A futuring approach to teaching wicked problems

Utrecht University

Publication Release Date: Jan. 11, 2021
Date Posted: Feb. 19, 2021
Submitted by: Tessie Devlin
Sustainability Topic: Curriculum
Content Type: Publications
Publisher: Informa UK Limited
Periodical Name: Journal of Geography in Higher Education
Type: Journal Article


This paper investigates how the teaching and learning about “wicked” environmental problems may be fostered through an educational approach premised on futuring – the active imagination of the future. The growing academic interest in possible and desirable futures provides a promising starting point for restructuring education as coupling knowledge to imagination and teaching to policy practice can open up new, experiential ways of learning. Empirically, this paper draws upon research on an experimental futuring course employing a “mixed classroom” formula in which students and policy-makers learn together about sustainability challenges. Drawing on the notion of inquiry, this course is set up with the aim to foster a critical engagement with the ways futures are imagined in political debates and decision-making. Through complementary activities, the students were pushed to imagine possible futures around a central theme, the transition to a circular economy, in interaction with the policy-makers and other practitioners. This culminated in a “Museum of the Future”. From our action-research-based investigation of the learning experiences in the course, we conclude that a futuring approach to teaching wicked problems results in a more active attitude of students towards the space in which wicked problems and solutions are collectively imagined and deliberated.