SLU news

The Futures Lab under development

Published: 27 May 2020

The Futures Lab, a project initiated by the two future platforms SLU Urban Futures and SLU Future Food, got started in January this year. The lab’s seven participants were given a crash course in futures studies and right now are developing their own projects focused on the future. During the spring, a new item was added to the agenda: what can we learn from COVID-19?

This year’s participants in the interdisciplinary Futures Lab consist of seven researchers from SLU with different backgrounds and experience. Under the leadership of Josefin Wangel, a researcher at the Department of Urban and Rural Development, the group investigates various ways to approach research issues and social challenges with a future perspective. Two open lunch lectures were arranged at the beginning of the semester and the lab’s participants meet every month (now over Zoom) to share experiences and provide feedback on each other’s work.

“Right now, the researchers are formulating the projects that they will work on for the rest of the year. It will be a nice combination of projects that span across the thematic areas of both of the platforms – sustainable urban development and a sustainable food system – and with a wonderful mix of methods and approaches,” explains Josefin Wangel.

New ideas for research, education and collaboration

The Futures Lab has worked with various methods, such as horizon scanning, and the project is continuously being shaped and refined by the participants themselves. Even though the project is still relatively new, the Futures Lab has already begun resulting in collaborative partnerships and new ideas for research, education and collaboration. Both within SLU and internationally.

The Futures Lab also wants to engage students in the future thinking and during the spring they are developing a new idea.

“We want to find a way to engage SLU’s researchers and students in exploring and formulating what we can learn from COVID-19, with a focus on the thematic areas of SLU Urban Futures and SLU Future Foods,” explains Emma Sahlström, the Futures Lab’s project assistant.

Reflections from some of the participants in the Futures Lab 2020

What are your experiences from the Futures Lab so far?

“It’s not often that you learn so much about a subject in such a short period of time. Delving into the subject together with colleagues from other fields of research has been both exciting and creative. I’ve learned a bit about the basics of futures studies and the different methods used today. The work has gone very well and several new interdisciplinary contacts have been made through shared interests. Towards the end, we met online due to the coronavirus. That also works, but the best is when we can discuss matters and interact physically.”

Åsa Berggren, Professor at the Department of Ecology, Insect Ecology Unit

 

“The Futures Lab has contributed to opening our eyes to an entirely new field of research. Before, I had no knowledge or awareness of the existence of an area of research with associated journals focused on the future. This is an incredibly exciting approach that provokes many thoughts and inspires entirely new ideas. I think that the relatively free framework that we were given in the lab to read up on a new research perspective created new opportunities to collaborate with researchers from other fields.”

Marcus Hedblom, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Urban and Rural Development; Division of Landscape Architecture

 

“Working with rural development, what’s really interesting to me is that visions of the future are most often visualised with cities, and very rarely in the countryside. Visions where the countryside are present are most often linked to a return to certain values, such as local sourcing of food, which is what I am working on. So the Futures Lab has given me new tools to work on these issues moving forward.”

Alexandre Dubois, Researcher at the Department of Urban and Rural Development, Division of Rural Development

What are your expectations of the Futures Lab in the future?

“I have great expectations. I believe that the Futures Lab will develop the expertise of researchers in different areas to look ahead in a professional manner that benefits both their own research and SLU’s capacity to address future issues. I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”

Åsa Berggren, Professor at the Department of Ecology, Insect Ecology Unit

 

“I want to develop a tool box so that I can get more out of my projects. I’m working with a FORMAS project on the agriculture of the future, but we had not built in futures studies as a method. We will be sure to include them moving  forward. It can be hard to identify and choose the ‘right’ method when entering a new field. A lot of study is required to do so. And then being a part of the lab helps.”

Alexandre Dubois, Researcher at the Department of Urban and Rural Development, Division of Rural Development

 

Do you have any future trends that have been identified in relation to COVID-19?

“I have a lot of future trends that all have ties to green spaces in future cities. After all, the future is also partly about looking to the past. Once upon a time, we planned cities to be able to fend off pandemic outbreaks like typhoid fever and cholera, but somewhere along the way, that knowledge disappeared when pandemics were eradicated. Today, we’ll have to think about how our future cities can be planned if pandemics will now become more common. And if cities are now continuously made more dense, how will this work with the huge increase and need we see to spend time in green spaces that has presented itself during COVID-19? Novel thinking in urban planning might be needed here.”

Marcus Hedblom, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Urban and Rural Development; Division of Landscape Architecture

 

What effects can the Futures Lab have?

“It was a strategically important decision to start the lab. I believe it will make SLU’s research and education even more relevant to society in the future.”

Åsa Berggren, Professor at the Department of Ecology, Insect Ecology Unit

 

“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the creation of creative environments within the scope of the university to build bridges between fields of research. Today, many people want to read up on new fields of research and work with interdisciplinarity, but it’s incredibly difficult when you're stuck in a whirlwind of manuscripts, teaching and applications. To deliberately create an interdisciplinary environment in the way the lab has done opens up the possibility of having the courage and taking the time to complete an application or cooperate with people you’ve never dared or had time to before.”

Marcus Hedblom, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Urban and Rural Development; Division of Landscape Architecture

 

“For my part, the lab has already provided a spinoff! Thanks to this, I was able to begin cooperating with Josefin and now we have a new window display course on futures studies beginning this autumn!"

Alexandre Dubois, Researcher at the Department of Urban and Rural Development, Division of Rural Development

 

Photo Marcus Hedblom by photographer Fredrik Funck.

Facts:

Futures Lab 2020

  • Alexandre Dubois, Researcher at the Department of Urban and Rural Development; Division of Rural Development, NJ
  • David Ljungberg, Researcher at the Department of Energy and Technology; Automation, NJ
  • Hanna Karlsson Potter, Postdoctor at the Department of Energy and Technology; Division of Agricultural Engineering, NJ
  • Ishi BuffamResearcher at the Department of Landscape Architecture, Planning and Management, LTV
  • Marcus Hedblom, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Urban and Rural Development; Division of Landscape Architecture, LTV
  • Suvi Kokko, Researcher at the Department of Economics; Decision-making and Managerial Behavior, NJ
  • Åsa BerggrenProfessor at the Department of Ecology; NJ, Insect Ecology Unit, NJ/S

More about The Futures Lab.

SLU Future Food

SLU Future Food is a platform for research and collaboration to develop knowledge, solutions and innovations aimed at ensuring that the entire food system is characterized by economic, ecological and social sustainability to overcome tomorrow's challenges. The research addresses both plants and animals, from the smallest molecules to global systems.

Read more about SLU Future Food.

SLU Urban Futures

SLU Urban Futures is a strategic research platform with the mission to inspire and support the faculties of SLU to initiate, develop and strengthen multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary research, education and collaboration within the field of sustainable urban development.

Read more about SLU Urban Futures.

Page editor: hanna.weiber.post@slu.se