Future Skills — The Superpowers Needed to Save the World

The robots are coming. How are countries preparing youth and what are the skills that will be in demand when routine skills and many cognitive skills are replaced by machines? The World Economic Forum has written a lot about this issue and Ministries of Education across the world seek clarity on what changes are required to education systems to more effectively prepare youth for this future. While the basic cognitive skills of reading, writing and arithmetic remain the main priority for education and are highlighted in the World Bank WDR, many also argue that a new set of 21st century and socio-emotional skills are needed to prepare for an uncertain and rapidly evolving future.

What are the skills of the future? Based on the Future of Jobs report and interviews with employers around the world, the World Economic Forum has identified Complex Problem Solving as the number one skill today and also to remain as the main skill in demand in 2020. The next 5 skills of the future are: Critical Thinking; Creativity; People Management; Coordinating with others; and Emotional Intelligence. Indeed, studies show that despite an inundation of technological devices in many countries, students (and evidently many adults) struggle with essential information reasoning and critical thinking skills when evaluating the veracity of information. Students, for instance, have a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles. Accenture has also begun work to define new skills for the future of work highlighting six domains roughly defined as: curiosity and resilience of a growth mindset; executive function such as time management and multi-tasking; digital literacy; collaboration and communication; complex problem solving with creativity and empathy; and flexibility and the ability to learn and relearn.

Superpowers to save the world. The World Bank through the Evoke project has developed an on-line, game-based methodology that defines, operationalizes, and assesses 21st century skills. This blog is a short summary of the World Bank technical paper — Evoke: Developing Skills in Youth to Solve the World’s Most Complex Problems: The Social Innovators’ Framework that argues that complex problem solving — specifically of the world’s global grand challenges (hunger, clean water, illiteracy, peace, etc.) and the associated skills involved in social innovation provide an essential skill set for youth around the world. In fact, the paper argues that the skills required to be a social innovator are the same skills needed to create the job opportunities of the future.

4 skill clusters; 16 skill strengths and 48 specific skills for the future. What are the essential qualities of a social innovator? 21st century skills are often difficult to define and even more difficult to integrate into a curriculum and assess. What is creativity, communication or critical thinking and how are they defined? The Social Innovators’ Framework takes this first step to identify the following 4 qualities that a change maker should possess and then define the 16 skills or superpowers to support these qualities.

Creative Visionary

o Imagination — presents a unique and new view of the world

o Ideation — sparks lots of new ideas and reshapes existing ideas

o Vision — Envisions the future and is driven to move a concept to reality

o Courage — ventures into the unknown, showing strength in the face of uncertainty

Deep Collaborator

o Communication — Listens, seeks understanding, embraces diverse perspectives and presents ideas in a compelling way.

o Teamwork — Gets thing done through collaboration by building trust

o Networking — Leverages the power of diverse network resources

o Generosity of Spirit — Collaborates, gives and shares one’s time ideas and expertise with others.

Systems Thinker

o Problem Solving — Takes on unfamiliar problems, questions, analyzes and experiments.

o Analysis — Uses design thinking to reveal systems and illuminate the interconnectedness of problems and solutions

o Aggregation — Connects to multiple sources of information and perspectives to understand a challenge

o Critical Reflection — Questions, analyzes and reconsiders ideas in light of evidence and feedback.

Empathetic Activist

o Leadership — Leads to accomplish goals by being responsible, flexible yet committed and consistent.

o Empathy — Walks in others shoes

o Transformation — Inspires and motivates, has a growth mindset and creates positive and sustainable change.

o Curiosity — Asks good questions and listens to answers without judgement.

Each strength is then further defined by three specific skills. For instance, imagination is defined as the ability to:

· Produce original and novel ideas through the willingness to take risks and try something different.

· View familiar things in a different light

· Dream of creative ways to resolve a conflict or problem and initiate forward-looking solutions.

Each of these skills is then further defined through examples of ways to make them concrete. The full matrix of skills can be accessed in chapter 3 of the paper.

But wait, how do you actually teach these skills? Evoke and the Social Innovators’ Framework then provides specific ways to concretize these skills and integrate them into a learning activity. For instance, to operationalize the skill of dreaming of creative ways to resolve a conflict or problem and initiate forward-looking solutions, a student may be asked to:

· Tell a story

· Engage experientially through small games or scenarios — i.e. the Prisoner’s Dilemma

· Talk with people from different cultures or backgrounds.

