Cast the line out: Three Horizons thinking in a regenerative food system
How the pandemic led a social enterprise to build everything they were dreaming about for 2040, now.
The Three Horizons Framework (3H) helps by asking people first to make their assumptions explicit, and then to explore emerging change as a way to reframe what they think, what they want, and what they do. The final step looks back at history, forward at the possibilities, and creates actions that bridge from today to tomorrow.
The 3H framework is increasingly being explored by groups including the Systems Change Salon in the context of “How might we shape a post-COVID world?”. As with many method-based discussions, people want practical examples of use; this post attempts to meet that need.
Read up on the 3H framework here: Kate Raworth’s Three Horizons Framework intro — a guide for workshop use.
About this article
On 25 February 2020 I ran a Three Horizons Thinking workshop with the STREAT executive, supported by Emma Blomkamp. This workshop was one of three systems change mini-experiments I ran with STREAT in early 2020.
When I interviewed STREAT CEO Bec Scott three months later she had lots of reflections. This article is a transcript of parts of our conversation.
Bec maps the rapid shifts within new partnership Moving Feast back to the 3H Framework, discussing:
- How the pandemic has brought future horizons crashing into the now
- How most people can’t get past an Horizon 1 business-as-usual mindset
- The importance of capacity building to help people think about futures beyond next week
- The value of storytelling and prototyping for cut-through
About STREAT and Moving Feast
STREAT are an award-winning Australian social enterprise creating supported employment pathways, giving homeless and disadvantaged young people (aged 16–24) an opportunity to work in the hospitality industry. Over the past ten years STREAT have served nearly three million customers and seen more than 500 young people pass through their intensive training programs and another 1,000 young people through short courses and outreach programs. With eight cafes, a catering company, artisan bakery and a coffee roastery all operating under the STREAT brand, CEO and co-founder Rebecca (Bec) Scott believes every mouthful of food (and coffee!) should bring about the most social change possible.
With the pandemic causing five of STREAT’s eight cafes to close, staff numbers to be reduced, and an extra 250,000 emergency meals to be needed in Victoria each week, STREAT changed tack and established Moving Feast in early March with 20 other social enterprises including CERES, Cultivating Community, Melbourne Farmers Markets, and the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre. Within one week Moving Feast had established thematic teams working in the areas of Grow, Cook, Deliver and Connect was making and delivering nutritious and culturally appropriate meals to thousands of vulnerable Victorians, even growing produce for those meals. As at June 2020 over 70,000 meals and food packages have been made and delivered, and over AU$1 million has been raised to support the initiative.
Future crashing into the present
So Bec, what has happened since the Three Horizons Thinking workshop in February?
We’re building everything we were dreaming about for 2040 and Horizon 3. We’re actually building it in one year.
We’ve done all this thinking in the past, then all of a sudden this enormous disruption happened, and we were bringing the horizon way forward. All of a sudden you had to completely reinvent the future, and you had to do it at warp speed.
It wasn’t even near future; it was immediate future. Anything that might have been out there on Horizon 2 instantly had to become Horizon 1 to survive.
What we’ve harnessed in two months with Moving Feast is 20 social enterprises that are now working collectively as an end-to-end system, from what you might call plough-to-plate. We’ve created a theory of change and impact framework for our work and the things that we’ve got. If you were to summarise the whole thing, you would say we’re working towards a fair and regenerative food system. So we might all have different parts of that system we’re in, but what STREAT has done is bring the overall system map, and we have said to people this is what we think the map looks like and the different parts of it and what the collective impact looks like.
We’ve now got a committee and a governance structure, so we’ve built the structural parts of it as well. Then I’ve gone and gathered in two months over AU$1 million to get everyone cracking on building it.
Thinking ‘system’ in a crisis
What’s become really clear to me is so few people can think ‘system’ in a crisis.
The noise and stress in the system has shut down any ability for most to think beyond Horizon 1.
Of course, that makes sense in lots of ways because in many ways it’s a fight or flight response. It’s also about the hardwiring of our brains not being able to deal well with things that change imperceptibly over time.
For many organisations it is survival — ‘will we be here next week?’. So, there’s this incredible pressure on the immediate things you’ve got to do to survive. For some people the instincts are ‘protect nest egg’. Some comments have been “…innovation is a total luxury; you would never do innovation in a crisis.”
However, for a very small number of people, you jump straight to Horizon 3. Well probably Horizon 2, but some also Horizon 3, because those two horizons have got the answers for your way out.
It’s like a fishing line. When you’re trout fishing and you’re sending out a line a really long way. You’re hoping the line hooks and you’re pulling yourself into the future. Being pulled into the future rather than being forced into the future.
It’s a very deliberate act to send the trout line out a long way, and you’re fishing for the things from the future that you need to pull yourself. You either need to pull them faster into this horizon; pull Horizon 2 and 3 faster into Horizon 1 and 2.
But for the majority of people you can’t do that, because you’re trying to survive Horizon 1, so why the fuck would you be looking at Horizon 2 and 3?
Drawing people forward
What we’ve had to do (during the pandemic) is be far more directive than you would normally be.
Normally you’d take lots of people on the journey with you and you’d be doing high levels of consultation. It’s almost like you need to harness the people who can go into Horizon 2 or 3. Get them to go in there and spend time in those future horizons themselves.
In an organisational setting you’re relying heavily on social capital that you’ve already built. And you get things done fast because you’ve got long, deep relationships, and social change happens at the speed of trust … But now you just have to stand and be a traffic cop in all sorts of different directions. And you have to back yourself.
I’ve found it works if those who are capable of going into Horizons 2 and 3 spend some time there. Then paint a picture of it, make it highly tangible, and bring a concrete thing back. Often (it’s about) bringing a product or service back, a prototype of something, then saying ‘what do you think of this highly tangible thing?’. Then you get feedback on this thing, but it’s got to be so tangible.
But with people stuck in Horizon 1 you can’t have a Horizon 3 conversation at all. I have talked to a couple of the Moving Feast CEOs who are comfortable in Horizon 2 and 3, and they have had to do exactly the same thing. The gap between Horizon 1 and 3 are so far apart, that so much of their task is trying to keep people who are on totally different mountain tops, to keep them together.
What you will naturally get is an incredible number of people opting out of conversations that they are probably uncomfortable sitting in. But they know they need to be in the room, wish they could be there, and want to be a bit more open to new ideas. But I’m seeing so much shutting down. I feel so enlivened, yet so frustrated about stuff that might not have frustrated me in the past.
In an organisational setting you’re relying heavily on social capital that you’ve already built. And you get things done fast because you’ve got long, deep relationships, and social change happens at the speed of trust. You’ve got your usual process of consultation for taking everyone on the journey. But now you just have to stand and be a traffic cop in all sorts of different directions. And you have to back yourself.
Reframing concepts as products for cut-through
The only way I’ve been able to get cut through with people in Horizon 1 is by actually taking it down to the product level rather than concept level, and then from the product level trying to show them how a product can be evolved.
What I’ve said is here’s a bunch of business development opportunities. What are the behaviours that we know that are going to happen during this pandemic?
Down the left-hand column is the anticipated global shifts. There’s nine of them that we know from research. And then what I’ve been able to show against those nine are, from business as usual, from Horizon 1 here are the things that we know that might be able to remain within business as usual because they’re also going to align with the global shifts that we’re seeing. But, what is the Horizon 2 and 3, the seeds of stuff that’s already out there, the new opportunities that are set out on Horizon 2 and 3 that map against what we would see as the anticipated global shifts?
If we make an assumption that we need to be doing some of both, so let’s make an assumption that we can’t just take an only defensive position, even though many people would like to be able to do that, we see innovation and offensive processes as being kind of critical. So, my strong view is that you’ve got to do research and development (R&D) in a crisis. You need more innovation in a crisis than ever. So, what does that look like?
And even because for many people that was just too theoretical, what I ended up having to do — it was kind of ridiculous — was I had to take it back to a product level.
Let’s imagine that we make a hamper. So, if you see the five stages across the top. Let’s assume Stage 5 is Horizon 3, and Stage 3 is Horizon 2. What are you capable of doing over time?
And I’ve said “Let’s say right now that we could build a jar of something.” Let’s assume you’ve got 20 organisations collaborating, and each enterprise could make one jar of one product. And that jar, this Christmas, each organisation would put in one jar of the killer product they had developed, and then what we have collectively made is a hamper. And so, this Christmas we could have a collective hamper, we’ve each done our one jar, haven’t had to scare ourselves, but we have one collective product that we could get out to a corporate.
Let’s say you now do three products and we now have a range of hampers; you’ve now got a hamper business. You’ve got a new business unit within Moving Feast. You continue that, and build in retail opportunities, and before too long you have a provedore or grocery or larder that’s got a bunch of products. All it is is just taking one idea and continuing to do the same again until you have a large enough product line. Or say you go right out to Stage 5 and you now have a supermarket. Collectively we’ve all made so many products across so many product lines that we go “Hey, we’ve got a supermarket now”.
But what was so clear in the process was that no one could even remotely get to Stage 5 in their minds. I don’t think Stage 5 is even remotely mind-blowing, that’s such an obvious thing that we would all be capable of. But what I needed to do was make it so tangible that if someone was only capable right now of talking about Stage 1, they can sit in Stage 1 and we can give them a mockup of a jar of chutney and they can go to their comfort level.
So in this process what’s become clear is some people can’t even start having Stage 1 conversations; even a jar of chutney is too hard, and most people can’t get to Stage 2.
