Help with Scenarios
From time to time we respond to questions about the future sent in via email by readers. We don’t have a lot of time for this, but when a question seems especially interesting we offer our thoughts.
K. Donnelly sent this question:
My name is K. Donnelly and I am a student @ UCCS. After reading Joe Coates book 2025 I fell in love with Future Studies as a discipline and I joined the WFS. In my enthusiasm I as well created a future studies class curriculum for a Future Studies 350 class. This semester I registered for an applied Sociology class @UCCS, and much to my surprise, was given an assignment to investigate trends and create a scenario for the year 2050 regarding the Future of the Homeless. Would you be so kind as to help me develop a outline of how you might proceed with your expertise. I have a slew of data (tech. advances, health, education, cyber stuff; employment etc.) and I am overwhelmed with how to structure this paper. I as well am interested in obtaining future culture and social data.
Thank you for both your time and thoughtfulness in helping me. I really appreciate it.
Response by Glen Hiemstra, 2001
Dear K. Donnelly,
Congratulations on your initiative in creating a Futures Studies curriculum. I think it is a great field, having migrated myself from Political Science to Communications to Futures Studies in my academic career, first as a student, later as a Professor.
Your research task can be daunting, given how many variables could impact the future of the homeless in 50 years. Here are a few suggestions to help you narrow it down.
First, consider whether you are dealing with the homeless in the United States/North America, or globally. If you want to consider issues globally, then the question of global refugees comes up. One of the things that I expect is that in the next 50 years we will see greater pressure for economically driven migration and refugee populations. If this is of interest to you, send an email to a former student of mine from years ago, who now works on global refugee issues, and last year worked on a research project on the future of refugees. They developed several scenarios for the future of refugees. You might want to ask her for the scenarios just to have examples at hand. They can be emailed.
Next, to develop your own scenario, I would suggest two techniques. One I have developed based on the work of Peter Schwartz, author of The Art of the Long View. I will attach a word document that walks you through the steps. You can do this on your own, and it is a good way to organize your information.
I would also suggest that you use a second tool, known as a “futures wheel.” You might have learned about it already. I will attach a PowerPoint document with an example. What you do is select the three or four key trend factors that you think will impact the future of homeless. You place one of the trends in the center circle and then start asking, “what will be the impact of this trend,” and then in the next outer ring you ask, “what will be the impact of this impact?” This technique can give you a kind of brainstormed outline on which to base the writing of your actual scenario. You end up with ideas about “if this happens then that happens, and if that happens then this happens.”
You can use the futures wheel to assess what will happen with both very likely trends, and the most critical uncertain trends that you have discovered using the scenario process that I have outlined.
This work will seem a little tedious, but if you put just a couple of hours into using these tools, (using all the information that you already have in your mind and in your research), you will be able to construct a great scenario.
K. Donnelly responds:
You are my hero! Thank you so very much for this invaluable information. Will send you my first scenario when I finish its creation!