Worldbuilding is about “building” a “world” on a macro and micro scale, in rich detail. The technique comes from (sci-fi and fantasy) storytelling and role-playing games, where the authors create whole fictional universes in which many stories can happen. In futuring, and specifically incasting, worldbuilding can add new dimensions to a scenario, like adding colour to a black-and-white movie. Worldbuilding is about fleshing out the scenario into a fully-fledged 'world', populated with cultures and events, maps of places and landscapes. This exercise can take from 15 minutes to months or years, depending on the world-building purpose.

Process

A skeletal scenario or another type of sketch that came out of a visioning exercise should exist before beginning this exercise. Worldbuilding can be done in a workshop, or it can be a writing and visualising exercise that can continue online after the workshop. It can also be outsourced to writers or game designers beyond the group, or people who are a part of the facilitation team. The complexity and richness of the worlds will depend on the needs of the group, as well as the time and resources available. The process described here is for a minimal worldbuilding exercise that can be done in a workshop with the participants. The exercise can take from 30 minutes to several days.

  • Step 1: Frame the worldbuilding as an exercise that should make scenarios come to life and add rich details on local and global scales.
  • Step 1a (optional): If you have multiple scenarios, invite the participants to choose one to work on (or select groups randomly). Break into groups of no more than five people.
  • Step 2: Have a discussion about what this world might be like on the surface:
    • What are the visible characteristics of this world on the global scale (geography, climate, urbanisation…)?
    • What is the local setting like (landscape, weather, architecture, infrastructure…)?
    • What are the inhabitants like? What do they eat and wear? Where do they live?
    • Who are the main 'protagonists' in this world (locally and/or globally)?
    • What does everyday life in this world look like?
    • What might be considered big news?
    • What might be important events?
    • Which behaviours are dominant?
    • What are the known issues/problems?
    • Does this world have a name?
    • Where are the boundaries of this world?
  • Step 3: Discuss the driving forces that shape this world:
    • What are the forces in this world? If applicable, who are 'the powers-that-be', the 'movers-and-shakers' in this world?
    • Who (if anyone) exists at the fringes of the society? What is their relationship with the driving forces?
    • What is the history of this world? Any important events that effected its present form?
    • How do the driving forces affect the mundane daily life of the inhabitants?
  • Step 4: Look at the (hidden) dimensions of cultures and stories:
    • What are the cultures or civilisations like?
    • What are the basic concepts and values in this world?
    • What is overly visible in this future? What is invisible?
    • What do people believe in?
    • Are there any grand (unverifiable) statements emerging in this world? What worldviews do they promote?
    • What deeply held perspectives might we come across?
    • Are there any spoken or unspoken rules that govern this world?
    • How are the values and myths translated into the tangible artefacts and spaces?
  • Step 5: After answering (some of) the questions from the previous steps, summarise the main characteristics of your world in words and images (see moodboard).
  • Step 7: Present the world(s): If you have been working in different breakout groups, invite each group to present their worlds to each other. This can be done as a 'show-and-tell' presentation, an exhibition, or simple reporting. If your group was small enough not to have breakouts, it is still helpful to present the results displayed on the walls and invite the group to look through and reflect on the exercise. In both situations, guiding and clarifying questions can help the presenters find gaps and possibilities in their worlds.
  • Step 8 (optional): Follow-up: If applicable the results of the worldbuilding can be written as a story, designed as a map, collage, or a video. Assign tasks to different members of the group to continue the exercise after the workshop.