Randomness is good

Last Wednesday I co-facilitated what was probably my best ever workshop (and most exhausting). An entire year group of  120,  12–13 year old school children. It left me in no doubt that the next generation will be much safer custodians of the environment that we have ever been.

I arrived late, due to school run traffic. Ten minutes to set up. “Hi Pamela (my co-facilitator) How many children?”, “60 now and 60 later, 50 minutes with each”. “How many!, Oh well, here goes…”

School hall, no wall space, no need to panic. Masking tape six twelve foot pieces of lining paper around the floor of the hall. Stick a post it with ‘TODAY’ written on it in the middle of each. “Hello children, welcome, divide yourselves into groups of ten…”.

As previously discussed I gave no more direction than “Today we are looking at ‘the environment’, on post-its provided write down what it looks and feels like TODAY”.

They were off. Noise, chatter, collaboration and individual contributions.

I ran it like most other previous Cognitive Edge Future Backwards exercises, loose boundaries, maintaining the method, never really looking at the content for fear of influencing the outcome.

The children worked with so much speed and enthusiasm that we had time for them to look at two other created stories and still take time to consider their personal pledge of “what they would do personally towards an ‘unbelievably good future’.

The outcome was twelve unique stories of such depth and value that I don’t know where to start with getting this exercise repeated wherever we can. I can only really share a couple of interesting highlights until I gain permission to share the material by the school:

Using pictures was their own idea - The past

Some Key events in the Past:

  • Bacteria and dinosaurs created
  • Victorians thought they were brainy but didn’t know a thing about CO2 and pollution
  • Invention of sweet shops


  • Deforestation
  • Melting ice caps
  • Credit Crunch

Unbelievably Bad future (5 years time)

  • Lots of babies
  • No water
  • Tony Blair comes back

Unbelievably Good Future (5 years time)

  • Solar power becomes a law
  • Happy wildlife
  • Bugs get rights

Some unbelievably good hopes for the future

Three interesting weak signals caught my eye

  • Use of metaphor to explain complex situation. “Call of Duty becomes real life” (the computer game referenced as representation of all things bad).
  • A hint that complexity is already partially understood at age 12 with an ‘unpredictable’ Today and a ‘Randomness is good’ Future.
  • ‘Fairtrade’ appeared in three ‘stories’ whereas the RSPB, National Trust and other environmental groups never appear showing success in their marketing message.

The potential for repeating this exercise across other schools is enormous:

  • Allowing children to make sense of (self realise) their thoughts into a coherent story of ‘the environment’
  • Inspire local, individual actions towards a ‘good’ future outcome.
  • Take an impact reading (note: not an outcome based target) of the current complex social and educational effect on the environmental understanding of  participating groups.

Imagine the possibilities for:

  • Signifying these outputs on SenseMaker by the children. Then perhaps comparing against signification by their parents, teachers, Education Authority, Environmentalists, and then looking at the patterns therein.
  • giving feedback to the National Curriculum, Environmental Bodies, Natural History broadcasters, Environmentally friendly producers etc.
  • Comparing the outputs between year groups, schools, Urban/rural, Countries


  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Randomness is good « The ecology of knowledge -- Topsy.com

  2. I have to admit ‘Tony Blair comes back’ made me laugh-out-loud. That said, I often bemoan the fate of this planet but this gives me hope.

    Perhaps one day I’ll get to facilitate a Future Backwards exercise with kids. I’m sure it will be fun.

  3. Pingback: Randomness is Good – Part 2 « The ecology of knowledge

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