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The University of Edinburgh - Edinburgh Futures Institute

The University of Edinburgh - Edinburgh Futures Institute

The University of Edinburgh - Edinburgh Futures Institute


Our Ethos

At the Edinburgh Futures Institute, we challenge, create, and make change happen. We are focused on tackling today’s increasingly complex issues and shaping a better tomorrow through education and research with a difference. We bring people and disciplines together to spark the unexpected. We are creating a curious, open-minded, thought-laboratory in order to make better futures possible.


The purpose of the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) is to pursue knowledge and understanding that supports the navigation of complex futures. EFI’s distinctiveness stems from our approach to research, education and engagement – an approach that combines multi-disciplinarity with co-production. Working with industry, government and communities (at home and abroad) we will build a challenge-led and data-rich portfolio of activity that has demonstrable ethical, social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts.

Our ethos is:

Critical: Be critical and challenge with kindness, humility and persistence. Nothing should be taken for granted. No assumptions left unprobed. We are working on pressing social issues that need deep and novel ways of thinking: this is not a practice run. We are open, curious, provocative, constructive and mindful of a University’s role in confronting uncomfortable questions.

Participatory: We invite people at all stages of life and from across all disciplines to work hand-in-hand and bring their ways of working and ideas together. Importantly, we also extend this participation and collaboration to industry, the public, and the government.

Future-facing: EFI is a place to embrace the untraditional, the untried and the unexpected. A place where invention and innovation are part of daily life. Here, we define challenges, co-create, envision, experiment, prototype, and evaluate from new perspectives, to make better futures.

Why EFI now?

The biggest challenges facing societies globally are complex and interconnected. Our approach recognises that insight and innovation can come from bringing the arts, humanities and the social sciences into contiguity with data science, engineering, the natural sciences and medicine. And our ethos and commitment to co-production stem from the University’s historic principles of the ‘democratic intellect’ updated now in Strategy 2030. These principles focus on the civic responsibilities of the University is working with and for its wider communities, and the importance of opening up education to all who can benefit.

Our first programme – Data-Driven Innovation

One of EFI’s first major programmes is focused on the challenges and opportunities posed by the revolution in data, digital and artificial intelligence. EFI is a key component of the University’s Data-Driven Innovation contribution to the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. This multi-million-pound investment by the UK and Scottish Governments aims to increase the provision of data and digital skills in the workforce and secure economic prosperity for all.

EFI’s data-driven innovation programme links to four key sectors: financial services (including fintech); creative industries; tourism and festivals; and public services (data civics). Additionally, it has two cross-cutting themes: the ethical implications of data analytics and artificial intelligence; and the future infrastructure needed to drive social, economic, environmental and cultural inclusion.

Application and innovation

We will apply innovation from our data-rich activities to the futures of:

  • Democracy – exploring the changing patterns of, and preferred futures for democracy, governance and policy.
  • Society – addressing the challenges posed by increasingly internetworked yet divided societies.
  • Education – future-making through education policy, philosophies and the ways we teach.
  • Creativity – understanding and utilising creativity as narrative, product, political agenda and practice.
  • Justice – critically engaging with ethics and justice against a backdrop of rapid change and complex global dynamics.
  • Health – driving action-oriented research and practice to promote urban and planetary health.
  • Sustainability – reconciling the resources that populations consume and the carrying capacity of the planet.
  • Economy – scoping futures for finance, policy and infrastructure and their social and economic impacts.
  • History – building futures on and from our archives, heritage and culture.

Campus Features

Our place – the Edinburgh Futures Institute building

Following its renovation, we will move into Edinburgh’s Old Royal Infirmary on Lauriston Place. The Nightingale wards of this building, dating from 1879, were themselves an innovation in medical science, separating disease to limit contagion. With the sensitive renovation of this iconic, Category-A listed building, the University of Edinburgh is transforming it into a space for multi-disciplinary collaboration and partnership.

The 20,000m² space will include state-of-the-art teaching facilities, space for co‐working with industry partners, incubation space for businesses, labs for innovation and prototyping, and exhibition and performance space.

As custodians of this much-loved building, our aim is to fulfil the pledge set in stone above the main entrance: ‘patet omnibus’ – open to all.

In 2022-23, while waiting for the building to be ready for teaching, EFI will deliver teaching activities elsewhere on the University campus.


    • Edinburgh

      56 George Square, EH8 9JU, Edinburgh