Future scenario development is a key creative and critical phase in the strategic design research process. By applying anticipation, imagination, creativity and critical thinking, this process element enables the identification of blind spots and stimulates the imagination of alternative futures, breaking away from the notion of a monofuture. Coupled with speculative design and visual explorations, researchers can develop a comprehensive understanding of possible, probable, undesirable and preferable futures. This comprehensive approach facilitates the envisioning of diverse alternatives and distinct futures. It also aids in pinpointing potential risks and opportunities, ultimately equipping organisations to adeptly navigate and prepare for unforeseen changes and discontinuities.
The primary objective of this process element is to generate stimulating, inspiring, and relevant alternative futures that directly address the current design challenge. By pinpointing critical uncertainties and constructing a comprehensive framework for scenarios, researchers can gain a more well-rounded understanding of the challenge space, while breaking free from the limitations of traditional thought patterns. This methodology ultimately paves the way for speculative design and prototyping, promoting the creation of a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable future.
Four lenses into future scenarios
- A novelist creating alternate endings: Like a novelist envisioning different plot twists and alternate endings for their story, researchers imagine various scenarios, each representing a different twist in the future. This approach opens up a broad range of possible futures, encouraging creative preparation and anticipation.
- A cartographer of uncharted territories: Just like a cartographer drawing maps of uncharted territories, researchers map out the unknown future, sketching out different landscapes that could emerge from current trends and uncertainties.
- A time traveller exploring different time lines: Just like a time traveller who has the ability to visit and explore different timelines, researchers journey into different potential futures, each timeline representing a unique set of circumstances and outcomes.
- An explorer finding hidden paths: Just like an explorer unveiling hidden paths in a dense forest, researchers discover previously unseen aspects of the future, preparing the team for unexpected turns in the journey ahead.
- Define the scope: Identify the subject of the scenarios, the timeframe, and the area of impact. The focus could be on a specific industry, social issue, geographic location, or any other domain relevant to your organisation or project.
- Gather intelligence: Employ horizon scanning to collect a diverse range of information, including current trends, uncertainties, drivers of change and weak signals. Incorporate cutting-edge academic research, market and societal trends, and expert opinions to develop a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the landscape.
- Identify key factors and drivers: Analyse your gathered data to identify the key factors, forces, and uncertainties that will likely influence the future of your defined scope. This can include social, technological, economic, environmental, and political drivers.
- Develop preliminary scenarios: Combine the key factors and drivers in different ways to generate a set of preliminary future scenarios. These should be plausible narratives about how the future could unfold.
- Refine scenarios: Use techniques like backcasting, morphological analysis, or the Delphi Method to refine your scenarios. Identify common themes, eliminate duplicates, and ensure each scenario presents a unique and distinct vision of the future.
- Elaborate scenarios: Expand on each scenario, developing a detailed narrative that describes what life is like in that particular future. Consider employing role-playing or speculative design techniques to bring the scenarios to life.
- Evaluate and select scenarios: Review your scenarios and select the most relevant and powerful ones for further development. These should provide a range of different futures, each offering unique insights.
- Present scenarios: Create a compelling presentation of each scenario. This might include written narratives, visual illustrations, data visualisations, or even physical artefacts. The aim is to communicate the essence of each future in a way that engages and inspires your audience.
- Revisit scenarios: Regularly revisit your scenarios to update them as new trends emerge or existing trends evolve. This is particularly important in fast-moving fields, where change can be rapid and disruptive.
- Generate insights and strategies: Use your scenarios as a basis for strategic planning. Identify opportunities, threats, and actions in each scenario that can inform your strategies, policies, and decision-making.
The relevance of future scenario development is far-reaching, offering substantial benefits for clients who engage with alternative futures. By embracing this approach, teams and organisations can obtain a richer understanding of the challenge space and make more informed decisions. This process enables the identification of previously unexplored opportunities and risks, ultimately allowing clients to develop more resilient and adaptable strategies. Moreover, the insights gained from future scenario development can contribute to crafting more effective policies, better creative responses and interventions that promote preferable alternatives.
When conducting future scenario development, it is essential to maintain an open and imaginative mindset. Be prepared to challenge conventional thinking and embrace diverse perspectives. Recognise potential challenges or pitfalls, such as the temptation to focus on familiar scenarios or succumbing to groupthink. Adapt the approach to suit the specific needs and objectives of your organisation or project, and be prepared to revisit and revise your scenarios as new information or trends emerge.