When in 2017 we created scenarios of the future for the European voluntary sector in the Future Skills for the Third Sector project led by Sivis Study Centre, we could not even imagine the sudden change that would happen in our society in the spring of 2020. In our scenarios we presented that the near future of voluntary and organisational activities in Europe would be affected by digitalisation, increasing inequality and decreasing sense of community, but also that the activities would continue as before.

These future paths were recognized by the organisations. How surely there is need to set foot on each path depends on, for instance, the mission of the organisation. For each path we also mapped out necessary skills. We observed that digitalisation is also important in maintaining a sense of community and that all organisations should be able to encounter different types of people even though diversity was most present on the path of increasing inequality.

All of these themes are still essential despite the severe change. Nevertheless, the leap of digitalisation that had been predicted for long has been even greater this spring than the specialists that we interviewed for our scenarios had foreseen.

In spite of the unpredictable and rapid change, anticipation is always necessary because it helps to find the right direction. By anticipation we mean “seeing the future” by gathering information and planning activities. This allows responding to possible challenges beforehand. Anticipation gives information on alternative futures, from which the best one can be chosen to aim for. Activity-wise this often means acquiring new skills, new activities and may sometimes require forgoing something.

After 2017 we continued working on a project called Future Skills for Volunteering with our European colleagues. With the help of this project we wanted to, among other things, respond to the organisations’ increased need for anticipation. Since there are barely any tools directed at voluntary and organisational activity, we developed our own.

The idea behind the tool was that the association or organisation works with people and their networks, which is why its stakeholders’ thoughts on the future are important. The tool is used to consider one’s stakeholders and their significance and to offer means to obtain information from them in the future: One can directly ask people what their thoughts are, watch the news and think about how they affect one’s own activities, look for weak signals from one’s surroundings or come up with their own ways to conduct research. The gathered information can be processed into a plan using the tool’s conversation model. The tool can be found from this link (In Finnish) at the moment, but it is being developed further and the complete version will be published in the fall.

There are also other ways to think about the future together. For example, Sitra is a national fund that frequently publishes reports on future-shaping mega trends and materials to discuss them. Sitra’s tips on future-oriented work utilising remote access can be found through this link (In Finnish).

The environment of the organisations has already changed but we do not know how permanently. Now is a good time to think about what we want from the future and what our society’s pursued world is like. A more systematic type of anticipation could perhaps begin as the crisis eases off. The changeability of the organisations’ operations and structures should now be considered because changes will come rapidly in the near future. A more flexible association is able to give freedom to work in different environments and trust its actors. Continuity and good governance enable this.

Perhaps the most important thing now is to maintain hope and a sense of social cohesion in voluntary and organisational activities. We join associations and start volunteering to help and to be together with like minded people in order to change the world. We maintain hope in our communities. This also helps us to look to the future.

Text: Marion Fields

Specialist at Sivis Study Centre

Translation: Maria Virri