The Future Council is a dialogue-oriented participation format in which randomly selected citizens together with experts spend 1.5 days intensively deliberating and working on a common vision of the future.
Problems and Purpose
The Future Council is concerned with the desired dialogue between experts and interested citizens on the topic of the bio-economy. So far, the discussion about what bio-economy means and how it is implemented has mainly been conducted among experts. The transformation towards a sustainable economy, though encompasses all areas of everyday life and can only succeed if it is accepted and supported by the society.
The Future Council provides a space where citizens can express their opinions, questions, needs and ideas on this topic. It offers a participatory approach and framework, in which possible opportunities and challenges or risks of the bio-economy can be discussed and common visions for the future and corresponding recommendations for action can be developed.
Background History and Context
The "bio-economy" is a central leitmotif of the German Federal Government to change the current way of living and economic activity. The aim is to achieve a sustainable, bio-based economy in order to replace fossil fuels on the one hand and contribute to climate protection on the other. This "biologisation" of the economy goes hand in hand with the introduction of innovative, bio-based products and services in all sectors of the economy and therefore with an extensive change in society.
The Future Council is part of the "BioDisKo" project. By developing, testing and evaluating early, target group-oriented, participatory and communicative approaches and measures, the project aims to contribute to the design of a sustainable bio-economy.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Future Council was developed, conducted, and evaluated by the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities Essen (KWI) as part of the project "Bioökonomische Nutzungspfade - Diskurs und Kommunikation (BioDisKo)". Further project partners are the Research Centre Jülich GmbH, the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT and the IZT - Institute for Future Studies and Technology Assessment. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The Institute for Democracy and Participation Research (IDPF) at the University of Wuppertal randomly selected 20 citizens from the towns and communities of Bedburg, Düren, Eschweiler, Frechen, Inden, Jülich, Merzenich, Mönchengladbach, Titz and Rommerskirchen. These villages are located in the "Rhenish area" in North Rhine-Westphalia: they are characterised by the mining of lignite, resettlement, structural changes and a transformation process that is characterised by a renunciation of open-cast mining. The future of the region and the reaction of the inhabitants to bio-economic guidelines and implementations are still open. Experts were chosen based on previous research and in order to reflect a broad range of perspectives on the topic of bio-economy.
In two steps, 1200 people were randomly contacted from the register of residents and then 20 citizens were selected from all those who had accepted the invitation, based on the previously defined criteria of gender, age, and place of residence. The aim was to achieve the most representative cross-section of the population possible. The participants of the Future Council are consequently people with everyday knowledge and experience.
Methods and Tools Used
The dialogue format is dependent on non-partisan moderation, a dignified atmosphere, an inclusive composition of the participants who are rich and poor, young and old, and have different living situations. In addition to random selection, the following methods were used:
- Dynamic Facilitation has been used as a specific tool within group deliberations with the intent of encouraging participants to engage creatively with differing perspectives.
- Graphic Recording: The method of graphic recording, the visual recording of oral statements in the form of comics, line drawings and short notes, is not only used for documentation purposes, but also to summarise and present information in a vivid way in order to promote collaboration and group processes. The aim of this method is also to generate new insights and knowledge.
- The Café of the Future, which is methodically based on the "Zukunftswerkstatt", opens up a process for solving problems together. In a three-stage process: criticism, utopia, reality, the participants can express their knowledge - emotionally and in a factual way. In doing so, they exchange information about risks and opportunities, weigh them up and develop proposals for solutions to social challenges.
- Three scenarios of the future were discussed to facilitate accessing the complex topic. Scenarios of the future are communication tools that aim at stimulating fantasy and creativity. They facilitate the dialogue on possible future developments and the exchange on potentials and opportunities, challenges and risks as well as inconsistencies and the adopting of new perspectives. By this, new ideas and solutions for societal problems can arise.
- Participants were able to write down their questions, ideas and other comments in a research diary if they could not or did not want to express them publicly.
- On the market of possibilities the results of the wisdom council "Biobased Economy?!" about the risks and consequences of biomass cultivation in the Münsterland, the identified obstacles and chances in processing and market introduction as well as consumer perspectives were presented. The participants received further impulses and the opportunity to exchange views on topics of the bio-economy. Experts provided information regarding the material and energetic use of biomass, and exhibits made the topic tangible (C.A.R.M.E.N. e.V.: Bioökonomie zum Anfassen: Biobasierte Produkte im Alltag; Fraunhofer UMSICHT: Energetische Nutzung; izt – Institut für Zukunftsstudien und Technologiebewertung: Verbraucherforschung).
- Improvisation theatre: After a round of introductions and an overview of the topic using future scenarios, an actor and director used improvisational theatre techniques to illustrate the complex field of the bio-economy. This enabled an emotional approach and strengthened the trust between the participants.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The Future Council began with a phase of getting to know each other, trust exercises, an introduction to the topic by means of future scenarios, and a collective dinner.
On the second day, the experts provided input in the form of an informal discussion round. Afterwards, the participants worked out a common vision of the future and political recommendations for action in the "future café“. These were then discussed and condensed in the plenum. Finally, there was a group reflection session.
A "Market of Possibilities" with bio-based products for everyday life as well as information on the energetic use of biogenic resources and information from the consumer perspective complemented the days (KWI).
The trained team of moderators made sure that everyone had their say and could express their opinion freely. Using the methods of graphic recording, the use of sticky notes, and a research diary that the participants were able to fill in their opinions, questions and ideas were recorded and collected.
Information on the event can be found on the project website. The developed recommendations for action will be presented to political representatives at the closing event of the project.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The recommendations for action are presented to political representatives with a request for a statement. The information and knowledge gained will be passed on by the participating citizens.
The participants of the Future Council were able to gain general knowledge about the bio-economy and its interrelationships. In addition, they dealt with different opinions and perspectives, learned methods of communication and exchange as well as democratic decision-making.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The event worked very well in terms of planning, organisation and implementation. It must be emphasized that a sufficient amount of time is necessary in advance for the invitations and the search for suitable premises. Research, selection and requesting the experts and moderators must also be started in a timely manner.
The participants entered their expectations as well as their criticism in a previously developed research diary. The Future Council was also evaluated by before and after questionnaires. The majority of the participants were positively surprised by this participation format and were generally satisfied.
Zukunftsrat Method Entry
 Backhouse, M.; Lehmann, R.; Lühmann, M. & Tittor, A. (2018): Bioökonomie als technologische Innovation. Zur Notwendigkeit alternativer Forschung und einer gesellschaftlichen Debatte. In: Forum Umwelt & Entwicklung Rundbrief 1/2018, S. 14-15. https://www.forumue.de/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/7_Blackhouse_Rundbrief118.pdf
 BMBF & BMEL (2020): Nationale Bioökonomiestrategie. Abrufbar unter: https://www.bmbf.de/upload_filestore/pub/BMBF_Nationale_Biooekonomiestrategie_Langfassung_deutsch.pdf (abgerufen am 16.01.2020).
 Bürger*innenrat „Biobasierte Wirtschaft?! Welche Folgen hat das für meine Region?“: Ergebnisbericht (2018). Abrufbar unter: https://websites.fraunhofer.de/Biooekonomie/wp-content/uploads/b%C3%BCrgerinnenrat-2018.pdf
 Kulturwissenschaftliche Institut Essen (KWI)
The copyright of both pictures is held by Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities Essen KWI.