Teens working on a timeline with post its.

Futures by Choice | Futures by Chance

Participants: 4-6 per group

Time: 1 hour minimum

Goal: The Futures by Chance | Futures by Choice exercise is a futures-thinking activity created by the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University in which participants complete a timeline through which they imagine the next fifty years (roughly 2020 to 2070). It is designed to show how a vision of the future is shaped by major events, social forces, and discoveries, and also how personal and community decisions can shape how these phenomena might affect the future, to a certain degree.

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Materials needed


The activity consists of five rounds:


Discuss and reach consensus on an approximate date when the world’s population will reach 10 billion people. Briefly discuss where to place the event (in approximately one minute). All team members are encouraged to construct brief rationales for their suggested dates, drawing primarily on their own expertise and experiences for making their decisions. A quick internet search can help make data-informed decisions, but there is no time for detailed research. For example, one team member might suggest that the global population will hit 10 billion people in 2060 because of a declining birth rate, whereas another might suggest that 2030 is more likely, driven by a millennial baby boom. There is no right or wrong answer. Participants should be reminded that the aim of the activity is not to precisely predict when the given event will occur, but to identify a range when it seems plausible, and to construct a narrative with its own internal logic to justify the timing. When the decision is made, place the pre-printed Population sticky note on the large three-foot timeline, denoting the date your team has chosen together.


Now get the five different Future By Chance cards. Each card represents a different sector (e.g., transportation, education, climate). Each card contains one positive and one negative event For example, the transportation card includes a positive future event: “75% of children walk or bike to school,” and a negative future event: “Cost of fuel and supply chain demands mean that only the wealthy can afford to drive personal cards” In order to determine which of the two possible events will be placed on the timeline, you will flip a coin. If the die lands on heads, your team will place the positive future event on the timeline; if the die lands on tails, your team will place the negative event on the timeline. As in the warm-up, you are encouraged to discuss event placement and to base your decisions on your collective experience and expertise. The goal is to start telling a compelling story about your future world, connecting the events as they are placed. By the end of the Futures by Chance round, your team should have flipped the coin five times and placed five event stickies on the timeline. This round should take about 10 minutes. It is OK if groups don’t have time to place all five events on their timeline. Can adding new event change the date of another event already on the timeline? Absolutely! Feel free to shift events to other dates when you think that is needed, to help create your team’s shared vision of the future.


During this round, you will use the pink Future By Choice cards. Each card lists a set of four possible, neutral future events. Together with your team, select two events from each of the two cards to place on the timeline. At the end of this round, you should have placed two new events on your timeline. This round should take 4-5 minutes.


Write your own

This round continues the Futures by Choice theme, but rather than selecting from a set of prewritten events to put on the timeline, each member of your team will come up with one or two plausible events that contribute to, complicate, or flesh out your shared vision of the future. Write each event on a separate sticky note and place it on the timeline. This round should take 5-10 minutes.

ROUND 5: Reflection

Now that the timeline is finished, it’s time to tell the story of the world your team has created together. You may rearrange events if you would like, shifting the timing to tell a more coherent story. Then, use the blue thumb stickie to collectively rate your future as positive (thumbs up) or negative (thumbs down) and the star stickie to mark a turning point or critical incident on your timeline. Not all groups may have a critical incident (which is fine) but some may notice that there is an event or a set of clustered events that set the tone for the overall timeline. If multiple groups are present, teams can do a gallery walk to look at the other timelines and reflect on common themes.

Finally, end with a group discussion by asking questions like:

Important Notes

If you have any questions about facilitation or would like to provide feedback on your experience, please email Ruth at ruth.wylie@asu.edu