The Sociovision Approach
approach offered by
Joop De Vries, Sociovision
14 November 2001 (as described by W. Schultz)
Let us begin by considering
a working definition of "scenario:" in Royal Dutch
Shell, scenario building meant "thinking the unthinkable"
-- harnessing and mobilizing ideas that are not obvious to all (Note:
this is very similar to Jim Dator's First Law of Political Futuristics,
"any useful idea about the future should appear to be ridiculous.").
Shell generally uses only two -- at the most, three -- scenarios
at a time. This is because people must be able to keep all
the scenarios in mind constantly as a context for discussion and
The benefits of scenario
building rest not in the completed scenarios, but in the process
of development itself, and in the subsequent common language participants
in the process share: they can use this common language as
a tool to explore the benefits ,costs, and trade-offs of any potential
decision, initiative, or plan. More specifically, they can
consider the short-term trade-offs in comparison to long-term trade-offs;
the scenario building process creates a language to facilitate that
comparison. Scenario building also clarifies priorities in
considering trade-offs under very different possible future conditions.
For strategic thinking,
decision-makers are best advised to build scenarios around specific
issues, programs, products, or events. While we can build
scenarios for the future of society in general, it is a very elaborate,
time-consuming process. Because of the breadth of descriptors
and variables required to describe different possible outcomes for
society as a whole, the process requires re-iterative data-gathering
and brainstorming to cover the necessarily larger set of actors
and structures involved.
This is a very organic,
evolutionary scenario building process, built on a dialogue focussed
by eight basic questions.
What is the significant issue, program, product, or event
for which we wish to explore alternative outcomes and their implications?
Write down the focal issue.
Map the present: what structures, feelings, reactions,
values are on participants' mental maps right now with regard to
Ask, "what next?" What could be potential
outcomes of this issue, program, product, or event? State
the possible outcomes in a few words: a short, vivid phrase.
Let participants spend some time exploring alternative possible
outcomes, bearing in mind that those alternatives will in many cases
contradict or exclude others on the list. This is the space
in which to consider not only likely outcomes, but also unthinkable
Let participants sit back and consider the list for a few
moments. Identify those outcomes that indicate opposite possibilities,
or a branching point in the evolution of impacts and outcomes.
Focus on the branching points of particular interest strategically,
or that the group feels represents a critical pattern worth exploring.
Cluster elements on the list of potential outcomes that
are logically consistent with the main "branches" you
For each "branch," look for a phrase that sums
up or identifies the deepest,
structure defining that branch of outcomes; that phrase is your
Ask, with regard to each of your “branches”
or scenarios, “what does this mean for the main players involved
in this story?”
Finally, ask what your organization or company, and the
people in it, would do in the environment described by each scenario:
how would your company deal with the conditions in that possible
- Event: the tragedy
of September 11th.
- Present mental “structures”
or mental map of the issue:
What next? What are
some potential outcomes?
- Cocooning at home;
- Wonder; curiosity
– what mindset lets someone do such a thing?
- Curiosity –
what is this culture, this religion, relatively unfamiliar to
- Inequity –
Does this list seem
to indicate any branching points that you want to explore?
- Internal ethnic
conflicts in developed countries
- Insecurity –
unknown threats surfacing in the future
- Business as usual
- New world order
- US isolationist,
closes doors, vs.
- US opens up, joins
- Spiritually, religious
- New global ecumenism
- Dialogue, diplomacy
- Islam identity clarified
- Consolidate, rejuvenate
Using the rule of
logical consistency, cluster other outcomes on the list with the
major branch to which they relate the most, e.g.,
- US isolationist
vs. US opening up;
- Religious polarization
vs. global ecumenism;
- Escalation of violence
vs. dialogue and diplomacy
- Business as usual
vs. a new world order.
as usual:” escalation of violence, internal ethnic
conflicts in developed countries as well as continued inequities
in global economic system feed simmering tensions and unrest
socially and economically – US grows more isolationist;
identity:” a new world order, with an Islam consolidated
and rejuvenated, tensions settled by dialogue and diplomacy
which allow multiple actors to succeed in the international
economic arena, and international relations marked by the US
opening up, joining in the discussion and action on major global
concerns, and a new global ecumenism.
NOTE: it may almost
be considered a “base case” outcome that one faction
will wish to push ahead in the traditional way, viewing any critical
issue as a “win-lose” situation, where there can be
only one winner. Opposing this is a transformative pattern
characterized by multiple actors, multiple regions, working on critical
issues via dialogue. Some of the commonest patterns we see
are distinguished by the number of key players: unipolar,
- What phrase highlights
the deepest structures of each scenario? Do “Business
as Usual” and “Islamic Identity” focus on the
essential characteristics defining and distinguishing these two
sets of outcomes?
- What would “Business
as Usual” mean for the US government? Companies and
investors in the US? European governments and financial
institutions? The Islamic world? Asia? How would
conditions and decision environments for all of those actors change
in the context of the “Islamic Identity” scenario?
- What would your company
or organization change about its current strategies, partners,
subsidiaries, clients, markets, product line, financing, or long-term
planning, given the conditions of each scenario?
Remember, this process
is meant to produce extended conversations that explore in depth
not only the potential changes in overt political and economic structures,
but also changes in feelings, values, and worldviews among populations
relevant to your organization. The end result of this structured
dialogue should be the common language about possible alternative
futures that will become part of the planning shorthand in your