Enabling citizens’ speculation: The method of co-speculation for collectively imagining possible futures of ‘ikigai’ in an aging society

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Modern industrialized society oppresses human autonomy and shapes dominant future images. Rapid enhancement of technologies adds much more complexity to our society, and it can be dystopian futures. These futures are often shaped by actors with power, such as experts, tech industries, institutions, or designers. On the other hand, recent design agendas including Transition Design and Collective Dreaming, claim a strong demand for empowering wider people to shape desirable futures. Therefore, the thesis presents the method of Co-Speculation as a participatory and experiential speculative method to enable non-expert citizens themselves to imagine possible futures.  The thesis is grounded on mainly two fields; speculative design and participatory design. It investigates how the Co-Speculation method can work for everyday citizens to collectively envision possible futures. In more detail, the research aims to investigate three sub-questions: 1) To explore why speculative design needs to be more participatory, 2) To explore what enables or challenges citizens to speculate futures, and 3) To explore what possible effects the method can create. With this aim, the thesis conducted an empirical case study in the City of Takarazuka, in Japan. In collaboration with the local civic-tech organization, Community Link, the case study explored futures of ikigai, a psychological state of feeling worthy for a living, in the context of an aging society. The project engaged active citizens as co-futurists. Materials for analysis were collected from evaluative interviews with participants, audio records of the workshop, and the researcher’s reflection notes. The research found that the Co-Speculation performs as a potential method for enabling citizens to envision alternative futures. It supports non-experts’ imagination in several ways; diverse views of participants, making as an embodied act, and the empathic scaffolding tools. Some challenges were also identified, such as the difficulty in the suspension of disbelief, dominant pre-assumptions, and a lack of controversial views. Suggestions for further improvements and possible areas of the method application are also presented. This study contributes to the academic discussion on speculative design and participatory design by providing findings and the empirical case of the method application. The conclusion indicates that the method can catalyse imagination and citizens can be involved in the visioning process as active co-futurists.
Mattelmäki, Tuuli
Thesis advisor
Salmi, Anna
Ylipulli, Johanna
speculative design, participatory design, co-speculation, experiential futures, citizen empowerment, ikigai
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