> Tools > Scenario Building > Schultz / Manoa | Schwartz / GBN | de Vries / Sociovision | Harman Fan


"maximizing difference"

designed by Dr. Wendy L. Schultz
hosted by the Hawaii Community Services Council
15 December 1993, 8:00 -- 11:30 AM

Examples of scenarios built using this method.


What do we each want to get out of today's workshop?
Ruby [OSP]: Better understanding of scenario building for use in strategic planning and in coordinated land use planning.

Scott [OSP]: More exposure to the facilitation process, and to scenario building.
Bryan [OSP]: Get exposure to scenario facilitation to help deepen my understanding of the emerging issues scanning process.

Kim [DHS]: More experience in moving from scanning to scenarios.

Bob [CFS]: What is scenario building? Discuss some applications.

Jay [State Parks/DLNR]: To think about how to move from the state scanning project to a better, smarter, faster, more efficient and effective use of scenarios.

Julie [UH/Public Health]: To learn more about the concept.

Banks [HCSC]: I helped draft the Council's scanning document; I'd like to learn more about scenario building as part of planning.
Karen [Elderly Care]: To explore how to build vision and alternative futures accountability into planning.

Art [DOE]: Working on school-community-based management, and want to devise a curriculum for visioning planning.



Scenario building begins with the recognition of change occurring in the environment around us, and an identification of specific changes critical to our activities and goals [defining the "we" is obviously very important; is this scenario building focussed on a single individual's plans; on an organization; on a community; on a business? what are the current missions and goals of the "we" we've defined?].

environmental scans


emerging issues

Environmental scans monitor trends of change in the existing patterns of society and the environment: is the percentage of elderly in the population increasing or decreasing? Are more people living in apartments and condominiums than in single-family structures? Is land use shifting from food production to leisure activities? Are the populations of native species in the local biosphere growing or dying back?

Emerging issues analyses look for entirely new patterns of change: watershed shifts in values; technological innovations and their impacts; re-inventions of the basic ways things are defined, produced, or distributed; paradigm shifts. Emerging issues are nascent trends: trends of change that few people have yet noticed. Five years ago, the potential of cyberspace, virtual reality, and the "information highway" was an emerging trend; now it is on the cover of Time and Newsweek.


The basic materials of scenario building are trends and emerging issues. The basic tools of participatory scenario building are the techniques of group process facilitation, particularly provoked brainstorming.

basic facilitation guidelines


brainstorming and provoked brainstorming


Facilitators are, first and foremost, trafiic coordinators for communication. They make sure that the conversational space is shared fairly by all participants. Thus a good facilitator also models active listening: listening to understand, not to criticize; listening positively, not as an adversary; and asking open-ended questions for clarification. Exhibiting a positive attitude and encouraging participation is also part of active listening: listening with your eyes as well as your ears, so you can spot the more reticent participants and encourage them to offer their thoughts.

Facilitators serve to protect individual participants and their ideas from attack. They legitimate everyone's contributions to the workshop by ensuring that ideas are captured accurately on the wallnotes. They also keep the discussion on the path proposed by the agenda, and try to keep the group on schedule. Good facilitation and recording result in an orderly capture of people's ideas, in a way that everyone can follow during the course of the workshop. Ideas can be revisited, revised, expanded, or discarded.

Facilitators help participants create a common, if synthetic, culture designed to encourage, support, and free creativity. This culture is created when facilitators help participants to establish the groundrules for the discussion. Two categories of groundrules must be clearly defined: those the group creates, and those the exercises require. Thus facilitators first ask participants to state their expected outcomes for the meeting, and then to suggest effective groundrules that mesh with, and support, those expectations. Having participants create groundrules tailored to their expectations creates the synthetic culture specific to their workshop. The act of creating groundrules also helps to crack some of the implicit mental constraints of organizational or community culture with which the group may be initially hobbled.

Facilitators must also review the brainstorming and futures groundrules specific to the chosen exercises. These required groundrules reinforce the synthetic culture by demanding new ways of thinking and communicating. Furthermore, they offer rewards for pathbreaking behavior and sanctions against backsliding into comfortable thinking habits -- e.g., critiquing without creating first.

