Futures Lab for refugees


Running a Futures Literacy-Theatre Lab for unaccompanied asylum seeking minors in Greece

“In my country the future is embedded in the present. Whatever you do today creates the future” (participant from Sierra Leone).

What do unaccompanied asylum seeking minors think about the future? How they approach and use the future? How does their cultural identity and their past traumatic experiences reflect on their anticipatory assumptions? What can we learn from them?

A Futures Literacy Theatre Lab was organized by UNESCO Chair on Futures Research (FORTH/PRAXI Network) and Iliaktida on the Greek island of Lesvos on 13 & 14 July, 2019.

38 asylum-seeking unaccompanied minors, 11-18 years old, from 10 countries (Afghanistan, Cameroon, Egypt, Guine, Iraq, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leona, Somalia, Syria) participated in the Futures Literacy-Theatre Lab on the future of Education.

“The preparation for this particular Lab was quite stressful. However, it proved to be a very creative process. We had to overcome a number of challenges mostly related to participantsʼ background and needs. The enthusiasm and active engagement of participants rewarded us. It was an incredible experience that taught us a lot and gave us food for thought. It confirmed the importance of futures thinking as an enabler for self-redefinition, empowerment and resilience” mentioned the Head of UNESCO Chair on Futures Research, Dr. Epaminondas Christofilopoulos.


Following the so-called refugee crisis in 2015, Greece currently hosts more than 60.000 refugees, the majority of whom will remain in the country. One of the main challenges is the integration of the refugee population. Asylum-seeking unaccompanied minors are considered to be one of the most vulnerable groups.

After lengthy discussions, UNESCO Chair on Futures Research (FORTH/PRAXI Network) and Iliaktida – a Civil Non-Profit Company, official UNHCR Accommodation and Protection Partner in the island of Lesvos (Greece) – decided to organize a Futures Literacy Lab (FLL) for unaccompanied asylum seeking minors to enable participants to use the future to empower themselves and develop a sense for self-efficacy.

UNESCO Chair on Futures Research and Middlesex University worked jointly on the design of the Lab. The event was under the auspices of UNESCO’s Futures Literacy Programme. Dr. Miller, Head of UNESCO’s Future Literacy Programme, provided guidance throughout the process.


The prospect of working with asylum-seeking unaccompanied minors was both exciting but at the same time worrisome. We immediately felt the ethical responsibility to design and deliver a process that would under no circumstances and in any way be harmful, disturbing or upsetting for the participants. It should be noted that the majority of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

We also realized very soon the design challenges and the need to deploy tools in this particular FLL that would respond to this groups’ particularities (i.e. linguistic barriers, cultural norms, gender issues, trauma etc) and allow for maximum engagement.

Method and tools

Futures Literacy Labs have been developed by Riel Miller (UNESCO) as one tool for developing Futures Literacy. Futures Literacy Labs are carefully designed future workshops (customized to time and place specificities) where collective intelligence knowledge creation processes and ‘learning by doing’ approaches are deployed to enable participants to reveal, reframe and rethink their anticipatory assumptions.

The FLL follows a learning sequence of three distinct phases drawing on participants collective intelligence:

  • 1st phase:REVEAL _The first phase of process focuses on revealing participants’ anticipatory assumptions. The objective of this phase is to make tacit anticipations explicit.
  • 2nd phase: REFRAME _ During the second phase participants challenge their assumptions, by engaging in reframing process. Participants are asked to embrace complexity and uncertainty. They reflect, situate, engage and negotiate shared meanings.
  • 3rd phase: RETHINK _The third phase asks participants to compare the two previous phases and come up with new questions and observations about the future of the topic under exploration. Participants are asked to reflect on the overall process, ideas, exchanges and feelings.

To overcome the above-mentioned challenges tools from the theatrical arsenal of the Brazilian practitioner and theorist Augusto Boal (Image Theatre, Forum Theatre) with the necessary adaptation were deployed throughout the three phases of the FLL.

