Imagining the future(s)

Publication Date January 19, 2017

Beginning in late 2015, Knight Foundation began a scenario planning process to imagine how the context around its central work supporting informed and engaged communities could change. We started by asking what the conditions might be for communities in 2026.

This process of interrogation prompted broad conversations across our organization, conversations that were greatly influenced and shaped by friends and colleagues in a wide range of fields. These discussions led us to consider several other important questions that are fundamental to our work:

What predictable trends and emergent uncertainties will be the key forces that shape the future? How might they affect our areas of interest?

What capabilities should our organization build or acquire to be successful and resilient in the face of uncertainty? How will we define success?

How fragile are our current assumptions about the future, and how fragile are the investment strategies informed by these assumptions?

What indicators should we monitor to better anticipate shifts in the external environment?

Thinking broadly about the future — or, as it turns out, several possible futures — demanded an uncommon degree of institutional soul-searching and forbearance. Concrete answers to questions such as those we posed do not always readily present themselves, and the process of seeking them required reflection on the broader context of our work — and the likelihood of tectonic shifts that could have a significant impact on Knight’s areas of concern: communities, the arts, and journalism.

Our gaze forward ultimately resulted in the development of three scenarios that attempt to position these areas of interest within the uncertainties of the broader world. The remainder of this document describes the process by which we developed this scenarios, and then offers the scenarios themselves for discussion, comment, and reflection.

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