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“The workshops enabled us to explore possible future scenarios and have open and authentic conversations about what our personal and professional place in those futures might be.” – Luke Strickland, Environment Team Lead, Mott MacDonald. 

Exploring the future while stuck at home in the present  

We were recently approached by global engineering, management and development consultancy, Mott MacDonald, to collaborate with them on their 2020 Birmingham Futures Week. Each year, the Mott MacDonald team comes together to explore how they will exist 20 years from now in order to understand how they’ll thrive. They asked STEAMhouse to create a series of online collaborative workshops to enable early career professionals to explore perspectives on future skills that pertain to the various sectors and industries Mott MacDonald are involved in. It’s notoriously difficult to imagine a world twenty years from now, let alone plan for it but thankfully the Mott MacDonald team were up for activating a STEAM Lab, our most experimental collaborative workshop.  

Why a STEAM Lab?  

STEAM Labs make space for experimentation and speculation. They’re about bringing people together to invite in new perspectives and imagine alternatives to the status quo. Typically a STEAM Lab takes the form of a one or two day collaborative workshop where participants work through a bespoke process that impels them to think about the development of projects, products, and services in completely new ways. Each STEAM Lab is different but every one is underpinned by five guiding principles: conversation, exploration, collaboration, openness and newness. This time around we created activities that could be facilitated online using Miro and video conferencing software – here’s what happened… 

What skills might we need to succeed in a rapidly changing future?  

The Lab Leads, Luke Strickland (Environment Team Lead), and Paul Webb (Chartered Engineer), knew that to get to the heart of the question and uncover opportunities, they needed to listen to their early career colleagues at Mott MacDonald – what do they think the future holds? Discussion was key to understand how they might collectively and continuously learn new skills throughout their career. We looked for ways to cultivate the change needed for Mott MacDonald to thrive, despite ongoing uncertainty. The STEAM Lab was designed as a launchpad for the company to get going on future skills training. 

What we did  

Participants came together to collaborate across two two-hour online workshops, designed and facilitated by STEAMhouse. The focus of the work meant crafting activities that would enable individual working, group collaboration and lots of reflection, before enabling participants to draft propositions for personal and professional development.  

The workshops were comprised of three parts, ‘Where are we now?’, ‘Where are we heading?’ and ‘How might we prepare?’. Part one enabled participants to open up about their own skills, attributes and character and they were particularly encouraged to think outside of their role and their industry – the idea was to uncover unknowns about each other by plotting them, one-by-one in the ‘room’. The group then worked together to review insights and discuss their views on what is or isn’t important in their industry today. 

Part two enabled the group to co-create a vision of the future through the lens of the present. Working individually, participants wrote what they believed to be ‘significant forces’ (trends, technologies, political movements, behavioural shifts, etc) on digital post-its, one per post-it. These were plotted on a timeline from 2018 to 2040. The group worked in timeblocks using prompts and questions to imagine what might change and what might drive changes. Participants then worked together to find themes and discuss the implications of possible scenarios, before going on to assemble possible futures in teams. They selected four future scenarios per group, from a stack of 150 that have been proposed by experts working across sectors, from technology to health, mobility and finance. Teams then explored how Mott MacDonald might operate in their newly assembled worlds.  

As a final reflection, each participant drafted a profile of themselves in 2040. They were asked to consider what they might be working on and how they had developed since 2020 in order to thrive in the future.  

What’s next? 

At STEAMhouse, we’re here to support people and their ideas to flourish. We always work with our partners to ensure the outputs from collaborative workshops are meaningful. We’re pleased to say that Mott MacDonald are planning to roll out the Future Skills STEAM Lab concept across their Midlands UK team but don’t take our word for it, here’s Luke, one of the Lab Leads;  

“The outputs of the sessions are influencing our regional business planning as well as our staff development approach. We would love to work with STEAMhouse again in future and would definitely recommend them to others.” – Luke Strickland, Environment Team Lead Mott MacDonald. 

Participant feedback  

“Thank you for hosting such an amazing session…It really brings things to perspective as to where we expect to go and what can be done to obtain a positive impact”  

“Can I start off by really thanking you and the STEAMhouse crew for the opportunity today. It was the perfect balance of engaging, stimulating and educational.” 

“It highlighted to me that although the future may be uncertain in some aspects, we can use and develop our skills in order to adapt to this and change our society for the better.”  

STEAMhouse offers three ways to activate your own collaborative workshops, find out more here.

Contact us here to find out more and create your own STEAM Challenge with us. 


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