Scenario Exercise - Anticipating The Future

Posted on by Brandon Klein

The scenario is a basic tool for talking about the future and being anticipatory — prepared for the changes that will occur in your working environment. Since the future is by definition not predictable with any precision, we develop scenarios – specific predictions that individually may or may not prove true, yet collectively form a picture of a possible future. The value of the exercise is not dependent on the validity of any individual prediction: the overall picture is usually the most important element. Many organizations use scenario development as the basis for a rigorous process of contingency planning. The way this module work is as follows: a large WorkWall is templated with a timeline, starting with the current year and moving 20 to 50 years into the future. The WorkWall is sometimes also divided into horizontal tracks (for example, global, national, regional, local, organizational; or social structure, economy, ecology, technology, industry, organization). For each round, participants individually come up to the WorkWall, make a prediction, then write it in the appropriate space on the templated wall. After each participant has made a prediction, start the next round. Three or four rounds is typical: for example: first round, name an event you think will occur, and when; second round – name a trend which you think will be significant; third round – name something you’re afraid will occur; fourth round – name an event which you will be part of making happen.

To have participants start to think about the future and to grasp the significance of the rapid rate of change expected. To use the future as a tool, by building models of the future into one’s plans and planning process. To reveal hidden assumptions about the future, so those assumptions can be examined and/or tracked.

This is a major Scanning tool. It asks the Identity issues of who we are, where are we, and what happens next. In the “classic three-day DesignShop” this is the first module following the Introduction, and is given about 2 hours.

Strengths — Challenges and changes participant’s assumptions. Contradicts the common paradigm of “if it’s not credible, we can’t (or won’t) talk about it.” Changes the game, giving a new context or framework to discussion. Puts participants in a frame of mind to explore various “what if’s...” and consider “not- yet-credible” information (see model, S’Poze). Weaknesses — Provides too broad a Scan for some purposes. Specifications for Success —
1. Tailor the length of the timeline to the scale of the participant’s mission: it might be 5 years or it might be 200.  
2. Tell participants to stretch; this isn’t about playing it safe. Ask them to name their prediction and turn it over the next person, without adding explanation or justification for their prediction.
3. Start the exercise by giving a prediction of your own. If the predictions get too predictable, consider adding a few other wild examples of your own.
4. Consider limiting each round to a specific defined category (or track on your WorkWall), if for example, you anticipate participants concentrating too much in one area (like their own organization or industry).

• If used early in a process where participants may be new to one another, have them briefly introduce themselves as part of the first Scenario round; share something they’re passionate about in the second; something about themselves that no one else in the group knows in the third; and to name a trend or event from the Scenario that in which they will participate in the final round.
• If you want to track the ideas, or learn more about individual participants, request that participants put their initials alongside their predictions.
• Have staff scribe the predictions, rather than having participants come up to the wall individually.
• Ask participants to use the color markers with these meanings in mind: black for events we see as negative or difficult; red for significant problems; blue for events we see as exciting, but can’t say if they’re positive or negative; green for events we see as opportunities.
• At the close of the Scenario module, or later in the process, have participants “blitz” the board, individually adding ideas and events.
• Scenario development is a common DesignTeam assignment; even if the participants have already developed a scenario as a large group exercise, a team can be assigned to synthesize and develop the scenario further.
• Scenario development is often the lead-in to Best Case /Worst Case planning (see module explanation).
• Scenario can include a scan of the past as well as prediction of the future, e.g., 100 year timeline past, 100 years future.

Also see dozens of other Scenario Examples