A national research institute in the Netherlands wanted to gain more insight into the public's aspirations and wishes with regards to the future. The research was part of a long-term study into the 'state of the country', in which a 'snapshot' is prepared every quarter. In addition to a survey and an online research community, the institute wanted to conduct a number of group interviews that specifically zoomed in on people's dreams and hopes. The institute's experience is that people often find it easier to indicate what they do not hope for, but more difficult to indicate what they do want to see more of. Especially in these special times of the covid 19 pandemic, they were particularly interested in getting a better sense of the public's ideas and dreams about the future.
The group interviews could not take place 'live', so we held four online meetings, with four people each. Men and women participated, with higher and lower levels of education, and with ages ranging from 18 to 66.
We designed an interview guide based on Appreciative Inquiry. First, we asked participants to give an example of where the country had been at its best in recent weeks as far as they were concerned. These examples, which ranged from a national applause for health care workers to impromptu friendly conversations with strangers in a supermarket to the government's transparent communication at the press conferences, were exchanged and we continued by asking: what makes this a good example for you? Which elements appeal to you?
Then we took a step towards people's dreams: all participants were invited to choose an image from a set of 16 pictures that captured their desired future of the country. People often chose an image that had to do with community and togetherness, or with nature. People dreamed of a future in which neighbours talk to each other, people pay attention and are available for each other, where there is more peace and quiet and where it is greener and healthier... Sometimes they became very specific, describing strawberry plants on each balcony, locally grown vegetables, visits to the campsite and switched-off mobile phones. Often, we could literally see the envisioned future in front of us as interviewers.
After this, we presented people with four national future scenarios, which had been drawn up by the research institute, and which had already been used in an earlier survey. It turned out that people found it easy to choose which scenario appealed to them the most, and why.
They all expressed the hope that the positive things they saw emerging in the country will actually remain or be enhanced in the future.
At the end of the talks we had rich information for the researchers, which they could incorporate into their final compiled report. In addition, we had had four valuable encounters. Participants liked to hear each other's stories and perspectives: a student, a teacher, a retired civil servant, a nurse, an entrepreneur, a stewardess.... everyone had their own experiences and perspective. And listening to them proved to be contagious. Sometimes literally - where a participant who was repairing her own clothes instead of buying new ones inspired others to do the same. Sometimes in terms of emotion: people liked to reflect on what concerns them and what is important to them. It energised and connected them. In that sense, every conversation had value in itself. Also for us as researchers.