Foresight methods provide an approach for envisioning the future, that serves the urban lab context. We call it futures mapping. Participatory foresight relies on design-based methods for observing changes in the operational environment through trends and signals, ideation and scenario making, vision and roadmaps. A participatory approach serves to engage the stakeholders, who put their imagination and expertise in to use in picturing possible futures for tomorrow’s cities.
Urban labs explore and experiment with the new, the unknown and the uncertain together with the local innovation community. Visioning the future, active monitoring of the operational environment, future trends, new technologies and solutions, are central in all innovation projects and urban development. Design based approaches and foresight provide suitable tools for living labs to be used in futures mapping.
In district urban labs, like Helsinki Innovation Districts where the city organisation is a key partner, the perspective is always strongly tied to the city strategy and agendas such as climate objectives and sustainability. The activities of the urban lab support the cities’ targets and provide a complex real-life environment with a multi-stakeholder network. Hence, urban labs offer a natural context for divergent thinking that is needed to envision the future. Collaborative design-based methods create dialogue between the different perspectives, and help to imagine several alternative paths towards possible futures. A collaborative process is also a great way to create commitment, engage the different stakeholders and bring in expertise from the innovation community. Futures mapping can support vision building and formulating new initiatives or help building a roadmap for long term projects. Furthermore, it strengthens the participants’ skills for creating foresight and orienting for the future.
Moreover, urban labs offer active means of shaping the everyday life of the future: futures making. Experimentation in urban environments, such as city districts, can reveal weak signals and demonstrate how things will develop in the future. Piloting and experimentation of innovative solutions offers a way to create insights for future everyday solutions through practical cases and to create possible scenarios. Although not all pilots lead to established models and services, they do shape the future in different ways, bringing understanding to support urban planning and decision-making.
Photo credit: Jussi Hellsten / Helsinki Marketing
Thematic roadmap for Helsinki Innovation Districts
A futures mapping process was run with participants from different sectors of the city of Helsinki. The aim was to co-develop a thematic roadmap for the Helsinki Innovation Districts project. The roadmap will show the way for smart city development projects in several of Helsinki’s suburban areas: Pasila, Malmi, Mellunkylä and Malminkartano-Kannelmäki.
The futures mapping process served as a kick-off for the project’s multi-stakeholder collaboration within the city: from urban planners to community workers, from economic department to area construction. The participants were invited to imagine the futures from the selected thematic angles of the project. The process included a kickoff and two workshops, which were all held online. The work started with a kick-off session on participatory forecasting where the participants were introduced on how to monitor the operational environment and briefed to report their findings. Furthermore, the team was monitoring trends and signals and analysing the findings. In the workshops a set of selected trends, and weak signals were introduced and evaluated followed by an ideation phase, scoped to support the current development plans and needs emerging in the different city districts.
As a result, a framework to support the common vision and ideas for new initiatives was created. The work is still ongoing: the results will be summarized into a roadmap that will pave the way for several years, and keep on developing incrementally, with input from a wider stakeholder network, including the residents in the districts.