Drawing on a EU-funded research project on urbanisation in China and Europe (URBACHINA), the purpose of this inquiry is to explore the potential of foresight – through visionary scenarios and related participatory processes – in promoting learning and sustainable futures in China’s centrally planned context. Our research explores the use of backcasting, of Donella Meadows’ “levers” and Paul Raskin’s “proximate-ultimate drivers” and of archetypal worldviews to further our understanding of how we think about the future, and of the tension between transition scenarios and transformative, paradigmatic or deep change.
A review of recent foresight studies and literature provides an overview of the latest approaches: in particular the methods, scope, process, level of participation, themes discussed and wild cards considered. Building on this, the inquiry designs and implements a participatory, normative and qualitative scenario building to explore sustainable urban futures for China, adapting the elements of Joseph Voros’ basic foresight process to include a total of nine steps, with five workshops, two international surveys, an adapted backcasting step and internal consistency mechanisms.
The combination of a participatory iterative process with normative approaches to envisioning, helped question assumptions and deeply ingrained development models, as well as the narrow space for “alternatives” resulting from China’s centralised, top-down planning and decision-making. The experience confirms the power of scenario/storyline building in helping reflect and question strategic policy choices and enrich urban policy debates. The process successfully proposed a number of steps that ensured triangulation of the envisioning outcomes and additional learning also through backcasting. Finally, the research shows a clear link between the development of scenarios space, the debate on transition and transformative futures and archetypal worldviews, which were shown to be stable even after decades.
The URBACHINA approach to the specific challenge of sustainable urbanisation in China applies a strong normative component combined to more locally accepted exploratory methods and introduces a participatory approach to all key stages of scenario building. This represents an innovative contribution to the country’s foresight practice and the results help Chinese decision makers to reflect on the wider sustainability implications of their urban strategy. The inquiry deepens our understanding of the use of proximate and ultimate drivers of change and of the tension between transition and transformation pathways to our future.
Bina, O. and Ricci, A. (2016), "Exploring participatory scenario and storyline building for sustainable urban futures – the case of China in 2050", Foresight, Vol. 18 No. 5, pp. 509-534. https://doi.org/10.1108/FS-06-2015-0033Download as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited