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SCENARIO INCASTING: Exploring Possible Alternative Futures
as developed at the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies

This exercise uses a foresight technique called incasting:thinking up the specific details of a possible future based on a more general scenario description. Incasting begins with an array of possible futures: several different scenarios, all based on observed trends and emerging issues in society, the economy, technological innovation, the environment, and political activity. Descriptions of five different POSSIBLE futures have been distributed. You and your working group have been assigned ONE of those scenarios.

IN USING SCENARIOS for this exercise, it is important that you suspend your disbelief. Do not ask HOW this scenario came to exist; do not question its fundamental assumptions: you have awakened to find yourself living in it. What is your life like?

Each group should designate one person to act as your group’s recorder

Given the characteristics of this scenario, and following the rule of logical consistency, what would the following be like in this future?

  • Commuting to work
  • Health care
  • Leisure activities [what do people do for fun?]
  • Education [what skills or substantive knowledge do people need most, how is that passed from one generation to the next?]
  • Crimes [what would be illegal given the values and perspectives of this future?]

Report your findings as a series of headlines in the news media appropriate to this future [and tell us how news gets disseminated].

Imagine what political controversies, international events, critical issues, awards, celebrations, sports events, and other newsworthy items might occur in this future. Take details to their logical, if extreme, conclusions. Remember that some traditional activities, offices, organizations, and lifestyles may disappear entirely in your scenario. Some lifestyles and activities may be transformed, existing in this future in an entirely new form. And this future may compel the creation of entirely new offices, services, businesses, schools, and activities. Exceed the boundaries of the present wherever it seems logical given the context of the scenario: your suggestions only need to be logically consistent with the assumptions of the scenario.

Be prepared to present your headlines and cartoons to the group as a whole.


The Continued Growth Future

“Continued Growth” describes a future in which the global economic system becomes more and more efficient and effective at mass production, distribution and marketing:  the extreme outgrowth of the global mass media/ consumption trends.

The late ‘80’s and ‘90s saw increasing privatization of government services, in an attempt to cut back on government spending and the federal deficit.  “Education Alternatives, Inc.” was brought to court in 2012 on charges of monopolizing the primary and secondary educational sector.  The Fortune 500 added so many employee amenities to to their benefits packages that corporate citizenship became more important than country of origin.  The result was the growth of the corporate-nation-states, and global market integration and homogenization.  Technological innovations in 2023 go swiftly from lab to production line to market, and global market saturation time for new consumer products has dropped to less than one year.  The rich and the poor have better access to more goods, and the elite are now those who command the corporations’ executive privileges.  Environmental preservation occurs only insofar as it maintains comparative economic advantage.

The Decline and Collapse Future

“Decline and Collapse” describes a future of global breakdown:  economic, political, and environmental.”

A worldwide depression in 2001 generated by the instabilities of over-heated Asian and American stock markets , and triggered by the havoc the “Year 2000 problem” wrought on the international financial communications links, caused the collapse of the international economic system.  This collapse was made worse by terrorism, regional wars and border skirmishes, and environmental problems.  Technological systems and communications  links never fully recovered from the Y2K glitch -- and the attendant “quick fix” patches that many desperate systems administrators attempted; international production and distribution of goods collapsed, as many of the automated resource, inventory, and tracking systems had sufferered their own Y2K snafus; and the internal distribution of needed goods and basic services also collapsed in many countries.  Countries became more isolated from each other, and communities became isolated within countries.  By 2023, we have seen the return of city-states, urban tribal systems, war clans, and roving bands of refugee nomads on both land and sea.

The Sustainable Development Future

This scenario, sometimes called the “Green Future,” or “Conserver Society,” emerges from the growth of environmental values and ecological concerns worldwide.

The undeniable environmental changes witnessed around the globe in the late nineties and early aughts shifted values everywhere away from materialism, and toward an intense respect for the environment.  This respect translated into the use of appropriate technologies, the development of environmentally-friendly high technologies, and the resurrection of traditional modes of relating respectfully to nature.  The cascade of application breakthroughs in the 2010s in genetic engineering and biotechnology allowed advanced bioremediation of polluted areas and the beginning of re-establishment for endangered and extinct species, although even by 2023 only a fraction of the needed ecological repairs had been made.  More and more human communities scaled down from metropolises to towns.  Socialization in the 2020s stresses self-sufficiency, re-use of material goods, targetted, high-efficiency use of resources, and nurturing the biosphere.  As a result of the shift away from materialism, a much higher value is now placed on learning and the arts.

The Disciplined Society Future

The  “Disciplined Society”emerges from worldwide trends in political extremism, nationalism, ethnocentrism, and fundamentalism.

The turn of the millennium seemed to excite political extremists, terrorists, nationalists, and religious fundamentalists all over the world into a “now or never” fever of activity:  all over the world, conservative nationalists seized power in provinces, states, countries.  Societies became more and more conservative in the face of rapid  change to which none of their populations, seemingly, could adjust comfortably.  In reaction to future shock, people became more and more focussed on traditional mores and modes of life during the aughts and teens of the new century.  Only a very narrow range of behaviors, beliefs, and political ideologies are considered acceptable in places where the ethno-fundamentalists now hold power.  Art and expressive communication are cramped and censored to support political and philosophical regimes.  Control of production became concentrated in the hands of a few charismatic leaders who hobble economic action with political rules.  Societies in 2023 are not poor -- people’s basic needs are more often met than in the past -- but the inefficiencies in production, though they slow resource use, are not particularly kind to the environment.

The High Technology Transformational Future

“High Technology Transformation” assumes that the innovations on the horizon in the late 90s have flowered into a variety of applications, both commercial and personal, that completely overturn our concepts of “normality.”

Human inventiveness has triumphed!  Advances in energy production, such as cheap fusion power and zero-point energy, give the world clean, abundant supplies of energy.  Advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnologies, give humanity very precise, automated control over all of our environments.  Advances in genetic engineering and the biological sciences give us very precise control over our bodies, and our definitions of who and what we are:  cosmetic sculpting of one’s appearance and basic bodily structure are possible with targetted DNA injections.  Advances in telecommunications, such as high-definition, multi-sense holography and virtual reality, let us create versions of our inner visions and fantasies so real many people have ceased to interact with “real” social reality.  International data and telecommunications networks have expanded so that everyone now freely shares information and opinions:  regional and global direct democracies are the most common form of governance.  As for the environment, respect for the environment is just part of rational environmental management -- which is handled mostly by the artificial intelligences anyway.

> Tools > Incasting > Classic | EPA Incast | NELD Incast | Library Incast | Public Health Incast | Pacific Islands Incast

15 February 2003. Email IF.
Copyright © 2003, Wendy L. Schultz
All rights reserved.
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