Joint Research Center’s Scenario Exploration System


In December 2014, the Foresight and Behavioural Insights Unit at the European Commission’s DG Joint Research Centre began collaborating with the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies and the Center for Postnormal Policy and Futures Studies to develop a serious game as part of an ongoing foresight study.

The JRC’s Scenario Exploration System (hereafter JRC SES) was the first product of the newly organized EU Policy Innovation Lab, and the game was envisioned as an integral aspect of the research dissemination and delivery stage for the 2035 – Paths Toward a Sustainable EU Economy project. The final report notes how the JRC SES was developed to foster “a general exploration of the scenarios” and/or “the exploration of a particular issue within alternative scenarios.”

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Ultimately, the JRC SES provides an opportunity for simulation-based engagement on real world issues while encouraging collaboration and, most importantly, futures thinking. This exhibit offers an introduction to the JRC SES as well as an overview of its design. A full report on this project will appear in the March 2016 issue of The Journal of Futures Studies.

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Our primary challenge was: to help people, primarily those who did not participate in the foresight study, come to understand the study’s outputs and, perhaps most importantly, explore and deepen the scenarios. The latter was of utmost importance to achieve the ultimate goal of helping build common visions of a sustainable future. The complexity of the preferred outcomes led the study team to the idea of experimenting with methods that are non-conventional in policy-making circles.

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The JRC SES was engineered to give diverse stakeholders a role-playing opportunity to engender individual and collaborative foresight from unfamiliar and contrasting perspectives. Complementing this role-playing game dynamic, each game participant is responsible for co-creating a shared narrative during gameplay. More specifically, the game consists in making four actors from three stakeholder groups (businesses, policy makers and civil society organisations) try to achieve their respective long-term objectives under the watch of the public in the context of two contrasting scenarios.

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The JRC SES was developed over a four-month period using an iterative design process that included running 10 prototyping sessions. Players were selected from various services of the European Commission and from other organisations (industry, civil society, academia, etc.). Using this model we conducted separate two-day testing sessions in January 2015 and February 2015 with a total of four testing groups with each group split into Game A and Game B cohorts. We did our utmost to get as much feedback as possible before putting forward our final design.

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Each gaming session requires a Game Master—a facilitator to present the key framing elements at the basis of the stories to be developed, preserve the scenario logic and assist players when needed. The Game Master engages with the players to select a set of scenarios to explore based on the interests of the group. She provides the group with a brief summary of the nuances and characteristics of the four scenarios.

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The first scenario card is placed at the center of the game board in the appropriate space. This card indicates the resource allocation for each role in this scenario. Next, five of the core drivers (Climate Change Impacts; Consuming Class Booms; Urbanization; Influence of Millennials; Hyper-connected World) in each scenario are already defined by the scenario itself, and the Game Master places those drivers within the spaces on the board numbered 1-5. The sixth “variable” driver is selected by the group through either a) discussion or b) random selection, and is placed in the appropriate space on the board.

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After each player has placed a vision card, gameplay begins five years into the future with a short introduction to the world currently in play. The two subsequent horizon-based rounds (10 years, 20 years) lead players to explore and deepen the understanding of what the path towards the scenarios entails. Players make moves by developing action cards, which they generate based on the specifics of their role and the set of events relevant to the current round.

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In the first round (near-term future), players can only create individual action cards, but collaboration with other players becomes key in later rounds. Collaborative actions require agreement from all involved parties and shared resource investment, which may not be possible for all players given the imbalanced resource distribution of each scenario. A limited pool of resources, known in the game as Resource Tokens, are attributed to each role weighted according to a role’s position of influence, capacity, and/or power within each scenario.

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A multiplier system, known in the game as Future Impact Tokens, are the primary resource of the Public Voice player, whose main task is to judge all other player actions. In placing tokens on each action card played, which doubles as a form of scoring and weighting, the Public Voice player exercises a significant amount of power in judging how successful actions are, although the degree to which they are integral to the narrative is dependent upon how much players invoke public sentiment when action cards are played.

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After having played more than 20 games (more than 100 participants), it is possible to formulate some general lessons learned from gameplay and participation in SES sessions. Overall, players have found the game to be very fun and enjoyable, while increasing the understanding of alternative possible future scenarios. The SES acts as a foundation for communication between players who would not otherwise interact spontaneously. We believe the SES draws on the “social praxis” of critical social science, and, perhaps most importantly, evokes an epistemology for sustainable development that is, by its very design, a means of “organized self-reflection” (Carr & Kemmis 1986, 149).


Carr, W. and S. Kemmis. 1986. Becoming Critical: Education, Knowledge, and Action Research. New York, NY: Deakin University Press.

Laurent Bontoux, Daniel Bengtsson, Aaron B. Rosa, & John A. Sweeney


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