Future’s Literacy Lab: The Role of Cash in the Future Monetary Landscape?

In association with the UNESCO Chair for the Future of Finance

The future of cash is of obvious and critical importance for all stakeholders in the cash cycle but how can we effectively integrate the future into what we see and do? What frameworks, tools, and processes enable us to better understand the origins and implications of our images of the necessarily imaginary future?
Is it the forecasts that central banks constantly develop and finetune? Could it be the diverse scenarios that are generated by events such as the Global Financial Crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic? Is there some way to predict the unexpected, such as the double-digit growth of cash in circulation experienced by 75% of the world’s currencies in 2020?

Some people put their faith in algorithms and artificial intelligence, hoping these techniques will provide the capability to predict the future. But we all know that human behaviour and the complex emergent systems of our collective activities are not predictable. The only certainty is uncertainty.

Futures Literacy Laboratories are an advanced, field-tested methodology for exploring these questions and gaining new insights into the nature and impact of imagined futures. In this Lab, participants will deploy their collective intelligence to present and assess probable and desirable futures of cash. Using action-research/action-learning tools the Lab will offer the opportunity to analyse the burning questions facing the future of cash. For instance, the fundamental ethical issues related to the future of cash, ranging from loss of privacy to concentration of knowledge and data.

The Lab will take participants beyond deterministic extrapolations and techno-fatalism to examine changes that are inspired by open and creative futures.

Science-fiction offers an example of why it is both difficult and important to imagine different futures. The 1887 novel by Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward predicted the adoption of credit cards in 2000. In Star Wars, on the other hand, the Galactic Credit Standard is backed by a rare metal, somewhat similar to the Gold Standard. In the 2011 dystopian film, In Time, fiat currency has been replaced by time, as each person has a clock displayed on their fore-arm, which measures the amount of time they have to live. Such imagined futures alter what we expect, but also what we notice and decide in the present.

Think of Covid-19. The pandemic showed that futures we take for granted can be called into question in a matter of days while at the same time sparking a powerful need to invent new images of tomorrow. Such events underscore the importance of being able to exercise and diversify why and how the future is imagined.

In this Futures Literacy Lab participants will exercise and diversify their imaginations in relation to a topic – the future monetary landscape – that is not only of interest to central bankers, mints, banknote printers or cash management companies. Imagining the nature and governance of money in the future provides a powerful entry point into describing the way human communities function.

Such a discussion is not limited to the forms money takes, or the technologies that enable such forms. It encompasses the multi-faceted roles that money plays in the way people understand time and value, social and economic relationships. Imagining future monetary landscapes calls for an effort to describe how the traditional functions of money and cash do, or do not, play a role in changing social and environmental contexts.

The Futures Literacy Lab challenges the notion of a singular future and frames the much-needed discussion around the future of cash not only as a technological issue, but as a societal question with fundamental implications for trust, inclusion, equality, resilience, sovereignty and privacy.

The Futures Literacy Lab builds on CashEssentials’ 2021 report The Future of Cash? A Novel Approach to Re-Imagining the Future. The Lab will be moderated by Riel Miller, Senior Fellow at: Ecole des Ponts Business School and one of the world’s leading strategic foresight designers. Sessions will be facilitated by futurists – Petteri Lillberg, Senior Consultant at Demos Helsinki – and experts from the cash community – Alex Bau, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco; Katrina Brendle, Deutsche Bundesbank; Päivi Heikkinen, Bank of Finland; Antti Heinonen, formerDirector of Banknotes at the ECB; Richard Wall, former Head of Currency at the Bank of Canada.

The Lab will be built around three three-hour sessions.

Session 1: Tacit to Explicit

7 September 2022 15:00-18:00 CET. Remote session
Explore, imagine, Probable & Preferrable Futures. Participants’ anticipatory assumptions are revealed.

Session 2: Disconnect

8 September 2022 15:00-18:00 CET. Remote session
Disconnect participants from anticipatory assumptions by evoking a non-probable, non-preferrable future linked to what was revealed in Phase 1. Imagine a new set of anticipatory assumptions by describing an unfamiliar future.

Session 3: Back to the Present

14 September 2022 14:00-17:00 CET. Hybrid Session. In-person session in Madrid @ The Future of Cash Conference
Engage in a comparative exercise that uses the results of the group discussions in Phase 1 & 2 in order to reexamine the present. Participants will use the different futures they have imagined to identify aspects of the present that were previously invisible or had another significance.

The Futures Literacy Lab is not a conference. Sessions are highly interactive and will require active participation from all participants. Participants must engage in all 3 sessions to generate the results of the collective intelligence process. The last session will offer the opportunity to participate in person or remotely.