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Thinking about the Future in Uncertain times

Reflecting on the role of long-term thinking in a crisis.

Though Slack is one of a handful of companies experiencing massive growth right now, Stewart Butterfield (Slack’s CEO) acknowledges the severe challenges of anticipating change in this moment.

This crisis has highlighted areas to improve

Back in mid-April, Anthony Seldon published a scathing article in the Guardian, arguing that the British State has long been unfit for purpose, something the pandemic has further exposed. He argues that there was poor coordination initially between different government departments, and the centralisation of power at No 10 left a vacuum of power when Johnson and Cummings were taken out by the virus, before going on to criticise other structural weaknesses in government. Interestingly, Seldon concludes by criticising the government’s inability to think beyond election cycles, and calls for a ‘Department for the Future’ which can put long-term thinking at the heart of government.

The role of futures in inspiring action

On a human level, I feel that long-term thinking is important in times of crisis, or post-crisis more than ever. In times where all we are doing is living day-by-day, we need to (co-)create visions of the future as a way to empower people to take a proactive approach in shaping what comes next.

The role of futures in confident decision making

It’s important to remember that futures is about anticipating change, and not predicting it. COVID-19 is massively disrupting society and all of the systems around it, but as Kevin McCullagh puts it in his recent post:

Source: Tortoise Media
  • Milan, one of the most polluted European cities, has announced a scheme to transform 35km of streets over the summer, with a citywide expansion of cycling and walking space, with a goal of reducing car usage. Beyond the clear benefits of such a scheme to protecting citizens as lockdown measures are relaxed, Milan has anticipated a long-term opportunity to adapt in a way that will be positive and impactful long after this pandemic.

Our work over the last few weeks…

Like all businesses, we’ve been impacted — beyond working from home, we’ve had to work out how to deliver our services online, conduct research remotely, and build new approaches to collaboration. Luckily, we have amazing clients, and every single one of our projects has continued — we’ve just had to be innovative about how we adapt to current circumstances.

Final thoughts…

While it’s important to recognise the short-term challenges created by the pandemic, we’re starting to move into a phase where we need to think about what’s next. Organisations need to understand how the world around us has changed, anticipate how it will continue to be impacted, and unite internally to agree on a vision for what to do next. All of these are challenging tasks, but from our reflections over the past few weeks, these are clear areas where we see futures and design coming together to create value and impact in these times of uncertainty.



We’re designers that research. In particular, we research the future — what it could look like, and what people want it to like.

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Santini Basra

Futures dork, who runs a team of designers that are researching the future at Andthen. Gets excited about inclusive visioning, and applied futures thinking.