Estimated reading time 3 min

The building blocks of utopias

What would a significantly different but desirable future look like? In this exercise you can imagine the society of the future and challenge the present with the help of utopias.

Kuva. Veera Pienimaa / Miltton


We can only realise a future that we can imagine. Currently, the view of the future portrayed in public is narrow, characterised by threat scenarios and often formed by a small group of experts. To augment the range of possible futures and balance out threat scenarios, we need appealing scenarios of what life and society would look like when people live sustainably.

Utopias aim to present radical alternatives to today’s society rather than “develop” it. Utopias  and their development should be seen as a method that helps us challenge and broaden our perceptions of a desirable society. You can find more information on utopias in the Faith in the future memorandum.

The aim of this exercise is to guide the participants to think about utopias in practice, create a general understanding of what needs to be taken into account and how to concretise the utopia concrete in human terms. The exercise uses various outlines of social order, economy, culture, communities, technology and infrastructure in the form of building blocks that are used to create a description of a possible utopia. Lastly, we consider what it would be like to live in that utopia, which helps stimulate debate on what exactly would be important to us in the future.


Tuning in

Close your eyes for a moment and think about what a preferred future would look like. Imagine travelling to this ideal world, a utopia: what does it look like, what sounds do you hear, and so on. The workshop facilitator can use the following script, for example:

“Close your eyes and get comfortable. Take a few deep breaths. You will travel forward in time and to a different kind of world – a utopia. Here you will find a perfect society where everything is in order. Take a look around. What draws your attention first? What do you see? What kinds of people do you see? How do they behave?

Now move to a different place in your utopia and imagine how the scenery changes. What kinds of buildings do you see?

Now shift your attention to your other senses. How does it smell in this utopia? What sounds do you hear? How does it feel?

Now it’s time to leave the utopia. You will travel back to the real world of the present, but remember the utopia you just saw and experienced.”

Now take a few minutes to independently write down observations of the imaginary journey you just experienced. Your notes will help you in the next step when you start building a utopia with your group.

The building blocks of utopias

Next, you will start building a common utopia with your group. Describe your utopia in more detail by using the building blocks of utopias. They include a number of suggestions under four themes:

  • Society (blocks with blue edges): What is the governance system like? How are decisions made? How is order maintained? Choose a maximum of two blocks.
  • Economy (blocks with red edges): What kind of money is used? What is the method of exchange? What is work like? How do production and consumption function? Again, choose a maximum of two blocks.
  • Culture and communities (blocks with yellow edges): Where do people get a sense of meaning? What are communities like and how do they function? Again, choose a maximum of two blocks.
  • Environment (blocks with green edges): What does the utopia look like? What technology is used? What is the infrastructure like? Again, choose a maximum of two blocks.

The blocks have ideas at different levels related to the themes. They are intended to stimulate thought and discussion rather than provide ready answers. You can also define your own building blocks.

When you have picked the blocks you want to use, see what kind of big picture they form. If you want to, you can revisit the notes you made in the first step and change a few of the blocks.

A day in the life of a person living in your utopia

Once you have described your utopia with the help of the building blocks, it is time to think about what it would be like to live there.

Draw a personal profile card. Your task is to describe three moments in one day in the life the person shown on the card. What do they do in the morning? What do they do during the day? What do they do in the evening? Try to be as concrete as possible. What is it like to live in this utopia?

At this point, you can also make two changes or additions to your utopia blocks if you realise something important is missing.
Prepare to share your ideas about the person’s day with the other groups.

Unpacking and reflection

Briefly share your stories of a day in your utopia with the other groups.

Discuss together what thoughts this exercise triggered. What was easy to agree on? What caused disagreement? What do the described utopias sound like? What similarities and differences are there between them? What would it be like to live in these utopias?