Almost every group contains some obstreperous, cantankerous, rebellious, irreverent, or in some other way difficult, people. It falls to the facilitator to smooth out these burrs in the fabric of discussion. Basically, facilitators do that by accepting, legitimizing, dealing with, or deferring. That is, they accept the comment or idea without agreeing or disagreeing, and legitimate it by making sure it gets entered into the group memory. They then boomerang the comment, criticism, or question back to the group as a whole, asking all the participants if they want to deal with it immediately, or defer it until later.

The end result should be a workshop in which everyone felt they had a fair chance to air their thoughts, in which participants generated a lot of creative energy and produced a lot of interesting and useful ideas, and in which all of the ideas were captured on the group memory for later use. To summarize, facilitators begin the meeting by reviewing expected outcomes, the agenda, everyone's roles in the meeting, and the groundrules. Explicit outcomes provide clear focus and direction; agreement on the agenda gets everyone on board the process; establishing roles and basic rules provides controls for the process; all four together build group trust and confidence.

Brainstorming and Provoked Brainstorming:

Why do we need the sort of group trust that good facilitation builds? Because creative thinking is risky. Good group process creates a temporary, synthetic culture which offers participants safety and security for risky thinking. It also offers techniques to combine, overlay, transform, and develop individual products of creative thinking into community projects.

Brainstorming has a very simple basic rule: don't judge. Simply lob ideas out as they come to you. Let other people do the same. The facilitator's primary job in a brainstorming session is to keep ideas flowing. This means, first, acting as an enforcer of the groundrules that people agreed upon at the beginning of the meeting. During brainstorming, the facilitator politely but firmly squelches arguments, qualifications, and even requests for elaborations -- those may be requested later, when all the basic ideas have been recorded. It means reminding people to offer only the idea, not all the corollary examples (this slows down the flow of ideas, and limits other people's opportunities by taking up airtime). Elaborations, examples, and even qualifications may be added during a clarification and evaluation session after brainstorming.

Futures-focussed brainstorming is a peculiar and rarely practiced activity. A unique role that futures facilitators must often play is the agent provocateur. Whatever else we can say about the future, futurists often say, we must say that it will be different. Thus the only useful statements about the future are those that appear to be ridiculous (this might be called Dator's Law of Practical Futuristics...). Futures-focussed brainstorming problematizes the present -- which for most of us is the ordinary. But in order to think creatively about all the futures possible, we must challenge the mundane within our own minds. Edward de Bono, who coined the term "lateral thinking," suggests that we must provoke ourselves to push our brains out of established patterns of perceiving, thinking, problem-solving, and imagining. Lateral thinking -- his term for what many of us think of as creativity -- flows across established patterns, transforming them and creating new patterns.

Exercises that de Bono suggests to provoke lateral thinking are challenge, exaggeration, distortion, reversal, and wishful thinking. Challenge basically refers to recapturing that childlike innocence about why things happen the way they do: why do we all drive cars to work? why do women shave their underarms, but men don't? Exaggeration takes some idea, quality, or trend and inflates it ad absurdum: washing and waxing your car once a week prevents rusting and maintains the finish -- why not a self-washing car that cleans itself immediately as needed? Distortion asks participants to transmuste the familiar and render it unfamiliar: housekeys truly become house keys -- musical signatures that define your house's decor, unlock its computer functions, and combine with your car keys, office keys, and RV keys to create your little signature symphony. Reversal refers to restating an assumption, constraint, or concept as its logical opposite: all dogs have fleas -- no dogs have fleas (fleas become allergic to dogs? extinction of fleas as a species?). Finally, wishful thinking also asks us to recapture a childhood skill -- daydreaming -- by stating our desires without letting the pragmatic adult mindset edit them into nonexistence: all children on the planet receive three nutritious meals a day.

