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Game-Changing Demographics: How 'People Power' Sparks Intergenerational Conversations

Every year, the Creative Bureaucracy Festival (CBF) gathers over a thousand visionaries from politics, government, civil society, and pioneering organizations around the world. It’s a platform that celebrates the brilliance of innovative public administration. So, when I was invited to showcase "People Power" on their prestigious mainstage, I was thrilled. Given Germany's rapidly aging population, and the growing interest in foresight gamification, it was a match made in heaven. I poured my heart and soul into this 10-minute presentation, and I invite you to journey with me through it.

Should I just give them a policy card? The end of retirement is pretty complex already…

But I’ve got to include a culture card, that’s the whole point of this exercise…

Well if I'm going to go that far, then I might as well include technology. How are they going to make sense of all this… complexity?

I had 20 minutes to help a group of 10 people think differently about the future of demographics. I was nervous. I was at the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales's office in Cardiff. This one of a kind organisation was helping public bodies and those who make policy in Wales to think about the long-term impact their decisions have. This was the chance of a lifetime. With 5 minutes to present my pilot game People Power, allowing only 10 minutes for play and 5 mins for presentation, I grit my teeth and went for it.

Then this happened (Watch the video to see!)

Within the constraints of time, the fear of failure evaporated. Suddenly, exploring the future became an exciting journey, not an intimidating task. The game ignited quick thinking, trans-disciplinary ideas, and solutions. And it got us talking about even the most sensitive of topics comfortably and productively.

We ended up discussing the rapid depopulation of North Wales, what it might be like growing old alone, how we felt about parenthood, and how to get young people to be more proactive in facing future challenges.

We live in a complex and rapidly changing world. To anticipate, to understand, to proactively respond to emerging challenges takes creativity, takes imagination as well as courage. Two traits that appear to be in short supply.

In futures thinking, we do not

predict the future. I do not have a crystal ball in my pocket. But there are some things we do know, like how many babies are being born and how many 80 year olds we will have by the end of the century. Whether you're talking about a developing country or a developed one, authoritarian or egalitarian, East or West, demographic trends point to one thing. Less and less young people supporting more and more old people.

Now our leaders are rightly considering the economic implications of population decline, afterall no economy is designedto deal with this inverted demographic pyramid. And we’re already seeing cracks in the systems. Cars are burning in Paris because the government extended the retirement age from 63-65, why? Because pensions are over 10% of GDP and they don't have the money.

What happens 20-30 years down the track when the demographic pyramid inverts? Might taxes soar? Might pension systems collapse? Might healthcare systems all be privatised, while social care is continually cut?

We can’t predict the future, but we can anticipate what’s coming and proactively respond.

Governments are responding. For every government that responds to this by respecting human rights, by investing in childcare facilities, longer maternity and paternity leave, handing out cash to encourage new parents to raise their children in depopulated areas of the country as was recently announced in Japan, there is another that is restricting access to abortions, banning sex education from curriculums, banning vasectomies, that is taking our human rights away.

Could population decline trigger the most significant human rights battles in this century? This is why public awareness is so crucial. We must not assume these rights that were fought in the past will prevail in the future.

The implications of demographics go way beyond the economics. Demographic changes, and our responses to it, will also have significant social, cultural, environmental, technological, and political implications for present and future generations. We have historically lived in a world where the average population was young. This is about to reverse itself.

We’ve got Elon Musk calling this the biggest challenge facing humanity, we have Sarah Harper the Director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing saying this is cause for celebration and idea that you will need lots of people to drive your economy and defend your country is old fashioned thinking, then you have young people I work with who almost unanimously agree with Sarah as it will ease the pressure we put on the planet. And many many more people have no idea, still think overpopulation is the big challenge we face in the coming decades. Narratives around the population bomb that arose in the 60s still remain. Narratives and stories matter. Perhaps we need new ones.

I prefer how Dr Darrell Bricker puts it: “Its not a good thing, it’s not a bad thing, but it’s a big thing”. We need to better anticipate how the world will change, how we will change.

The People Power game is very simple. There are 3 decks of cards: Policy cards, tech cards, and culture cards. These decks are packed with signals of change in the present that could greatly shape the future. In policy, cash incentives for parents, making abortion illegal, printing more money, and even some wildcards where borders become meaningless as countries compete for migrants to fill the gaps in the workforce.

In culture, rising intergenerational conflict, militant feminist uprising, elderly wisdom and experience becoming respected and valued, and the most fertile celebrated as heroes (yes. in Thailand where I live some influencers get funding from the government to promote large families.)

In technology, billions of dollars are being invested today in longevity tech, gene editing, robotics, artificial intelligence. How will these technologies change the game?

You get into groups, you learn about demographics, and then you draw cards. the more cards you draw, the more points you win, and you have 15 minutes to create a news story, a scenario if you will, of the future combining these cards. Points are awarded for plausibility, creativity, presentation, and you get extra points for drawing a wild card.

Once a winner emerges, it's time to analyse, to dialogue. How likely do you think this future is? The degree to which its desirable as a future, come up with 5 things we can do as a group to steer towards it. The degree to which is undesirable, what 5 things can be done to avoid it. If you have the time, we use the causal layered analysis game board to analyse these emerging issues at the level of systems, of worldviews, and myth, enabling us to transform at multiple levels of reality to create longer lasting change.

Fundamentally we create a safe space to bring the generations together. Time and time again, young people reveal that they feel the future has been stolen by older generations. But I reflect on the words of a member of our intergenerational fairness hub: “We need to remember and recognize that many of the oldest generations in the world also lack power or autonomy or the ability to speak into situations. older generations can often be just as stigmatised and excluded as the younger.”

Understanding and addressing declining and ageing populations isn't just a job for the experts or policy wonks. We've all got a stake in this. We must learn to bring the generations together to help shape the futures we all want, and maybe with tools like People Power, we can do just that, and pull from our collective intelligence and our collective imaginations.


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