Area of Concern

After the Pandemic


California Wellness Foundation

The James Irvine Foundation

Blue Shield of California Foundation

The California Endowment

If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything, it’s that the story of the future can change in a single breath. And it can change in ways no one expects. Foresight in this moment is not about finding the one path forward. It’s about nourishing our many human visions of what’s possible now, next year, and over the decades to come. It’s about the diversity of our hopes and dreams in the wake of a world-changing pandemic. With this project, “After the Pandemic: What Happens Next?”, IFTF is thinking about the post-pandemic world. IFTF has been asking questions about what we can learn from the pandemic and what kind of world we can build after the pandemic. 

The project has multiple components. It sets out four different versions of the world of 2030, after the pandemic has been… conquered? contained? magnified? used to create something new? The four scenarios are Growth (“Saving Capitalists”), Constraint (“Germ Pods”), Collapse (“Ungoverning”), and Transformation (“Social Solidarity”), which are structured around four values: economics, politics, health, and social well-being. IFTF has also created a report that dives deeply into the historical data that shaped our pandemic response and revealed how vulnerable we were to the deleterious effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This historical data also laid a foundation for imagining the four future scenarios. Finally, IFTF created a “toolkit for transformation” that helps you imagine and build your own scenarios, particularly transformation scenarios and the actions needed to achieve them.

This is that pivotal moment of our time, the moment to start laying foundations for what comes next. Rewriting the future will take all of us working together to imagine and build a better tomorrow. Marina Gorbis, IFTF Executive Director in "After the Pandemic: The Deeper Disease Scenarios" video
In this video, IFTF Executive Director Marina Gorbis introduces the "After the Pandemic: What Happens Next" project and takes us on a journey through IFTF’s post-pandemic scenarios to explore four alternative paths.

Four Scenarios: Explore What Might Be (An Overview Map)

IFTF has been interviewing experts in a variety of fields and conducting panels with workers and activists in order to develop a set of four alternative scenarios for a post-pandemic world—four very different visions of how the future might unfold in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Economic recovery and growth. Widespread health constraints. Breathtaking political collapse. A bold transformation of our human society. The Growth scenario, “Saving Capitalists,” is driven by the key value of the economy. This scenario is about pursuing economic values—rapidly opening up businesses to return to some semblance of pre-pandemic economic growth. The Constraint scenario, “Germ Pods,” is driven by the key value of individual health. This scenario involves reliance on data and algorithms to reorganize society around germ pods or clusters of virus-free communities under the guise of safeguarding health, but in the meantime justifying and entrenching existing wealth and racial inequities. The Collapse scenario, “Ungoverning,” is driven by the key value of political power. It envisions sustained levels of militarized confrontations on the streets of America. And finally, the Transformation scenario, “Social Solidarity,” is driven by the key value of social well-being. It moves us to a very different path of pursuing social rather than purely economic or technological agendas, ultimately leading to greater collective wellbeing.

After the pandemic

What Happens Next: Dive Deeper (A Report of Historical Trends Impacting the Present and Future)

To understand the future, this project started with an historical analysis—using data and historical patterns—of seven areas of weakness, fragility, and systems failure in our economy and society that have created a “weak social immune system.” The pandemic has revealed existing (and often hidden) vulnerabilities that made the United States particularly susceptible to the ravages of COVID-19. These seven areas of vulnerability include: broken health systems, economic inequality, racial injustice, brittle supply chains, political divisions, climate emergencies, and a fragile social fabric.

A Norman Rockwell painting of a strange futuristic city skyline 2

A Toolkit for Transformation: Building What We Want

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a deeper underlying disease. It has unmasked high-risk fractures in the systems of our daily lives. What happens next depends on us. This is a human moment to take stock and take action. The goal of the Toolkit for Transformation is to tell stories about the future that haven’t been told before—stories of the transformation that became possible after a global pandemic. 

The toolkit contains an orientation guide; a map of 4 post-pandemic scenarios and 7 system failures; 3 decks of cards: Patterns from the Past, Innovations for the Future, and Actions for Transformation; a facilitator’s guide with detailed instructions for using the toolkit in either a fast path or a long game; and a reference index to the cards. This toolkit will take you through the process of sorting the data, signals, and actions to create an action roadmap.

An abstract painting of humans living in a future city 1

Panel Discussion: Urgent Futures: After the Pandemic, What's Next?

This panel discussion was held on September 15, 2020. Participants included: Marina Gorbis, Executive Director, IFTF; Kenneth Bailey, Co-Founder, Design Studio for Social Intervention; Camille Canon, Partner, Purpose Foundation; Vanessa Roanhorse, CEO, Roanhorse Consulting; Mike Zuckerman, Research Fellow, IFTF

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