Note that wishful thinking is basically the cornerstone of visioning: creating an image or scenario of a positive, preferred future. Because the goal of scenario building is to create plausible images of alternative futures that are neither good nor bad, let us set that form of provocation aside for now. Thus the tools for provoked brainstorming that a facilitator has are challenge, exaggeration, distortion, and reversal. Of these, the easiest to accomplish is reversal, because at base it is a simple exercise of logic and semantics. Its implications can be very far-reaching, but it can also lead to extremely idealistic statements and in fact is often used as an entre to visioning. Challenge can lead to arguments and sidetrack discussion unless the facilitator keeps the group very focussed; distortion requires a Gary Larson Far Side mindset of participants which can be a little tricky to evoke. Exaggeration is the basic starting point for most scenario building, but if the opportunity arises to make use of any of the others, then certainly seize the moment!



  • review outcomes/expectations
  • review agenda
  • create/explain groundrules
  • review everyone's roles

some example groundrules:

  • don't judge
  • listen as an ally
  • share the airtime
  • ask the person next to you for their idea
  • be brief; be bold; be seated
  • risky ideas generated here are safe in perpetuity -- no delayed judgments
  • [ask the group what rules they think would ensure a lively, fair, creative
  • discussion...]


  • As a listener, don't evaluate or criticize
  • As a contributor, be brief: state the idea succinctly for the recorder's sake
  • As a contributor, don't qualify, explain, or give examples -- save elaboration for the discussion
  • As a contributor, do build on other people's ideas, or connect several people's ideas

Provoked Brainstorming

  • Exaggerate a trend or pattern of change
  • Challenge an assumption about the present or the accepted way things are
  • Distort the normal or mundane; try combining two things never before combined
  • Reverse constraints and current operating conditions



* identify three trends of change or emerging issues, e.g.,

  • the graying of the Hawaii's population;
  • increasing privatization of government functions;
  • increasing practicality/application of genetic engineering.


* brainstorm the impacts of each trend, one by one

Ideas should bounce off each other rather quickly; when the storm begins to die down after ten or fifteen minutes on each trend, move on to the next one.

* review the list of impacts from all three trends for two or three minutes

Post the wallnotes from all three trends where the whole group can see them.

* consider potential collisions of trends; brainstorm their impacts for fifteen minutes

  1. how will they affect each other?
  2. what new pattern results?
  3. what new opportunity/threat arises?

* consider the entire list; cluster groups of impacts of particular interest

* characterize your infant scenario

  1. try to imagine two or three headlines that sum up the tenor of its times
  2. think of a bumper-sticker phrase that captures its essence
  3. if this were a short story, what would be its title?


* Has your group listed a wide range of impacts, covering different aspects of reality?

  1. community;
  2. economy;
  3. governance;
  4. work;
  5. arts & leisure:
  6. ecology & the environment;
  7. media & communication;
  8. transportation;
  9. education;
  10. religion & myths;
  11. subcultures;
  12. family
  13. vices/crimes...

use these as probes during the brainstorming of impacts to broaden the field.

* has your group freed themselves of normal patterns of thinking?

  1. have they exaggerated the chosen trends to the point of absurdity?
  2. have they challenged their assumptions about present conditions continuing?
  3. have they combined trends or impacts in a way that distorts something familiar in the present?
  4. have they reversed constraints or threats that presently exist -- or reversed strengths or opportunities they presently take for granted?

use these questions as provocations during brainstorming to deepen the degree of change imagined.


* what does this draft scenario suggest for your current activities, goals, or mission statement?

  1. can you succinctly characterize your current activities and plans or mission?
  2. what patterns or themes in the scenario most affect your goals or mission?
  3. does this scenario offer you more opportunities, or more threats?


* can your group see an emerging story in this scenario?

Try to set aside at least ten minutes to evoke a vivid image of the future scenario your group has constructed; if the process may run beyond the workshop, appoint a volunteer to draft a narrative. The narrative should loosely link the scenario to your present by discussing the emergence and acceleration of the trends that formed your seeds of change; tracing them into the future, the narrator may then let the scenario unfold. Many of the brainstormed impacts will seem to contradict each other; where possible, if they are related in some consistent fashion, a few contradictions should be allowed to remain -- because our present reality also contains contradictions.



