Summer Residential Intensive Masters Program
Dr. Wendy L. Schultz
Infinite Futures

intro/overview | creativity | facilitation
scenario identification and analysis |
scenario building
visions and visioning
strategic planning and change management
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COURSE MODULE: scenario identification and analysis ^>~<! ^>~<! ^>~<! ^>~<!  
6 June
Scenario identification and analysis: "found futures."
Discussion: primary components, classification frameworks, and evaluative criteria; where do we look for images of the future?
Read: Ringland, Pt. II; Miller, 9; Van der Heijden; Schwartz

On-line resources:

Module resources:
Stuart Forsyth's class notes.

Developing a language for scenario analysis:
first notes.

What is a scenario?
It "sets the scene:" creates a context within which we can explore possible future changes and their impacts;
it portrays an image of a possible future.

What is the normal time frame?
e.g., a scenario for next Tuesday is PLANNING... [Yes? No?]
Short-term vs. Long-term depends upon the "perceived moment" --
whether a timeline is long or short is RELATIVE to the perceived moment.

Where is the scenario located on the timeline [and whose timeline is it -- makes a difference: see above]?
What is its REACH into the future?
Might want to consider evaluating a scenario's reach re: plausibility given what is changing.

Some possible sets of words to differentiate among scenarios...
Linear [extrapolate the trends we see today] vs
[highly transformational, shifts of essential quality in systems, rather than just of quantity or degree...]

Or, how many of the STEEP sectors are "in motion"?
How rich/dense are the scenarios?

  • could be "source rich" -- driven by many different sources of change, across several sectors; or
  • could have "detail density" -- offer details and specifics of resultant change within the future described, across several STEEP sectors.

How GROUNDED is the scenario? That is, what is its believable base, or anchors in fact -- what are the real trends or emerging issues of change that might contribute to its plausibility/eventual occurrence.

Does every scenario tell a story? Should it?

Initial set of questions to ask ourselves when first we see an image of the future:

Points of Reference:
time span: how far is this future from our present? 5 years? 10? 30? 200?
who is articulating this scenario/image of the future? analyst? prophet? PR person?
what unit of society does it describe? an individual? a community? a country? etc.
does it offer a transcendent, transformative vision for humanity?

How is it linked to the past -- does it describe the flows of change from our present to its present? does it suggest an action plan to create the image it describes?

Affect -- is it a positive or negative image of the future and if either, why?
Is the point of this scenario/image of the future to state the "most desirable" future?
Is it:

a) transcendent and visionary, or
b) feasible and desirable, or
c) merely a plausible alternative, or
d) a total wild card?

If it is an idealistic scenario, that is, a vision which articulates the ideals and goals comprising a preferred future, are those ideals or goals explicitly or implicitly stated?

Who generated this image? an artistic/intellectual/economic/political elite?
people working in democratic/participatory process?

Does it question common assumptions of the present? If so, which ones?
Does it challenge prevailing ideas and values? If so, which ones?

Is it related to policy-making or decision-making, or generated for those purposes?

How concrete and specific are the details of this image in terms of everyday life?

What does this image tell us about desirable human and social values?
What does it tell us about potential tensions and risks in society?

If it contains a description of the history that bridges from the current present to its future present, has that history been derived by moving backward from a desired state to needed present action, or has it been derived by exploring forward from present trends?

Sir George Thomson has offered several guidelines for forecasting and scenario drafting, among which are....

Scientific principles are frequently 'principles of impotence'...certain things cannot be done,
but they do not say that everything else can, for that would imply that there are no more fundamental principles to discover.
I.e., plausibility means understanding the relationship between the fields of knowledge you admit as legitimate, and the limits you therefore establish of what is and is not possible within your scenario of the future.

Forecasts must have intellectual coherence and scientific plausibility as well as societal acceptability.
While internal logistical consistency is certainly a hallmark of a well-written scenario, and plausible scientific and technological extrapolation can generate surprising results, clinging too closely to notions of societal acceptability may result in surprise-free -- i.e., useless -- scenarios.

Don Michaels ("The Futurist Tells Stories") offers the following:

Three methodological injunctions emerge from this vision of the competent and responsible teller of stories about futures. How these are accomplished in a particular story will depend upon the skill of the teller.

First, shared thoughts about the future ought to include acknowledgement of both the multiple and the problematic nature of the futures explored, and of the descriptions and interpretations of the putative past and present from which the futures derive.

Second, shared thoughts about the future ought to be accompanied by an explicit theory about the processes of social change sufficiently detailed so that the futures described can be derived from it. If there is no such explicit speculative or tested theory, this ought to be acknowledged....

Third, ...thoughts about the future unavoidably engage both constructive and destructive unconscious needs and images that might influence consicous evaluations of purpose and pragmatics.

...the nature of the future world will be an expression of emotions at least as much as rational deliberations, programs, and practices....

WHAT ELSE CAN WE ADD TO THIS LIST? Go to Stuart Forsyth's class discussion notes.