Management & Social Justice Conference 2023

I attended the emerging conference hosted at The New School in New York, and dreamed up by professor and founder, Latha Poonamallee. It was a fantastic gathering of people committed to building organizations the center community.

I presented my work titled, "Visions for social change: an argument for prioritizing and practicing long-term visions." My argument is that believing that a better future is possible has always inspired social change, but envisioning long-term outcomes is rare. I have spent the past three years working with justice advocates to understand how design and futuring approaches could be useful and accessible.

We can think of envisioning change in 3 large parts:

 “Envisioning positive futures is a first step in creating a shared understanding and commitment that enables radical transformations” Laura Pereira et al. 2018

Visioning is how leaders inspire people toward new pathways. Visions work because “[a] vision aims to direct through the creation of a tension between the ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’, and not by rationalised pathways which would make the vision become reality (what is expected from a plan)” (van der Helm 2009). Therefore, visions acknowledge the present state of things, propose a better future possibility, and seek to motivate people by emphasizing the tension between the present and a better future.

I asked the audience to chat with a neighbor about this question:

When do you engage in long-term visions in your work?

Social Dreaming

Social dreaming—the practice of collectively imagining better worlds— is a growing interest in justice movements. Social dreaming is a creative, joyful, and rebellious process for engaging people in ideas to shift oppressive systems into more liberatory worlds. Building images of worlds that envision the benefits that would be gained through social change, in addition to the harms that need to be removed. These visions are a vehicle for critical change-makers to shape our societal expectations of what’s possible. This work seeks to offer approaches that translate future visions into near-term communication pieces that motivate and engage people in the work of building liberatory worlds.

Collective, people-powered movements are needed to fight oppressive systems. Design practices offer additional ways to describe the importance of activism and the worlds we are seeking to build that will be more liberatory. These visions of better worlds can be a leverage point for shifting complex, powerful systems. Design actions are a pathway to turn dreaming and speculation into stories that clarify and communicate the long-term possibilities of making social change. This paper proposed social dreaming as a way to direct design futuring techniques in support of collective visioning within social justice contexts.

Barriers to long-term visioning in racial justice work

I conducted interviews with fourteen racial justice advocates in the United States, to understand how they think about and make use of long-term visions. The conversations offered insights into the obstacles that prevent them from deeper engagement with future perspectives. The results indicate that advocates have deep connection to the past, present, and future, yet there are high barriers to leveraging long-term visions. 

Three struggles are apparent: