By Maja Kuzmanovic and Nik Gaffney
This is a step-by-step guide to holding prehearsals for home futurists, distributed collectives and people with complex life-changing questions. It is a work in progress which has been tested with individuals and (small) groups, and will be revised and refined as more prehearsals are realised. Your comments, suggestions, revisions and additions will be most appreciated.
A longer text with our thinking behind prehearsals can be found at prehearsing_the_future.
NOTE: This is version 1 of the prehearsal pocket guide (circa 2012). Current developments can be found here: prehearsal_pocket_guide
This part outlines how to build a scenario, and is based on the model presented by Peter Schwartz in The Art of the Long View.1)
Think about what is vital to your situation and formulate your issue as a question. A good way to start might be to ask yourself, “What keeps me awake at night?”
The key question can be phrased as something specific, along the lines of “Should we do A or B?” But you can also use more open questions, such as those starting with “How do we…”, “what if…”, “what could happen…”, etc.
It is essential to identify and explore the question with everyone involved and to agree that the question is fundamental for the future. Take your time to define a clear and memorable question and try to phrase it succinctly, as you will need to keep it in mind throughout the following steps.
Discuss what factors impact on the context or situation that will influence the outcome of your key question: people, places, resources (material, immaterial), history, technology, and so forth. Try to be specific and exhaustive. Make a mindmap of all the factors that together provide a complete picture of what influences the situation.
Research what external forces influence the local situation (and its key elements). Depending on whether you want to construct your scenario based on facts or more subjective assumptions of the people involved, you can do two things:
Make a list of all the driving forces you have discovered.
Identify the most important driving forces for the outcome of your key question. We ranked them on a scale from 1–10 from least to most important.
Next, identify which of these drivers are the most uncertain. Some drivers are likely to remain more or less fixed and “certain” (for us, “European bureaucracy” was one such driver) while others are mostly in flux and quite unpredictable (“people's motivation”). We likewise ranked the uncertainty of the drivers on a scale from 1–10, from least to most uncertain.
List the drivers on a scale from most to least important and uncertain.
Note: At FoAM we ranked both the local factors and external driving forces based on importance and uncertainty. This meant that our scenario axes could be a mix of internal and external forces.
Select up to three of the “most important and most uncertain” factors from the list. These are the critical uncertainties, and will constitute the axes of your scenarios.
Think about each of these critical uncertainties as a continuum from one extreme to another. For example, if you chose “happiness” as one important and uncertain factor, your continuum might be from “an ocean of tears” at one end to “all smiles” at the other.
Depending on how many critical uncertainties you choose, you'll have up to three axes on which to base your scenarios. Plot the axes on a large piece of paper.
Review what would happen with each of your critical uncertainties in each of the scenarios. Ask what would have to happen to get from where you are now to the situation in the scenario. How did the wider world evolve from the present to this particular future? How did your local situation change?
In a group, come up with an outline of each narrative. This can be short and succinct or detailed and elaborate, but should capture the “essence” of the narrative. From these outlines you can then write out the scenarios as short stories. We drew straws to decide who would write each description.
Note: These subsequent steps diverge from Schwartz's model. Schwartz’s own approach can be found here: http://www.infinitefutures.com/tools/sbschwartz.shtml
Find images that help visualise your scenario. You can use a single image, a moodboard or collage. One image gets the atmosphere across; a moodboard can be used as a visual story where all important elements are connected. (We found Pinterest a good tool to co-create moodboards.)
Depending on the time available and the needs of your scenario, you can go deeper into elaborating how some situations, products, technologies or services might work in your scenario. For example, if it is crucial to have a new technology developed for your scenario to work, think about how you could sketch or mock-up the way this technology could be used, what it would look like, etc.
A speculative design can become a drawing, physical prototype, poster or makeshift interior design. It all depends on how much detail you need to get your scenario across. If you are in a group, it will be necessary to hold one or more co-creation sessions.
Once you have chosen which scenario to prehearse, formulate what you want to examine in the prehearsal. Most likely you will be able to use your key question from Step 1 as a the starting point for the prehearsal. Create a new question to include the issue and critical uncertainties of your scenario. For example, “How will we draw in a future where wood is expensive and computers are wearable?“
Based on your prehearsal question think about how long you would need to prehearse to find satisfying answers. Sometimes an hour is enough, other times a day or a week. Define the duration.
Decide on date(s) for the prehearsal. Leave at least two weeks between this step and the prehearsal, to allow people to prepare. It is useful to specify the exact hour when the prehearsal will start and end.
Decide where the prehearsal will take place, based on the needs of your scenario. Also think about whether the prehearsal should be private or public. If it is public it will necessarily involve people who are not prehearsing. Think about how this will fit with the scenario.
Finally, plan a briefing at least one day beforehand and a debrief one day after the prehearsal.
Translate your scenario narrative into the framework of the prehearsal. Brainstorm about:
In a few clear sentences, describe:
Decide on the minimum amount of props (such as tools, furniture, costumes) that could be used give the participants a sense of being immersed in the scenario. Repurpose existing materials, borrow stuff and mock-up prototypes – there's no need to make big investments (unless your scenario demands it and you have the budget!). Use a minimum amount of materials and effort for maximum effect.
There are quite a few methods you could use here, from design thinking, rapid prototyping, HCI, user-centred design and improv theatre that you could use to help with this step).
Describe in simple instructions what the participants should do before, during and after the prehearsal. This should include anything that people might need to bring. Stress that it is crucial that people remain themselves, but adapted to different circumstances.
To help everyone get into character, suggest that everyone individually think about who they would be and what they would do in the given scenario. How would they have got to where they are in the scenario from where they are today? What would have to happen in their lives and in the world to find themselves in this scenario? What aspects of their characters would come to the fore? What knowledge, skills or talents could be more useful than others?
Even if you co-create the prehearsal together with a group, some people might overlook things that others think are crucial. Therefore it is essential to hold a preparatory briefing at least one day in advance. During the briefing, go through everything you think the participants need to know. Allow plenty of time for discussion afterwards. This will help everyone get into the situation and in character.
Remain yourself, but try out a specific role/attitude that you think you might assume in this scenario. Try to stay “in character” for the duration of the prehearsal: pay attention to how you act, live and work in a situation you're prehearsing. Be aware of your thoughts, words and actions. Note what aspects of being in this scenario work for you and which ones don't. Watch how you react to different people, tools, events and how they react to you.
There is no need to pretend you are fictional character. Instead think carefully about who you are and how you can best engage in the given scenario. This might accentuate a different part of your personality to what you're used to. Observe the changes and interact accordingly.
Immediately after the prehearsal, take some time off – go for a walk, meditate, have a nap or a drink – do something to let go of your prehearsal character. Before speaking to other participants jot down a few personal reflections:
Reflect with everyone involved on the questions in Step 16. End with a discussion on how you could integrate the prehearsal findings in your current situation.
Write clear minutes and share them with everyone.
Once all scenarios have been prehearsed, discuss what their implications are for your current situation and your plans for the future. Note specifically if there are steps that could be put into practice in real life. Agree on any indicators that you should be watching for that show you're heading towards one or aother scenario.
When you go back to your daily life, periodically remind yourself of the key question and the various forces acting on your situation. Watch for early indicators of possible scenarios and adjust your actions accordingly. Remember what you felt like during the prehearsal – what you did as individuals and as a collective, and what impact that had on the simulated situation. If all goes well, this should happen intuitively – just see what emerges and use it to help you make decisions in complex and unpredictable situations.
NOTE: We have found that it is important for everyone involved in the prehearsal to commit to the entire process, as people jumping in and out can disrupt the flow and create misunderstandings.