Turning Experience into Foresight for Young Children and Families

by Katie King

“We face the future fortified only with the lessons we have learned from the past. It is today that we must create the world of the future. Spinoza, I think, pointed out that we ourselves can make experience valuable when, by imagination and reason, we turn it into foresight. It is that foresight we must acquire.”

— Eleanor Roosevelt

Capita and KnowledgeWorks’ most recent gathering of early childhood stakeholders opened with this quote from Tomorrow is Now, which Eleanor Roosevelt wrote near the end of her life. As our two organizations develop our forecast for the futures of young children and families, her insight reminds us that we should not only explore future possibilities but also examine the past, the present and our lived experiences of change.

Katie King

Twenty high-level leaders from early-childhood focused philanthropies, businesses and policy organizations gathered in Redwood City, CA, to take on Roosevelt’s charge. Using trends and emerging issues that have surfaced during our researchand drawing upon their own expertise, they created scenarios exploring what life might be like for children, families, communities and society in 2028. A few key themes from their scenarios and reflections appear below.

The future looks different depending on the perspective. One group created a scenario that, when considered from the perspective of a child’s experience, seemed positive and enriching. However, that same scenario felt much less rosy to the group when they analyzed it from a social or community perspective. What might that insight tell us about the tradeoffs we make when we focus on individual needs versus social needs? In the future, how might we balance those two focal points and navigate the circumstances in which they are not aligned?

The most important or urgent challenges do not always align neatly with organizational missions. Another group’s discussion led them to conclude that increasing income inequality was the single biggest challenge and change that would affect young children and families in the future. However, the people in that group do not work for organizations whose expertise or mission is focused on that issue. How might advocates for children incorporate larger social issues into their work? What kinds of new partnerships and alliances might be necessary to make that possible?

Stability might be the truly game-changing disruption. Participants developed multiple scenarios, modeling what might happen if different events occurred or if different trends shifted course. One group found that overall stability for children and families seemed to be the common factor in the scenarios that seemed most likely to yield positive outcomes. How might that insight lead us to rethink priorities for the future, particularly regarding innovation and the implementation of new ideas? What stabilizing forces might have the most positive impact on young children and their families?

These and other insights continue to inform KnowledgeWorks’ and Capita’s exploration of possible futures for young children and families. In addition, observations like these show the power of looking ahead to spark action today. Foresight allows us to embrace uncertainty, to combine what we know with what we hope for and to make our experiences valuable by using them to create better futures.

Katie King is Director, Strategic Foresight Engagement at KnowledgeWorks. This content presented in partnership with KnowledgeWorks.