What will Melbourne’s future economy look like in 2026? Will the sharing economy, maker movement and other emerging forms of ownership, production and value exchange take centre stage?

The Future Economies Lab sought to find this out through two workshops facilitated by Darren Sharp (Social Surplus) and Jose Ramos (Action Foresight) for Future Melbourne 2026 that combined digital mapping, strategic foresight, appreciative inquiry and human-centred design to imagine changes to our city’s economy over the coming decade.

The first of these events was a ‘Vision Mapping’ workshop held 8th March at Melbourne Town Hall which brought the community together with thought leaders and industry stakeholders to design visions of Melbourne’s future economy. Vision Mapping is a process for the community to generate visions of the economy in a location-specific way using digital maps as a wayfinding tool to the future.

Mapping tools give communities the ability to create customised user-generated maps of their regions, towns and neighbourhoods. Various maps have been created locally to support the Yarra Sharing Economy and Maribyrnong Maker Community and provide current data on local activities. These technologies are widely used to map the past and the present, so it made sense to explore how these visualisation tools could help map emerging futures.

The Vision Mapping workshop explored the future economy using a digital map as a canvas from which to dream in a geo-spatially rich way to feed social conversations about the future. The first of these conversations involved participants identifying – the essence of our city’s economy that makes it unique and strong. This surfaced a diversity of strengths including parks, gardens, laneways, technology precincts (Carlton Connect Initiative), universities, radio stations, Queen Victoria Market, transport hubs, cultural (galleries, libraries, theatres and museums) and sporting assets (Tennis Centre and MCG).

The next conversation looked at – the positive seeds of innovation and change in Melbourne that can and should be grown. This led to a fascinating discussion on spaces for creative production in the city to support a prosperous and sustainable future. Seeds identified included arts hubs, coworking spaces, maker spaces, craft communities, social enterprise hubs (Donkey Wheel House), the State Library of Victoria, artist studios (River Studios), markets, festivals and research facilities (Parkville).

Workshop participants then moved into visioning and were asked to imagine it’s 2026 and Melbourne has leveraged its strengths and seeds of innovation. People were invited to describe the aspects of this future economy they most want to be part of based on things they’re committed to personally, and worked in teams to synthesise visions.

The resulting Vision Map provides a data rich view of our city’s current strengths, seeds of innovation and dreams for the future economy as seen through the eyes of workshop participants.

Melbourne future economy vision map

The second event was a Prototyping Workshop held 15th March where participants used the visions generated in the first workshop as a launchpad to design prototypes of emerging future economy initiatives.

Through a process of human-centred design participants were invited to brainstorm a range of opportunity areas using divergent thinking to surface as many ideas as possible that were related to bringing future economy visions to life in the context of Future Melbourne.

Participants then formed into small design teams and voted on their favourite ideas from the brainstorming session. Teams then came together to collaboratively develop basic prototypes related to the opportunity areas identified.

Prototyping Workshop, Tuesday 15th March 2016

The Visions and related Prototypes developed have been clustered into the following five ideas and posted to the Future Melbourne 2026 website for further consideration.

Idea 1: Nurturing diverse times and generative spaces

One of the broad themes to emerge was the need to honour, nurture and create a diversity of spaces and times for the breadth of activities and people that comprise Melbourne. People need a diversity of autonomous and generative spaces that can enhance the city economically and socially. As one participant put it: Melbourne needs places for “Rest time, Downtime and Dreamtime”.

Prototype: Melbourne airwalk system

This is an idea for people to navigate through the CBD in a different way through meeting and clustering opportunities for people to group themselves in new ways. The purpose of this is to green the city as we’ve got airspace out there that’s not being used. This would add trees, gardens and benches to the spaces between buildings and help cool the city.

Idea 2: Wellbeing and happiness as key criteria for economic success

Social wellbeing and happiness are seen as critical aspects of Melbourne’s future economy. The city’s economy should foster happy and healthy people that can navigate change successfully. New evaluation frameworks are needed that recognise the diversity of care-based activities we engage in as members of communities we belong to and that sustain us.

Idea 3: Navigating the past and future through civic engagement

Participants want Melbourne to be a city that values its history and heritage is able to tell its stories, and at the same time can navigate change and the future to reinvent itself and its identity. Navigating the city’s past and future requires new approaches to civic engagement, participatory sense-making, decision-making and collective intelligence.

Prototype: Public access to underutilised space

This is an idea to create more cohesive communities by opening up train stations and other public spaces to community groups for them to use however they want. It could be setting up a small business or a small showcase and basing it out of train stations or other underutilised public spaces.

Idea 4: New economic systems to help us live and work with purpose

The nature of work is changing with the potential for radical disruption including trends and issues like coworking, working from home, flexibility and automation. In this context future Melbourne should be a place where people can live and work with purpose, and are engaged in activities that are meaningful and rewarding. Alternative economic systems (sharing, making, circular economy, cryptocurrencies) provide new pathways for purposeful work.

Prototype: Melbourne Goodwill Exchange

The idea is to build an exchange in the City of Melbourne where people could loan each other time and money for an idea to enable people to able to build up credit for the time and skills you provide to another worthy project and be able to use that in other ways. The exchange is a way to network goodwill and relationships between people to assist new enterprises that are community focused.

Prototype: Guaranteed basic income

This idea would give everybody a guaranteed basic income to partially support oneself and have a degree of security in a future economy where work may be transient and the very nature of work is changing. People would also be rewarded for supporting family members and creatively participating in the community.

Idea 5: Using the arts to promote equity and inclusion

The arts can connect and ‘ground’ many aspects of city life: learning, sustainability, innovation, digital production, small business, multi-culturalism, celebrating diversity, equity etc. The city should therefore support arts incubators, arts markets, mobile art, and art that twines the physical and online worlds to foster economic inclusion.

We invite you to vote for and comment on the visions and prototypes developed and thank workshop participants for contributing to an important and timely conversation on the future of Melbourne’s economy.

The Vision Map and all related workshop outputs including audio from the two events have been made available as a resource for the community. We hope the Vision Map inspires ongoing discussion and provides a new lens through which to imagine the future of our city.