Alternative scenarios can help us challenge our understanding of how things work in the present and what we expect from the future. By looking back at the present from different future perspectives you get an idea of how e.g. your service, strategy, or business model might take certain aspects of the future for granted. It might flourish in some scenarios and struggle in others.
By using the future as a windtunnel, you might be able to reveal critical blindspots or opportunities for improvement. You can do it alone but we strongly recommend gathering a group.
This guide is just one example of how you can use the scenario kit for testing ideas. It is written for a facilitator, acting as a guide to the future. It uses a few design tools that we’ve found to be helpful over the last couple of years working with futures. We encourage you to bring together a diverse group as it gives the most interesting discussions. The exercises are, however, designed for groups who are investigating the future of the same “thing”. The tools work much the same whether you’re interested in the future of a company, the future of your city, or the future of book clubs.
The following process is built around a single workshop with a group (about 3 hours). It is split into three parts; before, during, and after you visit the future:
It is recommended you read through all three steps before you embark on your expedition.
Like with any other trip, you need to do a few things before you head off into the future. This short section will make sure you and and your group are ready. It will ask you a few questions to think about before you move on, give you some background on the scenario kit, and tell you what materials to prepare.
Try and answer the following questions before getting started. If you’re doing this as a collaborative exercise (as you really should be), make sure everyone else is one the same page before you begin.
Once you’ve identified the area of interest go through the different stories from the scenarios and pick out your lineup of narrators. We recommend about three speakers per scenario and using the same speakers in all four scenarios to really highlight the contrasts.
The scenario kit is built around four scenarios: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta. Each representing an alternative version of a society in 2050. Each scenario ultimately aims to give visitors a glimpse of another human experience: What it feels like living in this world rather than only describing the large-scale implications.
The scenarios are themselves based on a 2×2 matrix with two dimensions. A popular approach, adapted from traditional foresight and scenario planning. Each axis in the matrix represents a major uncertainty about the future. Two questions we don’t know the answer to:
If you draw up both either/or-questions as two dimensions on the matrix you’re left with four quadrants with four unique combinations: The four scenarios.
The underlying matrix — click image to expand.
Different dimensions would yield different scenarios. This can make some people hesitate: “What if the future is nothing like any of the scenarios? Where is the data?”
We tend to answer that the future, most likely, won’t be anything like any of the scenarios we’re visiting. But that is besides the point. We’re not trying to project the most probable future; we’re trying to use alternative plausible futures to stimulate new perspectives on the present.
For your coming session you’ll need four resources for your group: Raison d’être cards (A5 size), baseline sheets (A4 size) and vulnerabilities sheets (A4 size) for everyone as well as a scenario poster (A1 size) for each group.
You can find all four under “downloads”. They can be downloaded and printed out, but none are so complicated, however, that they cannot easily be recreated either by hand (i.e. on paper, a flip-over, or on a whiteboard) or digitally (i.e. shared document, virtual whiteboards, or similar).
Once you’ve prepared all the materials and have everything ready you can head into the future. Before you do that, however, we recommend spending a moment on establishing a baseline.
For many other purposes we’d recommend simply jumping into it and getting started exploring the future. Since you’re trying to test something, however, it can be very helpful to try and answer the question; knowing what we know now, what are we assuming about the future?
To help you answer that use the Baseline sheet. You can fill it out individually, or alternatively, if people are already in groups, together.
Start by having all participants fill out a ‘baseline sheet’ — either individually or together in their group. The point is to capture our current expectations of the future to be able to test it. The basic idea is to have everyone project their expectations in the short term into the long term future. Once everyone has filled out the sheet, have a short round of reflections and move on.
Important note! At this point we’re not looking for a discussion. It is about opening up the future as a space of opportunity — not arguing about what might or might not happen. People should be free to share their own expectations, but make it clear that this is not the time for discussing them. As a facilitator, you should try to establish a welcoming environment. It is critical that no one gets to own the future or decide what is right or wrong.
In the following part you’ll go through all four scenarios. As you do so, you’ll think about what your raison d’être — reason to exist — would be in each of the scenarios.
The simplest way to experience the scenarios is to sit down together and go through one scenario at a time, listening to the stories you find interesting.
For this part of the journey you’ll need your Raison d’être cards. One set per participant.
We recommend the following approach:
After you’ve had a chance to reflect on the stories you’ve listened to, it’s time for the groups to get to work. You’ll do this in two steps:
Use the scenario poster to develop a shared understanding of each of the four scenarios and their implications. The exercise works best in groups but it can also be completed solo. You’ll need a scenario poster for each group.
If you haven’t already, prepare your scenario posters (1 per group). Either print out the one included in the Living Futures Scenario Kit or recreate it on a whiteboard, a flip-over, or similar. Get some markers ready as well as some post-its (it might help to get people involved — sometimes writing directly on the poster can feel daunting).
Get people into groups of about 3-6 people
Fill Scenario Poster
Ask people to begin answering the questions of the scenario poster for each scenario:
Groups are free to start where ever they want but the goal should be for each group to fill out all the boxes on the poster. Try to give the groups at least 60 minutes to get through it all.
Next, use the vulnerabilities sheet to discuss the most important weak points in your current hypothesis (e.g. strategy, business model, or concept.
If you’re interested in doing more with the scenarios, please have a look at the other guides as well as the files section where you can find inspiration for many other exercises.