Adapt, Counteract or Transform: are you future-fit?

Check our publication: What does the future for Dutch development cooperation look like?

To become future-fit in the field of development cooperation, Partos / The Spindle initiated the project of a Future Exploration. A team of 35 explorers created four plausible scenarios for the future and a fifth desirable future: A Future We Want. On April 12th 2018 the end result, the report ‘Adapt, Counteract or Transform. The future of Dutch development cooperation’ was officially presented to Christiaan Rebergen (Director General of International Cooperation at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs) at the Partos General Members Assembly.

In close collaboration with Perspectivity, Partos initiated and guided the Future Exploration. The course was based on transformative scenario planning process, in which scenarios are not only used to understand and adapt to the future, but also to change and challenge this future. In four workshops with a group of explorers from the development sector, four scenarios and ‘A Future We Want’ were created.

Four plausible scenarios
After exploring relevant trends, the Future Explorers identified two major uncertainties critical to the future of Dutch development cooperation: power & governance and socio-economic development.

  • Will power remain predominantly in the hands of a limited number of large countries, institutions, corporations and iNGOs (top-down)? Or will traditional power be challenged by new actors and spread among many different players all over the world (bottom-up)?
  • Will the world remain predominantly market-driven, with financial growth (GDP) as the main indicator of success? Or will we shift towards an inclusive and regenerative economy, taking into account the needsof people as well as social and planetary boundaries?

These two major uncertainties produce four different scenarios. Four ways in which the future could develop. Each scenario offers distinct dynamics, challenges, and opportunities that players in (Dutch) development cooperation will need to prepare  for and adapt to.

From scenarios to response options: adapt or counteract?
For each scenario the group elaborated the implications and response options for different types of players in Dutch development cooperation. Two general strategies were considered:

  1. Adapt to the zeitgeist and the power structures as described in the scenario, working from within towards ‘a better world’.
  2. Counteract the power structures that might obstruct development and development cooperation.

The final report elaborates response options for different roles of organisations in each of the four scenarios; from classic humanitarian aid organisations to service providers and from action groups to social enterprises.


Transform to ‘A future we want’
Based on the four scenarios ‘A future we want’ was visualised. A regenerative society with care for social needs and planetary boundaries. A world in which multilateral institutions, including the UN, and international mechanisms foster global coordination and fast implementation of even more ambitious SDGs. Big and small players join forces to counter inequality and climate change. Diverse multi-stakeholder coalitions collaborate to create a regenerative and fair economy.

Realizing a future we want requires transformative action based on a quadruple mind shift:

  • From a compartmental approach based on one’s own interest to an inclusive approach respecting and recognizing interconnectedness and viewpoints of others;
  • From ‘us’ in the lead to ‘the most affected’ in the lead’;
  • Focus on scarcity to focus on abundance;
  • Money as main development driver to connected capacity drives development: complementary competencies, skills, time and creativity.

The final report elaborates various strategies, roles, modalities of operation, funding models and competencies needed in (Dutch) development cooperation to pursue this future we want.


About the process and the players
This future exploration has been a highly interactive and collaborative effort. The process started in November 2017 with 100+ anonymous professionals in Dutch development cooperation sharing a forecasting experience. They shared their story through Sprockler, an online story-based research method, which allowed us to distil relevant trends and uncertainties gathered in the Story of stories. Some 45 stakeholders from a broad variety of Dutch development organisations participated in four consecutive scenario workshops:

  1. Mapping major trends and uncertainties to help develop an understanding of the forces that can shape the future (December 2017);
  2. Sketching scenarios of possible futures in 2025 (11 January 2018)
  3. Identifying implications and options for Dutch development cooperation in each of these scenarios (1 February 2018)
  4. Towards ‘a future we want’: formulating the basis for transformative action (8 March 2018).

The entire process was guided by a core team, who designed, facilitated and analysed the results and wrote the final report.


Adapt, Counteract or Transform 

‘Adapt, Counteract or Transform (ACT); The future of Dutch development cooperation’ is a publication under auspices of Partos/The Spindle in close collaboration with Perspectivity.

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