For instance, in the latest iteration of Evoke implemented in Colombia to address the global grand challenge of displaced persons, one of the activities to develop this skill encouraged students to dream of what a post-conflict Colombia might look like:

Project-based learning is the most powerful pedagogy. These future skills can be taught in isolation, but these skills are more powerful when combined with each other and placed in a project-based learning framework. Empathy is an important skill to learn by itself to better understand the perspectives of others. However, when empathy is taught to understand the plight of a displaced person in Colombia in order to create a solution to their challenges, the skill is given a stronger purpose. Understanding someone’s unique context and perspective in order to create a solution that matches their needs. When creativity or brainstorming is taught as a means to come up with a unique solution to the problem of forced displacement, it becomes more concrete and methods such as how to create mind maps for instance become useful tools in an arsenal directed toward a concrete outcome and purpose — brainstorming creative ideas to solve a problem. Ideas that will form the basis of a solution to solve a global grand challenge — like peace in Colombia.

How to structure a project to save the world? The end goal of Evoke is to create a world changing project idea — an Evokation — to address a global grand challenge. The project-based structure unfolds over 8 modules or missions. Each mission focuses on an aspect of the final project or social impact plan with a primary focus on 4 critical elements of this plan — understanding the community where your stakeholders live; identifying the problem; defining your solution; and communicating your idea. The first mission introduces the global grand challenge and the final three missions iterate on these core project components — community, problem, solution and communication. The full 8 mission structure is as follows:

· Mission 1: Understand the Global Grand Challenge

· Mission 2: Understand the community

· Mission 3: Identify the problem

· Mission 4: Define the solution

· Mission 5: Communicate your idea

· Mission 6: Revisit how the problem affects the community

· Mission 7: Understand the interdependence of problem and solution

· Mission 8: Engage the community through effective communication.

Each mission is then composed of 6 activities and each activity develops one of the 48 skills. For instance, Mission 4 which is focused on the solution combines the skills of vision, imagination, and networking. The content or evidence produced through completing an activity helps develop the associated skill. The evidence itself can take on various forms including text, photos or videos. Through this structure, Evoke provides a framework for not just defining and operationalizing these skills but also combining them to support the ultimate objective of thinking about and solving complex problems and presenting this solution as a final project.

But how do you actually know if someone has imagination? Once evidence is submitted, it is immediately shared with the entire network of learners and teachers. The entire community then can assess the evidence based on a specific rubric for that skill. For instance, the rubric for the imagination skill activity is: Does this evidence tell a captivating story? The reviewer answers yes or no; can provide a rating of 1 to 5 stars; and leave a comment. The combination of completing an activity and the average of all assessments give the players their powers — i.e. an average of 4.5 stars would provide imagination powers to the player who successfully completed the associated activity. Assessment however is multi-dimensional and data driven. In Evoke, the assessment is a combination of peer review of evidence, mentor review of evidence, expert (teacher) review of evidence, submission of an initial psychometric questionnaire, and computer measures. For the final project or social impact plan, the entire community evaluates the projects and an expert group selects the top three projects.

Incentives are powerful. Assessments should mean something. Evoke incentivizes and rewards students both during the game or learning experience with the game mechanics in the form of skill points [XP]; Evocoin as a digital currency to purchase real world goods and services; and seed funding for the best projects to support a pilot in their communities. Evoke also provides opportunities that can endure beyond the particular learning experiences with badges as credentials and follow up support for growth of the winning projects. So as points for each skill are awarded to players as they receive peer, mentor, and expert assessment, a point threshold is reached and the player is awarded a badge for the associated skill. Moreover, the final team project is assessed and provided recognition at the end of the 8 missions.

How do you know if this approach works? The key questions we asked ourselves as we developed and implemented Evoke in Colombia are as follows:

1. To what extent does Evoke improve participants’ social innovator 21st century and socio-emotional skills?

2. In what ways does Evoke shift participants’ perceptions toward believing they can help bring about a more hopeful and peaceful future?

3. What are the relationships between engagement with the Evoke project and participants’ learning outcomes, perceptions and personal characteristics (gender, ethnicity, age, and major)?

In order to unpack these questions, we have conducted a quasi-experimental study with a treatment and control group, using pre-post tests and a host of additional measures including the final project evaluation and computer-generated statistics. Ill share the results of this impact evaluation in my next blog post.

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