group of nearly 200 innovators from across Europe – to explore this with us. We invited them to help us explore a set of “SPREAD” scenarios for sustainable lifestyles, each scenario describing a European society that’s living within environmental limits and meeting minimum requirements for socially sustainable development in 20503. While the scenarios had a common boundary for sustainable living (8,000kg material footprint per person, whereas the current European average is 27,000 to 40,000 per person), each scenario achieved this in very different ways. Each was characterised by a varying relationship to technology and by its level of individual or collective culture. We wanted the Futureshapers to help us flesh out what citizen-innovators of the future would face in each and across all the scenarios – both challenges and opportunities – and what could better enable them to drive change for sustainability.
With nearly 50 Futureshapers taking part in two workshops held this summer in Berlin and London, we took a deep dive into the scenarios. We explored what each potential world looked and felt like, and immersed ourselves in the scenarios to experience life in each one, drawing on a range of stimuli - even sampling potential future-style food, such as edible bugs. We took a journey on the pathways to each of the four sustainable worlds on the way to 2050. Through storytelling, role-play and other immersive techniques, the Futureshapers “met up” with innovators of the future to find out what was helping them, hindering them, and what support they needed to create positive change. The responses the Futureshapers brought back are informing our learning about what citizen innovators of the future will need, and what policies and support we need to put in place now.
Citizen-innovation to 2050: key enablers
Priorities for innovation varied across the scenarios. In one scenario, for example, innovation largely focused on energy optimisation (singular super champions) while in another on collective decision making processes and the development of empathy across society (empathetic communities). While each scenario brought out different areas of emphasis and conditions for innovation, across most scenarios we identified common areas where innovators are likely to need support to meet the challenges they face:
Courage and the belief that individuals can create change.
Citizen innovators assume that change happens from the ground up. To act on ideas takes courage. In an increasingly volatile future, innovators will need support to be courageous - to maintain the belief and empowerment to create change, especially when facing a string of obstacles. This includes emotional support to stay positive and confident in their ability to succeed.
A diverse ecosystem of innovation and skills.
Citizen innovators will need access to and participation in a diverse ecosystem of innovation so ideas can spark off one another. Having a sufficient number of citizen innovators is likely to be important, with someone in a facilitating role to get more people involved in innovation and production.
They need the ability to step into unfamiliar worlds, to make connections that cross functions, sectors and cultures – and the support to enable this. Particular skills are likely to be needed for arts and techniques that have been lost, such as food growing – food production and distribution presented one of the most fertile areas for citizen innovation in the scenarios, as did aspects of local health care and energy production.
Digital platforms and access to data.
Innovators will increasingly need the ability to use digital technology, and access to flows of data. No great surprise there, as ICT is already a vital enabling factor of citizen innovation, particularly around taking innovations to scale. Increasingly, innovators will need forms of ICT that can help match-make their innovations with potential collaborators and supporters. This will need infrastructure and support from government and business.
A note of caution, however: while technology platforms are likely to be increasingly crucial to sustainable innovation, so too will human relationships. It’s important that people stay close to their values in digital space.
The ability to think – and act - in systems.
Innovators will need to be systems thinkers, able to see whole systems and the different roles within them. People will need experiences that give them the big picture, to connect to others in any given system, and enable them to act. In Forum, we’ve seen the kind of changes a whole system perspective can enable through our collaborative futures projects such as theSustainable Shipping Initiative, Dairy 2020 and Tea 2030, or the Community Energy Coalition. In future the ability to think in systems needs to be fostered even more widely in society so individuals and organisations understand the way a system operates, the roles they might play to change it, and to choose the role most suited for them.
Working in systems requires working with others. Citizen innovators will need strong relationship skills - the ability to build and engage personal networks, to inspire and influence change and to collaborate with others. The capacity for empathy (to feel with others and to relate to their experience) will be especially important, particularly when working in challenging situations, crisis and radical change – a common feature in all scenarios.
Citizen innovation as a new social contract.
The development of sustainable lifestyles depends on people exercising their power as citizens. The nature of the innovations which that needs to engender is less about products, and more about the flows of information and knowledge, of resources, and the development of skills, accountability and trust. We need citizen innovation to drive the innovation of governance structures, new value networks, education systems, connections and the creation of new institutions fit for the 21st Century.
Over the next three years, we’re going to be exploring how we can support the growth of citizen-led innovation, with input from the Futureshapers network. Focusing on the areas of food, energy, mobility and household living, we’ll be looking to develop new solutions that will enable user innovation and entrepreneurship, and help to inform future EU policies. To find out more about what we’ll be doing and how to get involved, email Kester Byass.