Thinking our way into the future – scenarios and visioning

Scenarios are stories about how the future environment might unfold for our organizations, our issues, our nations, and even our world. They are not predictions, but rather act as plausible descriptions of what could happen. They are stories built around carefully constructed plots, based on drivers, events and ‘trends’. They assist in the selection of future strategies, they reveal uncertainties opening up lateral thinking and initiating a learning process. In this way they are part of the planning process, and need to be incuded as part of the wider plan, act, reflect cycle. The following links describe scenario and visioning descriptions, steps and examples. They show how there are different approaches, and indicate which are better suited to different aims.

Introduction to scenario thinking concepts
This GBN short document reminds us that scenarios help us to develop and test strategic choices under a variety of  plausible futures. It also has additional benefit of promoting high levels of organizational learning and collaboration, which the authors suggest are often not as deeply embedded in other strategic practices.

What If? The art of scenario thinking for nonprofits
This online book by Diana Scearce, Katherine Fulton highlights that scenario thinking is both a process and a posture. It is the process through which scenarios are developed and then used to inform strategy. After that process itself is internalized, scenario thinking becomes, for many practitioners, a posture toward the world—a way of thinking about and managing change, a way of exploring the future so that they might then greet it better prepared. The guide was intentionally designed to be read either whole or in sections, with each chapter addressing a specific aspect of the art of scenario thinking.

Scenario-based strategizing: Advancing the applicability in strategists’ teams
In this 2017 paper Thomas Lehr and colleagues remind us that,in general, scenario planning and strategy formation should be further integrated Their paper then goes on to look at how scenario planning can be further improved to allow the strategizing team to self-run or at least participate more actively in the process.

Scenario-driven roadmapping for technology foresight
This 2017 paper links ‘scenarios and roadmapping’. It suggests using: i) using scenario planning first to identify plausible images of the general environment and then using the scenarios for technology roadmapping; and ii) taking advantage of ‘flex points’ – critical developments which would signal transitions along particular pathways – to create a ‘radar’ to support effective monitoring of the environment over time.

Learning to use the future: developing foresight capabilities through scenario processes
This 2015 paper by Martin Rhisiart, Riel Miller and  Simon Brooks presents the results of a reflective survey conducted by participants in which they self-evaluate how their understanding of the future has been affected through their full immersion in the scenario process. The paper outlines how immersion in scenario activities can change the capabilities of the individuals and organizational systems to understand the nature and role of the future for what they perceive and what they do.  This suggests that companies should invest in pedagogically rich scenario processes that develop the capability of managers to sense changes and think strategically about these.

Combining backcasting and exploratory scenarios to develop robust water strategies in face of uncertain futures
This 2013 paper by Mathijs van Vliet & Kasper Kok looks at how to combine exploratory and normative scenarios in the identification of robust actions: providing a guide to actions that are effective in the different socio-environmental contexts sketched in the exploratory scenarios.

Picture this – a guide to scenario planning for voluntary organisations
This 2006 guide by Caroline Copeman and Megan Griffith is intended to be used to help the reader facilitate the process of scenario development. It is a practical guide with a series of templates and tools to help plan and run scenario planning workshops and engage your organisation.

Futures toolkit for policy-makers and analysts
The Futures Toolkit (2014) provides a set of tools to help embed long-term strategic thinking within the policy process, and explains how to ensure they have real impact. It has been developed by the UK Cabinet Office and Government Office for Science, and is intended for policy officials and analysts across government.

A Primer on Futures Studies, Foresight and the Use of Scenarios
This 2001 article by Joseph Voros provides a very brief ‘primer’ on futures studies and foresight – and is still useful as a beginning in this area. The author’s intention is to provide some solid starting points and orientation for people who are new to this field of study, and to place the use of scenarios and scenario planning into context as one methodology within a much broader foresight framework.

Scenario Development: A Typology of Approaches
In “Think scenarios, rethink education”, Philip van Notten (2006) makes a classification of scenario methods based on contemporary scenario practices. He draws on some 100 studies of scenario applications carried out since the mid-1980s by institutions and private businesses in a wide cross-section of sectors such as in environment, energy, transport, technology. He illustrates the variety of today’s scenario development approaches, and seeks to identify common characteristics and prerequisites for successful scenario work.

Visioning scenarios – show the future
This page from ODI describes scenarios as a way of developing alternative futures based on different combinations of assumptions, facts and trends, and areas where more understanding is needed for your particular scenario project. They are called ‘scenarios’ because they are like ‘scenes’ in the theatre – a series of differing views or presentations on the same general topic. Once you see several scenarios at the same time, you better understand your options or possibilities. The site also shows the broad steps involved, and provides links to related resources.

Scenario Analysis: A Tool for Task Managers
This 2001 paper by Jonathon Maack provides a solid introduction to scenario development. Scenario analysis focuses on the areas of greatest uncertainty for a country or an operation, systematically develops several plausible alternative future environments in which the operation might be implemented, and determines how they would affect its success. This paper outlines the key stages of a scenario process, and provides a guide to what is involved in building the scenarios.

An accompanying LfS page provides an overview of some of the more commonly used strategic analysis tools. These include the use of SWOT, TOWS and STEEP analyses to complement scenario development and consideration.