Theatre tools proved to be compatible with the FLL design principles and objectives. In addition, the use of the theatre tools helped us overcome linguistic barriers and offered opportunities for increased engagement.

Brief overview of the Lab

First participants drew and enacted their images about the future. The breadth of those images was incredible, from pastoral utopias – referring to their idealized pre-war childhood memories in rural areas from their countries of descent– to dystopian images of complete alienation, fragmentation and conflict. At the end of the first phase anticipatory assumptions were identified and clustered.

Subsequently, participants engaged in a reframing process. Having a basic scenario as a prompt and challenging their anticipatory assumptions, they enacted their reframed futures. In line with Boal’s Forum Theatre, the audience (their peers) with their comments, observations and suggestions intervened to enable further reframing.

During phase 3, participants were asked to reflect individually on phase 1 and 2 and express their thoughts and emotions about the overall experience by enacting a three sequence image. Approximately, one third of the participants expresses in their respective images a feeling of empowerment and satisfaction.

Next steps

The Futures Literacy Theatre Lab served as pilot for the development of a Futures Literacy Lab prototype targeting vulnerable youth. The Lab was presented as a case study in the 3rdInternational Anticipation Conference in Oslo. The presentation will be shared with the Teach the Future network.


Workshop Instructors

Dr Epaminondas Christophilopoulos is Head of FORTH/UNESCO Chair on Futures Research. Dr Christophilopoulos is a member of the World Future Society (WFS), the Foresight Europe Network (FEN), a Certified Future Strategist, co-founder and Co-Chair of the Greek Node of the Millennium Project, a Washington-based, Think Tank coordinating futures research and foresight studies. Epaminondas holds a PhD on strategic foresight from VUZF University of Sofia. Prior to that he worked for many years in the fields of technology transfer and research commercialization. He initiated and set up a new activity in HF related to International Co-operation and especially consultancy support to Third Countries for establishing research and technological co-operation with the EU. From 2004 to 2017 Epaminondas co-ordinated several EU funded projects and tenders in Eastern Europe, Asia, the Gulf peninsula and Central America. email: epaminondas@praxinetwork.gr

Pedro De Senna is Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Theatre Theory & Practice at Middlesex University in London. Pedro de Senna is a theatre practitioner and academic with over 17 years professional experience in theatre and 14 in academia. In his practice, Pedro has worked as a writer, translator, performer, director and workshop facilitator. He was a member of Rewrite, a company working with local young people and refugees in London; as artistic director of applied theatre company Theatre@Bucks (at Buckinghamshire new Univeristy), Pedro facilitated training activities for social workers, by directing a series of improvised, character-based role-playing performances with which social workers in training would interact. As a member and associate director of SignDance Collective International, Pedro has toured extensively across Europe in the UK, engaging with Deaf and hearing audiences of all ages, in performance and workshop situations. An experienced performer and workshop leader, he is also a proficient communicator, and speaks 5 languages, an asset in a multinational partnership project. Pedro is a Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Theatre Theory and Practice at Middlesex University, where he is Programme Leader for the BA(Hons) Theatre Arts (Theatre Directing) degree. He also convenes the Directing and Dramaturgy research cluster, and he has published on translation, adaptation, dramaturgy and disability. He is particularly interested in the creative potential of multicultural encounters in rehearsal and devising processes, in imagining solutions to performance problems. email: P.DeSenna@mdx.ac.uk

Irianna Lianaki Dedouli is Coordinator of Research and Training Activities of FORTH/UNESCO Chair on Futures Research. Prior to that she worked as a consultant for intergovernmental and non governmental organisations including UNESCO’s Foresight unit, UNESCO’s Intersectoral Platform for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence and Intercultural Dialogue, the European Lab and others. Irianna was part of UNESCO’s design and implementation team of the 9th edition of UNESCO’s Youth Forum, which was foresight oriented. She has extensive experience in designing and facilitating participatory foresight processes. Currently, Irianna is a PhD candidate in Turku School of Economics. Her research focuses on Futures Literacy and Intercultural dialogue. email: irianna@praxinetwork.gr

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