Scenarios

(source: EFP foresight guide)

A scenario is a “story” illustrating visions of possible future or aspects of possible future. It is perhaps the most emblematic Foresight or future studies method. Scenarios are not predictions about the future but rather similar to simulations of some possible futures. They are used both as an exploratory method or a tool for decision-making, mainly to highlight the discontinuities from the present and to reveal the choices available and their potential consequences.

UK foresight "environment" scenarios

To be effective, scenarios must be plausible, consistent and offer insights into the future.

  • Plausibility: A scenario must be plausible. This means that it must fall within the limits of what might conceivably happen.
  • Consistency: A scenario must be internally consistent. This means that the combination of logics in a scenario must not have any built-in inconsistency that could undermine the credibility of the scenario.
  • Decision-making utility: each scenario, and all scenarios if they constitute a set, should contribute specific insights into the future that will lead to the decision focus that was selected.

How to build a scenario?

There are many different possible ways of developing scenarios. EFP guide divides the process into 6 steps:

  • Step 1: Identify the focal issue: “What are the key factors we would like to know about the future in order to improve the quality of our decisions?”
  • Step 2: Identify the key drivers that will influence the listed key forces at macro and micro-level. The list of the driving factors should include Social, Technological, Economic (macro), Environmental, Political and Values (STEEPV).The aim is to start building a conceptual model of the relevant environment that includes critical trends and forces and maps out the cause-and-effect relationship among the forces.
  • Step 3: Rank the driving forces on the basis of two criteria: the degree of ‘importance’ of the focal issue identified in Step 1, and the degree of ‘uncertainty’ surrounding those factors and trends.
  • Step 4: Selecting scenario logics. The results of the ranking exercise of previous step help identifying the axes along which the scenarios can be constructed.
  • Step 5: Develop a number of internally consistent story lines which project as much as possible of what has been learned through the process up to now. Scenarios should be plausible, different, consistent, challenging and relevant for decision making.
  • Step 6: Implications of scenarios: “What are the strategic implications of the scenarios for the particular decision we selected at the outset of this process?”, “What options do the scenarios suggest?”

When to use scenarios?

Scenarios can help public sector executives to think in a disciplined way about the future when making public policy decisions. The method helps the decision-maker to consider the range of plausible futures, to articulate preferred visions of the future, to use what is learned during the scenario development process in the formal decision-making process to foster exceptional leadership. It also helps to stimulate creativity and to break from the conventional obsession with present and short-term problems.

Examples & more information

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