Making things tangible
How are you taking steps towards change?
We are now making the first prototype of the thing, rather than talking about the thing.
What’s become abundantly clear is that because most people aren’t capable of moving there themselves, but they want to be on the journey. This means we have to do an unbelievable amount of capacity building.
We’re not going out for another round of consultation, because it’s stressing people out too much. We’re not doing another divergent process. We’re just building a real thing that I can put in front of someone and say, “You know when we talked about those things? That is what it looks like”.
We’ve arrived on two different products. I’m working one set, the hamper product. I’m hoping that when people see it and it’s physical and tangible enough, they will go ‘oh that’s great, can you help us make some too?.
What’s become abundantly clear is that most people aren’t capable of moving there themselves, but they want to be on the journey. This means we have to do an unbelievable amount of capacity building.
There’s a desire to be in [Horizons] 2 and 3, but no way to navigate themselves there. They want us to go forward and cast forward the fishing line out there. And then get there ourselves, and then pull them into the future with us.
Telling stories of future possibilities
What other ‘devices’ are you using to draw people forward?
You can’t rely on Horizon 3 Utopia to change behaviour. You need to bring the revulsion, the things that most anger you, the things that you feel most intensely about now, and bring them into Horizon 1 as a big enough motivator, so you don’t make bad decisions.
So, since the February workshop I have done a whole heap of storytelling. I wrote the story of what 2040 looks like.
It can’t be that all we do is create climate fiction and scare ourselves. If that’s all we do, we don’t change anything. We haven’t created the bridge for people, we’ve just created lots of sci-fi.
I used a door frame as a storytelling device that I felt like most people could use. Something they can describe now, so they can describe Horizon 1. Then the storytelling device allows you to change some of those variables, so people can suspend reality and go into the future in their minds.
I did it in increments of five years, across 20 years, getting them to use the idea of a child. Many households will have a doorframe where they take measurements. So, describe the Now for your child: what are they doing, what’s the developmental stage they’re up to?
I used Will [Bec’s 12-year-old son] as my storytelling device. “He’s just started high school. He’s 167 centimetres tall… this is where he’s up to (on the doorframe)”. I asked him about his hopes and dreams for the future so I could use what he wanted for his future as part of that device. And I could say, okay, go forward. Now he’s in Year Nine. He’s at school, you can see kids a couple of years ahead of him. You can even go “How tall is he probably going to be in three years’ time?”. Then quickly go and mark that on the doorframe.
So, let’s assume now he’s going to do a great big growth spurt in two years’ time, and he’s going to be pimply and awkward and be interested in girls. Now describe what’s different for him in his life now that he is a 15-year-old. Okay, jump forward to his Year 12 graduation. He’s getting ready to go to the next phase of life — what would he be dreaming for himself? I asked him “What do you want to be doing when you’re 18?” And then I can imagine what it’s like for him to be going off to uni because he knows he wants to be an engineer, living on campus with some nerdy mates who are all studying engineering.
Whatever the theme is, I can say “Well, what do I think that house prices might be, and how hard might it be for him to get a job? How it is going to physically feel now that the temperature has gone up two degrees; how does summer feel for him now, now that summer is longer and there’s more fires?” And so, I essentially just kept on extrapolating that out, and I could keep on going out. But when I could, I used the scientific data, the predictions of what happens if we don’t change things, things that Will’s first child coming into the world will know and experience.
That was a really easy process for me. I think you could probably get most people through that actually, because you are literally just saying, “Go and mark out the next 20 years of your children on the doorframe. Mark out with what’s happening in that year for them, those significant life moments that they’ll be going through”. And then use data to tell you what’s expected to be happening by that year, the climate change research. And now apply that to your kid’s life. And what you get is this.
You know, it is the most mind-blowing experience if you can manage to keep yourself in that process because it gets more and more and more distressing. Because this child that you love so passionately and deeply, you can’t imagine that being their world. You don’t want that for them. You then put yourself in the picture and you say, “Well when I was this age, the world was this temperature. And this was happening, and we didn’t know about climate change”. So, I went backwards and put myself in the 20 years prior to it. And now you’ve got 40 years of data sets to be able to tell the story.
So, I’ve written it as a 15-page story. As a device, it’s certainly worked for me. And I could imagine it as a device for other people.
I’m itching to see how different people are doing storytelling because we still have to create the bridge from a scary story back to behaviour change. It can’t be that all we do is create climate fiction and scare ourselves. If that’s all we do, we don’t change anything. We haven’t created the bridge for people, we’ve just created lots of sci-fi.
Acknowledgements: With thanks to the STREAT Executive, Emma Blomkamp and Anthony Johnson for workshop participation and facilitation, Bec Scott for this interview, and Emma Blomkamp for edits.