* the graying of the community;

* increased cultural diversity;

* increased focus on "wellness


* increased inequity;

* shifts in global capital and corporate control;

* privatization of government functions


* "immersive" technologies;

* genetic engineering;

* personal satellite access


* loss/degradation of water supply;

* loss of native species/alien species invasion/fish catchery collapse, etc.;

* ozone depletion

Out of this list of potential "building blocks" for their scenario exercise, participants chose those trends highlighted.



the graying of the community

* longer crossing lights at intersections (more slowly walking old people); more and more "disabled" -- more canes and walkers; more people with clout demanding access/accessibility; more robotics at work and at home to enhance independence of elderly; more health care needs; fewer elementary schools; more active elderly workforce; larger and more retirement communities; increase in production & sales of laxative and incontinence products; more conservative politics; increased concern for personal security; more employed caregivers; increase in tax base, as elder generation pays more taxes -- owns more of the wealth.

the privatization of government services

* smaller government/fewer services offered; erosion/replacement of national or state identity as corporations and non-profits take over services; more efficient government; private judges; increase in private non-profit organizations offering/taking responsibility for some government functions; privatized education, health care, defense, parks/open spaces, human services; turf wars, private armies, private parks-- tendencies towards armed enclaves; what happens to community -- maybe less control, maybe more personal choice; government better be more accountable, develop monitoring system for private supply of services; shift in how private sector looks at profit -- a shift in emphasis to the service itself; client relations, wellness of employees built into long-term profit

increasing practicality/application of genetic engineering

* manufactured longevity; longer life WITH health; tomatoes with shelf life of a month; ethics issues SQUARED >> increased international ethical conflict due to conflicting cross-cultural values on genetic engineering and access conflicts; more boys born; health services rationed; potential catastrophes -- i.e., degradation of human gene pool; religious backlash; ethnic wars; selective insurance coverage with increased ability to spot disease; legal rights of bionic/synthetic children; reproductive technology businesses


the impact of an increasingly "gray" population on the privatization of government services:

* decreased tax base due to decreased population -- government must downsize; potential increase in elderly impoverishment; increase in disparities and inequity across the population as elderly hoard wealth, resources; social safety nets dissolve -- greater intervention in behavior of youth, decreased prevention of youth problems; increased attention of the corporate world to elderly clientele as a market; increase in secure communities; decrease in socialization, decrease in interaction among social groups; increase in enclave, clan, subculture mentality; rebirth of cultural identities; decrease in youth services and education

the impact of an increasingly "gray" population on the practicality/application of genetic engineering:

* social weeding; rescinding reproductive rights for some; seniors have babies; institutionalized child rearing >> TV and robotic child rearing; legislation and economic control of genetic engineering by seniors

the impact of privatization of government services on the practicality/application of genetic engineering:

* sell good gene stock -- stockpile, gene cartels, gene futures; clone human spare parts; create own workforce or constituency; create consumer demand by genetic manipulation; create non-human organisms just for one function; promote particular gene pools (eugenics)


    • enclaves; more human networking
    • more products & services >> more designed for the elderly
    • breakdown of representative system >> direct democracy
  • WORK
    • no mandatory retirement; a covenant between employer and employee for lifetime supply of services
    • more golf courses; more passive recreation; more elder hostels; increased interest in arts and crafts; more active recreation for elders; more subcultures represented -- fewer common pursuits; increased gambling revenues for cities; difference between boomers and generation X regarding electronic forms of leisure
    • heightened social consciousness re: the environment; focus on maintaining environmental heritage delegated to privatized conservation efforts
    • more electronic networks geared to old people
    • networks of elderly taking trips together (organized over electronic nets; focus on ecotourism, learning local cultures/ethnic crafts, etc.); more demand for customized, small transport services
    • increased demand for lifelong learning; more intergenerational mentoring
    • resurgence of interest in religion as people search for meaning; heightened ethical conflict; more cults; niche religions more socially active; religions offer more services to members
    • a redefinition of the family: much more extended (physically) across several generations and several gene crosses; bigger houses because more generations living together; more options for privatizing family responsibilities; more family lawyers because of increased numbers of inheritance questions; redistribution of wealth
    • increased competition for habitat as we create new organisms, new species of humanity, new subcultures...

Examples of scenarios built using this method.


> Tools > Scenario Building > Schultz / Manoa | Schwartz / GBN | de Vries / Sociovision | Harman Fan

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