Notes from FoAM's Scenario Building experiments, by Anna Maria Orru and David Relan
Note to the reader: this article assumes a basic knowledge of scenario building and strategic foresight. If you are new to this field, we suggest that you first read How to Build Scenarios by Lawrence Wilkinson as an introduction.
FoAM Nordica is developing a set of tools and experiments to link future scenario building with the concept of resilience. By resilience in this context we mean the capacity of a system (e.g. social, urban, ecological) to tolerate shocks and disturbances without falling apart or collapsing into a qualitatively different state. The ability to incorporate future instabilities is an important aspect of resilient systems and is the cornerstone of scenario building.
We'd like to hypothesise that the human ability to plan for the future can increase resilience in our social systems. Through scenario building we can make planning into a playful and empowering activity. We can create vivid stories grounded in the present and open to many possible futures, while at the same time challenging us to imagine the future as a dynamic entity that can grow, decay and even self-destruct.
We wanted to create a scenario-building kit – a symphony of visual tools and storytelling techniques that could be used by individuals, small groups and communities to turn dry and analytical planning into a playful, co-creative and collaborative activity. Through a series of conversations and design sessions the group could prototype possible future scenarios and use these as a framework to create real-life “future pre-enactments.”
Scavenging techniques from our previous projects such as Foodprints and Drivers of Change, we brought them together in a scenario symphony. These tools included the Foodprints ruler and temporal model from FoAM Nordica, as well as the panarchy cycle and Arup’s Drivers of Change food cards. Our challenge was to thread these various approaches together to create scenarios and test them for resilience over time.
To test the scenario building kit, we decided to try it out in practice. FoAM Brussels is located in Molenbeek, one of the “troublesome” communes of the Brussels-Capital Region. Our challenge was to look at what role food could play to improve contact and engagement between different cultural groups in Molenbeek.
FIGURE 1 – Example of a 'Drivers of Change' card (image credit)
FIGURE 2 – Foodprints Ruler (image credit)
FIGURE 3: Scenario matrix
FIGURE 5 – Examples of mapping temporality onto a panarchy model
FIGURE 6 – Active and passive future
The symphony of tools for future scenario building outlined above provides a set of self-contained elements that can be used in different configurations, depending on the needs of participants and the challenges involved. Each of the steps has a different purpose. The matrix delineates types of scenarios, while vantage points and time perspectives allow for different orientations. The approach we took at FoAM was unique in that we used the Foodprints ruler to focus on scenarios related to food, as well as to provide clear parameters and central themes for the discussions to follow. Metaphorically, steps 1–8 map the territory and explore the terrain, while 9–13 look at how the terrain changes over time.
FIGURE 7 – Viewing a scenario from different perspectives
It is our belief that the most important reason for thinking about the future is to learn about and adapt our behaviours in the present. Panarchy and the temporal model can help us reflect on the effect of our mindsets on system-wide changes. Our past past was at one time our future and this past has now determined our present. The panarchy model reflects the unpredictability of the rate of change in systems, but outlines perspectives for understanding this change. In planning for the future with an awareness of our agency and ability to shape change, future scenario building provides us with much more than an arsenal for anticipating potential problems. It shines a light on behaviours and actions which may avert these problems before they arise.
Although our scenario symphony may seem to be a time-consuming process, it can be mixed and matched, providing some playful and imaginative ingredients to probe possible futures. We have attempted to take the rather obscure scientific model of panarchy and combine it with the more conventional instruments used by future-building think-tanks. It is an invitation to use, reuse and recycle. The steps we have utilised follow a pattern derived from a scenario cookbook used by the Stockholm Resilience Centre; however the order and number of steps can be adapted to different needs. It is our wish that each of us begin to compose unique symphonies for scenario building that can work for a diverse range of participants, topics and sites.
If you do embark on the journey, please share your results and feel free to add your composition to our scenario building toolkit.