KPUU Framework is a structured technique to think about and discuss the present, based on what is known, presumed, unknown and unknowable. KPUU helps distinguish facts from assumptions, uncover what the participants don't know, and define what is unknowable at this time. The framework was 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. –Silberzahn & Jones

At FoAM we used this framework to map the present condition of a system as a basis for scenario building and other visioning exercises. We found that for our purposes it was often sufficient to look at what is known, presumed and unknown (whether it was unknown to the people in the room, or unknowable to all).


Process

The KPU(U) framework is a moderated discussion that guides the participants to separate what they know, presume and do not know about their present situation. Sufficient space is needed for everyone to sit in a semicircle facing a large writing surface (black/white board or a big sheet of paper). The surface should be divided into three or four columns. Something like this:

If appropriate you can distribute sheets of paper with the same template to each participant (see Step 1a).

  • Step 1: Frame the exercise and let the participants know that you will be moderating the discussion and asking specific questions related to the issue they are exploring and that while they discuss, you will also be noting things in the three or four columns (known, presumed, unknown (and unknowable)). You will discuss one column at a time, but it will be possible to move things from one to the other column upon reflection.
  • Step 1a (optional): Distribute KPU(U) sheets to each participant and invite them to fill them in individually. They can use the sheets in the subsequent discussion and compare them with each other.
  • Step 2: Start the conversation with the question: What is known? What do we know for sure? What are the histories and current facts available about the issue at hand. Think of times, places, people, and other things that are certain. There might be things that some people think are certain and others consider assumptions. Discuss the correct placement before noting things down.
  • Step 3: After you have a sense that the known has bee exhausted, you can move on to the next question: What can we safely presume? What do we think might be true but are not completely certain about? What is likely to be the case?
  • Step 4: When this conversation begins to slow down, bring in the question: What is unknown? List the things that are unknown to the group, but are known to someone else. I.e. things that the group doesn't know at the moment but could, or should find out. Note: If for your exercise it is more appropriate to use only three columns (only 'unknown'), merge the questions from the next step into this one.
  • Step 5: Finally ask, What is unknowable? What is impossible to know at this moment? What is truly uncertain? What are our 'known unknowns'?
  • Step 6: Reflect on the implications of the shared knowledge about the present, as it has been mapped on the KPU(U) table.
    • For the known, reflect on the question, What does this mean to me?
    • For the presumed information (or assumptions), ask: How do we examine the assumptions and test our hypotheses? (E.g. take action, make studies, expose assumptions.)
    • For the unknown, assess if it is important for the issue at hand, and if so, ask how to discover it. Discuss what would be needed for the participants to move the unknowns to knowns (asking questions, finding sources, research, meeting people, etc).
    • For the unknowable, ask: How do we deal with uncertainty? You may decide to either work around the unknowable or to actively shape the situation so the unknowable becomes irrelevant, or find a way to incorporate uncertainty in your work.

References