Scenario Planning

Scenario Planning developed out of military strategy for ‘VUCA’ situations, and is now being adopted across many industries. Its purpose is to visualise multiple scenarios, in order to mitigate the threats and benefit from the opportunities they present. As Robert Janes describes it, in Museums in a Troubled World, “It is a technique to assist with the creation of new mental models that result in powerful stories about how the future might unfold.” If used diligently and imaginatively, it scaffolds the process of future-gazing to avoid the easy projection of desired futures and/or extrapolation from existing trends. It is most helpful when strongly informed by a wide range of influence factors, and when participants are very clear-sighted about how critical these factors might be, and, crucially, how they dynamically interact with each other.

It will also be more effective if it is repeated regularly.

These are some steps teams might take to try Scenario Planning:

  • Ensure involvement by a ‘diagonal slice’ from an organisation.
  • Establish a specific field of action (e.g. the organisation, its locality, or the wider cultural sector) so that the findings help answer a shared question.
  • Participants should be invited to express their own ideals about the future, as well as their fears. The group can appreciate these, but then deliberately set them and associated emotions aside.
  • Zoom out to take a broad view, accessing data from diverse but reliable sources, and together list some influential factors of change. Consider these factors of change by working through different lenses, so that you consider all possible dimensions. See Flow’s Thrivable Culture toolkit for some lenses)
  • Separate these drivers of change into predictable trends that seem certain to continue (e.g. consumer demand, or use of some resources) and critical uncertainties that could affect change in unpredictable and drastic ways (e.g. social response to a disaster, or impacts of a referendum).
  • Select the two drivers that you think will be most significant for your situation. Choose one that is a trend and one that is a critical uncertainty. Use these to plot the parameters for four different future scenarios, aiming for a pattern as in this diagram.

Screenshot 2018-03-11 11.58.04

  • Next comes the creative part of the process. Give each scenario a name, and flesh it out, thinking about your ‘field of action’. Pay less attention to the scenario in which drivers have less impact but keep it in mind as a reference. Use concrete and imaginative techniques: Consider what a typical working day will look like, or the contemporary artefacts museums might collect, for example. Use drawing or collage, or invent characters. Bring other drivers for change from your longlist into play.
  • Consider which scenario contains characteristics of being the most probable, and which the most preferable. Between these, what would the most possible scenario look like? The most possible scenario would be the most preferable, yet achievable with effort and luck. (You may want to adjust one of your developed scenarios to enhance its characteristics to be more possible.)
  • If you have time, or if there are more groups of participants in the workshop, you could take two more from your initial set of drivers for change, and use these to sketch out four more scenarios.
  • The final step is to discuss the actions needed to move on to your most possible scenarios. You could organise these into categories:
  1. Grand challenges (actions beyond our capacity, requiring policy change or wholly different practices);
  2. Strategies (actions we can collaborate on and plan for);
  3. Tactics (actions we can take now, ourselves).
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