Khushboo is a Strategic designer, a Futurist and a City and Systems expert. She is also a Ouishare connector, working on collaborative methodologies for social challenges. As a co-founder of Civic Innovation Network in Brussels, she hopes to bring a systemic change in the city of Brussels through collaboration and future imagining. She co-authored the Sharing Cities Book project, organised by Shareable. She left India six years ago and her identity as an outsider in Brussels has always led her to appreciate plural perspectives, to make her intuition as her strong guiding force, to befriend uncertainty and to get closer to strangers.
What is the problem you are addressing in your new project?
When we were trying to create collaborations in the city through Civic Innovation Network, we found it was difficult for people to collaborate simply because it was not seen as the obvious thing to do.
Our question is: how can we make ideas, concepts or practices of collaboration more obvious, so that such a collaborative awareness can increase among social entrepreneurs, public authorities and citizens in general. The challenge is thus to make the invisible collaborative power visible, and slowly make it a normal practice in the city.
How do you connect this new project with “future narratives” and storytelling?
When we were creating collaborative alliances between different actors within Civic Innovation Network, we realised that collaboration takes time. It also needs resources, and often it is not easy, because not everyone is together on a shared story or a vision. We initially got a few people interested, but we’ve also lost some in the process.
So, we said “OK, instead of creating these alliances, let’s collectively build the stories we want to hear”.
In this way we channel our energies towards the same collective direction. Collaboration will just happen then, naturally. That was the reason why we launched BrusselAVenir.
Where does the idea originate?
Definitely, the experience at Civic Innovation Network had a stong influence on it. However, I have always been very close to the topic of futures. I have worked a lot in the past and my Master thesis was also on Futures, more specifically on the “Futures of Work in 2050”. Last summer after reading the book Sapiens I got very fascinated by the power of collectively crafting stories as humans. And then, while discussing it with my colleague Ellen Anthoni, who is a trend researcher/ art director/ futurist, we asked ourselves: “Why not trying to co-imagine local futures for Brussels?”.
Furthermore, we have to admit that we were a bit frustrated about the futures work that focuses around “global futures”, and it is too often told by media companies and entertaiment industries out of commercial interests. Our drive is sustained by the questions: what does it mean to create hopeful local future stories? What stories can engage people in that future and make them think and behave in a different way? What actions can carve the path towards those futures?
I will give you an example. Have you seen the movie “Back to the Future” released in 1985? In the movie they predicted a scenario of skateboards becoming a norm, and in 2015 it did happen. We saw everywhere a trend of skateboarding. So, if science fiction and media have this power, I believe we can collectively build local stories that can direct us to the futures we want to live in.
If I understand correctly, you want to change the future by telling stories
Yes, indeed, by telling new stories. Stories built by the citizens. We all grow up hearing stories that profoundly shape our beliefs and that is exactly what shapes our way of working, way of acting, way of being. These are the stories of our cultures, stories of the region we come from, stories of the places we grow up. If you see everything we do, we believe or we act, it’s because of the stories we have heard or have told ourselves.
If we want to change the system, we need to tell new stories: stories of hope instead of stories of fear, stories of solidarity instead of stories of inertia. If more and more people get together and believe in these new stories, eventually that story will become the new norm, and hence it will create a new system.
How do you plan to reach out to your audience?
Our audience is the citizens of Brussels. Brussels is beyond the French-speaking or the Dutch-speaking communities, as often potrayed. Did you know that it is the second most cosmopolitan city in the world after Dubai? Well, that makes it very difficult for us but at the same time quite exciting as this is going to be the future of so many other cities. In order to reach to such a diverse audience we are working on a persona research which will sketch a few personas that are representative of a certain population. At first, the personas sketched in this research will surprise you, but it will also prompt you to get out of your own bubble.
Every question we tackle through workshops and gatherings will be examined through the lens of these personas. LabAvenir, the event we organized on the inclusive climate solutions question, is a good example. We created then future stories for these personas. Each question is answered through several stories with different formats and mediums, so as to reach to the different personas. Maybe one medium can be an Expo in the city, another can be a video, or a poster. It can even be a rap song. Through different medium we will connect to a different audience. That’s the idea.
What kind of approach will you take, horizontal or sector oriented?
We wanted to avoid the sector approach because it puts you in a silo. If you look around to the problems that cities have, it’s never linked only to one single sector, it always shows multiple interlinks.
Our idea is to start with significant questions. We crowdsource questions from the Brussels citizens that reflect future uncertainties and revolve around human relationships. An example of a significant question would be: “How are we going to raise children in Brussels in 2030?”. We try to answer by bringing different voices together, with a cross-disciplinary approach.
What will be your Business Model?
In the beginning, especially in the first 2 years, we will work mainly with philanthropic support or donations. It could also be crowdfunding. The idea is not be commissioned for this work as otherwise it can be biased. It needs to be a more self-initiated work.
So that you have more freedom in decision-making?
Exactly. In the past, we have experienced some challenges when we’ve done commission-based work. You’re not allowed to move freely and the end result takes a very singular direction.
Of course, we are open for partnerships and collaborations that can support and enhance this process in a neutral way.
What makes you optimistic about the success of the project? Is it the team, the experience?
Well, I believe humans love stories and they also love crafting stories. So, my intuition says that people will participate in this process of collectively writing stories for their city. So far, each time I have discussed the idea, it has been very well received. Of course, the success of the project will depend very much on the participation and the inclusion it will be able to awaken and create.
Thank you very much for the interview. We look forward to seeing how the Future Stories will evolve.
BrusselAVenir depicts new narratives for Brussels. Starting from your questions about the city in the year 2030, we explore possible futures. We turn the most preferred futures into stories of different forms. Tackling a question is a four-month collaborative process, carried out with citizens, entrepreneurs, experts and creatives.
Interview by Manuel Pueyo, Co-Founder at Makers of Meaning and expert in Content Strategies, Content Design and Collaboration Networks. Trascription and editorial support by Dan Stanciu. Many Thanks Dan !