Scenarios: A Hero’s Journey across Turbulent Systems

by Wendy L Schultz, Christian Crews & Richard Lum


The most widely used approach to scenario building for scenario planning purposes is the deductive, ‘axes of uncertainty’ approach developed by Ogilvy and popularized in Schwartz’s (1991) The Art of the Long View. It has been critiqued for creating a ‘flatland’ of futures – future worlds in which currently held ideologies and worldviews were insufficiently examined and critiqued. Additionally, the approach is essentially binary – attempting to create four unique futures from only two main drivers of uncertainty. While participants contribute during the process, the final scenarios are often drafted by outside writing talent.
We recently tested an integrated foresight process for participatory scenario generation that addresses those weaknesses. This process builds scenarios up inductively: via layers of timeline mapping using the Three Horizons framework; via implications mapping using Futures Wheels augmented with the Verge Ethnographic Futures Framework; and via influence mapping using systems thinking. The resulting influence maps are reviewed for emerging causal loops that represent accelerated change, or constraints on change. The systems maps then become the contextual ‘backdrop’ or scenery of the scenarios; a framework of Jungian archetypes helps participants to suggest a cast of characters with emotional resonance; and the ‘Hero’s Journey’ narrative arc assists participants in devising a compelling story set against backdrops of turbulent change within complex systems. The process was pilot tested within a Fortune 500 company and produced scenarios that are now significantly embedded within the organizational culture.

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