Insert your values, pick up a future?

Thinking about the future is not only interesting, but also important. We think about the future not only to imagine and dream, but also to organize our thoughts and wishes, and to plan ahead for different possibilities and options. In our individual lives, we may not use a specific term for the stories we envision about our future and all the pathways it may follow. In the case of stories about the future of entire communities and societies, we sometimes use the term “future scenarios“.

Global research has recently flagged that future scenarios rarely look into the root causes of potential future developments. That means that the future scenarios available to our societies for planning, research and exploration are missing important information about some of the underlying driving forces. One of these driving forces, frequently overlooked in future scenarios, are people’s values.

If that is so, what would happen if we made our underlying values explicit in thinking about the future? Would we find out that while some types of values seem to lead to sustainable futures, others may send us to unsustainable pathways?

We looked into these questions in our recent project in protected landscape areas in Czechia. In a series of workshops involving local stakeholders from agriculture, tourism, administration, nature conservation, and many other sectors, we explored:

  • which types of values people hold for their local area,
  • which decisions and actions these values lead them to, and
  • which future impacts people envision these actions may have on local nature, the contributions/ecosystem services it provides to local people, and their resulting quality of life.

The approach helped us connect underlying values with specific decisions and actions that shape local landscapes and communities and drive future development in the protected areas. The values and actions spanned from acknowledging and maintaining tradition to sustaining and restoring ecosystems, but also to creating space for local development and livelihoods. It was particularly interesting to see that the stakeholders considered the balance between different types of values crucial, and that they raised a wide range of actions from broad strategic ones to very specific ones (if interested in the details, scroll down to the summary table below).

When following the identified values and actions further to the future, several key crossroads between future pathways emerged, each with different and unique pros and cons. Should people strive for local tourism, concentrating in just a few places while leaving at least some of the area pristine, or should they aim for distributing tourism across the landscape with more equally spread profit but less space for nature and local life? Should conserving nature and traditions give in to flexibility for development, with its potential threats for natural and cultural heritage?

These and many more identified crossroads are summarized in the figure below. While many questions have remained, one thing clearly emerged from the process: talking about values explicitly helps to explore potential future to much more depth than when values remain implicit and overlooked.

For more detail and discussion, please see the full open-access paper in Sustainability Science’s special feature on Valuation of Nature and Nature’s Contributions to People!

Summary of the explored future pathways, divided into six key themes. (Illustration: Anastasia Stročkova)
Values and related actions elicited from workshop participants, ordered based on the Life Framework of Values

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