Scenario method

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Our primary method of realizing the purpose of the project In100Y is through the enactment of scenarios. Scenarios were first used by the RAND Corporation (Herman Kahn), later by Royal Dutch Shell (Peter Schwartz), and other multinational companies. Today, scenario methods and processes are among the most frequently used methods in the futurist’s toolbox. Often scenario processes function as a way to integrate a range of other methods in a futures project.

Scenarios can be defined as “internal coherent descriptions of alternative images of the future”. Futurist Joe Coates has defined scenarios as “holistic, integrated images of how the future may evolve” and futurist Hirschorn has the shortest version, which seems to sum it all up quite well. To him scenarios are “histories of the future”.

Despite the variety of specific scenario methods used in Futures studies, there is consensus on the main aspects of the method:

  • Firstly, scenarios are not predictions of the future. The aim of scenario processes is not to foresee the future, but rather to show how different interpretations of driving forces can lead to different futures.
  • Secondly, scenarios are developed to make better decisions in the present about matters that have long-term consequences for the future.

Scenarios are normally prepared in multiples in order to emphasize the possibility of different alternative futures. By setting up several scenarios for the future development, one is delineating a “possibility space”, within which the future development is likely to unfold. In this way, simplified, single-dimensional evaluations are avoided.

The application of scenario methods is not so much a question of areas or subjects, but more a question of stable or unstable environments. Scenario methods are suited for a changing environment; a society in change or discontinuities; a shift in values or a shift in logic. Given the common assumption that the future is uncertain and unpredictable, scenario methods are applied to more and more areas. The strength of the scenario method lies in its ability to give an overview of complex situations. It can be both intuitive and analytically based, and takes both important uncertainty and choices into account.

Scenario steps
There are many different ways to construct scenarios: normative, explorative, descriptive, and quantitative amongst others. The scenario method used in this project couples two fundamental types of scenarios. Explorative and normative scenarios. The process is structured by the following steps;

  • Framing: Scoping the project – develop and defining the key terms, problem formulation.
  • Scanning: Collecting information – systems, qualitative and quantitative research, interviews, historic developments, new research.
  • Forecasting: Trends, uncertainties, drivers of change. Developing baseline scenario.
  • Foresight: Challenge the baseline scenario and develop alternative futures.
  • Visioning: Unfolding the preferred futures and do back casting for ways of realization – starting now.
  • Planning and action: Strategy, options, agenda setting and acting.

House of Futures will start by developing 3-5 scenarios focusing on redefining the relationship between sustainability and growth. Then we rework these into one or two preferable scenarios for 2112 under the heading of “This way, please!”

Read the whole article about the process design of In100Y here