By Glen Hiemstra, 2001
During the past decade, a new form of planning has become popular in organizations. It is Scenario Planning. In fact, Futurist.com has been asked as often to assist in developing scenario plans as we have traditional strategic plans in the past five years.
Developed and refined during the 1970’s and 1980’s, the purpose of this approach to planning is to anticipate possible futures and imagine alternate strategic responses to these futures.
“The objective is to develop several plausible stories that describe how the world may in fact develop, given certain future events, trends and developments.”
Future scenario development is not designed to determine a “most likely” scenario, nor is it designed to develop a “range” of scenarios such as “high-low-medium growth scenarios”. The objective is to develop several plausible stories that describe how the world may in fact develop, given certain future events, trends and developments. Then, the task is to discern strategic responses to these plausible futures. As such, this process recognizes the uncertain and often surprising nature of the future as it actually unfolds.
A team may develop scenarios in a single concentrated event. Or, many teams may work for months or more. Each scenario begins with a set of assumptions about the probable future, often called the “pre-determined elements”. For example, the population will grow older, and computing technology will become faster and cheaper. Each scenario is also assigned a unique set of possible futures, often called “critical uncertainties.” For example, evidence of global warming caused by humans will become overwhelming, and a cheap and non-polluting means of harnessing ocean energy will be developed. The scenario then is written as a history of the future, in which the pre-determined elements and the critical uncertainties play out.
At Futurist.com our primary emphasis has always been on creating the “preferred future.” Thus, we have developed methods to push alternative future scenarios toward a preferred scenario for the organization, the community, or whatever enterprise is planning for its future. This approach has been applied to community futures, to transportation, to future libraries, and to information technology organizations.
Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, author, consultant, blogger, internet video host and Founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.