Making Futures: On Targets, Measures and Governance in Backcasting and Planning for Sustainability
Doctoral thesis in Planning and Decision Analysis with specialisation in Environmental Strategies Analysis, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm 2012.
This thesis is about the making of futures – in the sense of planning, through which the world of tomorrow is crafted, and in the sense of images of the future, developed through the futures studies approach of backcasting. The point of departure for the thesis is that more visionary and strategic forms of planning are needed if the challenges of sustainable development are to be met, and that backcasting, through its long-term, integrative and normative character, can be a helpful tool towards this end.
The thesis explores how backcasting can be used when planning for sustainability by looking into three areas of problems and possibilities. The first of these concerns target setting, for which was found that both backcasting and planning tend to use targets that are elusive, rendering it difficult to understand what is included in the target and what is omitted. As a way to rectify this, a framework of methodological considerations for target setting is presented (Paper I). There is also a need for further methodological development on how to set targets for environmental aspects other than energy and GHG gases.
The second area concerns the identification of measures and actors, where both backcasting and planning were found to have the problem of being techno-biased and/or taking a rather superficial approach to ‘the social’ which means that the socio-technical complexity of everyday life is left unattended (Paper II). This has consequences in terms of delimiting the scope of measures identified and proposed and of the potential of these to result in intended changes. Two approaches are suggested to deal with this: a methodology for developing socio-technical scenarios, in which an iterative identification of objects and agents of change is a central trait (Paper III), and a service-orientated energy efficiency analysis, in which the social logic of energy use is highlighted (Paper IV).
The third area concerns how backcasting can be used in a more explorative approach to the governance of change, instead of leaving this unaddressed and/or unaltered (Paper V). In relation to this, the institutional and political dimensions of planning for sustainability are emphasised, with the focus on path dependency, discursive power and critical junctures (Paper VI).
The connection described between the fields of backcasting and planning for sustainability study and practice is thus beneficial for planning by showing how this could be made more visionary and strategic, while also contributing to the theoretical and methodological advancement of backcasting. One of the main contributions of the thesis is the exploration of how backcasting studies could benefit from including the question of ‘Who?’: Who could make the changes happen? Who should change (whose) lifestyle? Who (what group/s in society) benefits and who loses from the images of the future that are developed? And who is invited to take part in the making of futures and whose futures are being heard? Including the question of ‘who’ highlights the normative character of sustainable development and makes issues of environmental justice and equity visible.
The formulation of images of the future is also a question of resources and ultimately of power. In relation to this there is a need for groups of society besides those in power to be encouraged to develop their images of the (sustainable, desired) future, and to give room for these in policy-making and planning. The openness of the future renders desirability and ethics, and not probability, the basis on which the feasibility of images of the future must be assessed.