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Scenarios as Structured Thinking about the Future CSIN Learning Event #25 20 June 2007 Dale S. Rothman International Institute for Sustainable Development.

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Presentation on theme: "Scenarios as Structured Thinking about the Future CSIN Learning Event #25 20 June 2007 Dale S. Rothman International Institute for Sustainable Development."— Presentation transcript:

1 Scenarios as Structured Thinking about the Future CSIN Learning Event #25 20 June 2007 Dale S. Rothman International Institute for Sustainable Development

2 Three Questions Why do we want to think about the future in a structured fashion? What does it mean to think about the future in a structured fashion? What are some difficulties in thinking about the future in a structured fashion and how might we address them?

3 Some Quick Thoughts on the Future If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand. –Confucius, Chinese philosopher & reformer (551 BC BC) Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. –Niels Bohr, Danish physicist ( ) The best way to predict the future is to invent it. –Alan Kay, American computer scientist (1940- ) …is any purpose served by attempting long-term perspectives for a region? Yes!!! I say this not because the forecasts will necessarily be right, but because they may stimulate helpful actions – actions that may, in fact, even render the forecasts wrong. –Ramgopal Agarwala, Indian economist (?)

4 Some Practical Reasons for Thinking about the Future to illuminate potential problems to share understanding and concerns to uncover assumptions and rigorously test them to exploring alternatives in the face of uncertainty to help identify choices and make decisions

5 Why Do We Want to Think about the Future in a Structured Fashion? Relevance of exercise to goals Clarity of communication –what the images of the future are –how these were developed –how insights/lessons derived Defensibility of insights –e.g. robustness of actions, relative desirability of outcomes

6 What Does it Mean to Think about the Future in a Structured Fashion? Be explicit about your purpose Be explicit about your object of study (system) Strive for coherence and consistency

7 What is a Scenario? Scenarios have been defined in various ways. For the purposes here a scenario is a coherent and plausible story, told in words and/or numbers, about a possible future for a specified socio- ecological system. A scenario will generally include: a definition of the system and problem boundaries; a characterization of current conditions and trends and the processes driving change in the system; an identification of the key driving forces, critical uncertainties, and system relationships; a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about driving forces, critical uncertainties, and system relationships; conditional projections of the behaviour of the system based on these assumptions on the rest of the system; and an image of the future.

8 What Scenarios are Not It is now generally accepted that scenarios do not predict. Rather, they paint pictures of possible futures and explore the differing outcomes that might result if basic assumptions are changed. (UNEP, 2002)

9 Scenarios from a Policy Perspective (I) Are there existing or proposed policies you wish to explore? Is there a preconceived end vision, or at least some aspects of a vision, i.e., specific targets? Are the effects of a policy of such magnitude that they would fundamentally alter the basic structure of the scenario?

10 CaseExisting Policies? Preconceived end vision? Policies determine the scenario? Potential Uses A Test ability of policy to create conditions for success. B Test the extent to which the policy can affect change. C Explore role of policy in determining nature of future. D Explore effects of policies under fixed conditions. E Identify policies that can create conditions for success. F Identify policies that can meet specific targets. G Identify policies that may influence the future. H Identify policies and their implications. Scenarios from a Policy Perspective (II)

11 Archetypes of Scenario Analysis for Policy Purpose of analysis Question Policy optimizationWhat policy variant is most effective, cost efficient, fast, acceptable, etc.? Advocacy, vision building What are positive futures we want to move toward? What are negative changes we want to stay away from? Strategic orientationFor what alternative worlds do we need to prepare ourselves? What if our current assumptions were wrong? What would be robust strategies? From presentation by Jan Bakkes (MNP) at Consultative Scoping Workshop on an Environment Outlook for Canada held on 1-2 March 2007 in Montreal.

12 Be Clear and Be Focused UNEPs 4 th Global Environment Outlook 1.What are the likely future consequences for environment and human well being of existing environment and environmentally relevant policies and actions? 2.What are the likely future consequences for environment and human well being of environment and environmentally relevant policies and choices that may be taken in the future? 3.What are the likely future environmental trends? 4.What are the likely consequences of the various policy options and choices for the environment under various scenarios? 5.What are the likely impacts or effects of promising opportunities for policy innovations on the interaction between environment and society? 6.How would the various policy and technology trade-offs between different environmental challenges affect the interaction between environment and society and what is the role of society and enterprises in helping to shape the environment in the future? Manitoba Hydro 1.Under plausible scenarios of climate change, how might MB Hydro need to adapt its resource planning criteria and operational strategies to continue to meet its corporate goals?

13 But Dont Be Narrow

14 What Makes it Difficult to Think about the Future in a Structured Fashion? Ignorance Our understanding is limited Surprise The unexpected and the novel Volition Human choice matters Human beings are rarely passive witnesses of threatening situations. Their responses to threats may be unwise, but they inevitably alter the course of events and make mockery of any attempt to predict the future from extrapolation of existing trends. René Dubos

15 Communication & Outreach Steps in a Scenario Methodology Laying the Foundation for the Scenarios Identifying Driving Forces (d) Selecting Critical Uncertainties (e) Creating a Scenario Framework (f) Clarifying the Purpose and Structure of the Scenario Exercise Establishing the nature and scope of the scenarios (a)Identifying and Selecting Stakeholders/Participants (b) Identifying themes, targets, indicators, and potential policies(c) Developing and Testing the Actual Scenarios Undertaking Quantitative Analysis (h) Exploring Policy (i) Elaborating the Scenario Narratives (g)

16 Tell the Story of the Present (Define driving forces and important themes) How would you describe the region, both its past and present? What are key characteristics of the region – geography, politics, culture, natural environment, institutions? Who are the important actors? What is the relation of the region to the outside world?

17 What are the most important questions being asked about the region today? What do we know with certainty about the future? What do we not know with certainty about the future? Of those things we do not know, which are the most important? Identify the Issues for the Future (Identify and prioritize critical uncertainties and big questions)

18 Process –Synthesis of lay and expert input –Synthesis of participatory processes and desk studies –Synthesis of qualitative narrative and quantitative underpinning Product(s) –Consistent –Coherent –Integrated –Thought-provoking –Compelling Outcome(s) –More flexible mental maps –Relevant insights Goals of Scenario Analysis

19 What Scenarios Can Be A means for enhancing action-related domains of discourse Carlo Jaeger


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