KPUU Framework is a structured technique to think about and discuss the present, based on what is known, presumed, unknown and unknowable. The framework is developed by Silberzahn & Jones, based on the analogs framework of historian Ernest May and political scientist Richard Neustadt:
One tool that Milo and I developed for strategists to think in detail about the present – in other words to answer the pretty basic strategic question “What is going on?” – is a refinement of Neustadt and May’s work. We call it the “KPUU framework”. It demands strategists answer and get agreement about four simple questions about the present: What do we Know (including how did this issue begin)? What do we Presume? What is Unknown (but could perhaps be discovered by finding the right person or source), and what is essentially Unknowable (e.g. consumer acceptance of chemically-enhanced language learning)? An open debate about what data goes in each column – especially what is Unknown versus what is simply Unknowable at this moment – uncovers a huge number of assumptions and also exposes strategists’ differing rules of evidence. This effort to understand more deeply the present is, in our view, more valuable than most efforts to plumb the depths of uncertain futures.
- What do we know for sure – What is Known (K)? In particular, one of the things you want to look at is the origin of the issue: when and how did it start? When did it become an issue for you?
- What can we safely Presume (P)? These are the assumptions that we can safely make about the issue.
- What is Unknown (U1)? These things that are unknown by us but are “knowable” in a real sense by someone. You can unveil these by finding the right person or source.
- What is Unknowable (U2)? These are the mysteries which nobody can know how they will evolve, e.g. consumer acceptance of chemically-enhanced language learning,Here the difficulty is not that we cannot find information, or that someone is trying to keep that information from us, but that information simply doesn’t exist. It is called true uncertainty in a reference to the work of Nobel Prize winner Frank Knight. They are the “known unknowns”.
It is extremely important at this stage to make all assumptions explicit. (…) The idea is not to strive for perfection, for that is an elusive goal, but, again, to have an explicit process for sharing of knowledge, including on things the team disagrees about. In fact, we recommend that people first do their own draft KPUU entries alone and then compare and debate their entries among the team.
Once the KPUU framework creates an explicit, shared inventory of knowledge about the present, including embedded assumptions, then the question of what it all means (implications) can be asked…
Where to go from here, then? Once you’ve filled the table, here is how you can look at the result.
- For the Known information, ask the following question: what does it mean to me?
- For the Presumed information, which really is a set of assumptions, ask: how do we go about examining these assumptions? (take action, make studies, expose assumptions)
- For the Unknown information, assess if it is important to you, and if so, ask how to discover it: who has the answer? How can you get to them?
- For the Unknowable information, you may decide to either work around or to actively shape the situation.
What the steps above suggest is that the KPUU framework, despite its simplicity, will move you towards combining thinking and action. Indeed, KPUU is really strategic thinking in action. Instead of seeing strategy as a sequential process of thinking, then acting, it sees thinking and acting as interwoven. Assumptions and embedded hypotheses are being tested through action. Unknown information triggers action to learn. Unknowable information leads to design activities to shape the environment. These actions generate information and feed the framework back in return. And it is social: The KPUU works best as a team effort, especially with a diverse team.
In our view, only when one can clearly answer in detail “What is going on?”, followed by the question “What does it mean?” can the various options for “What should we do?” be considered.
Finally, note that the only forward-looking question in this framework for non-predictive strategy is the final one, and it is focused internally: ”What should we do?”, not “What will happen?” or ”What will the world be like?”, etc.