Planning for an Unknowable Future (Less Science, More Art)

A couple weeks ago, I introduced Buzzketers to scenario-based decision-making (SBDM) as a way to plan for an unknowable future. You can check out that original post here.

In theory, scenario-based decision-making (SBDM) is a four-step process:

ORIENT: Identify the client, issue, and participants.
EXPLORE: Conduct pre-workshop participant interviews to identify both the important certain and uncertain factors/drivers.
SYNTHESIZE: Participants develop different, but equally plausible scenarios. They focus not on what should be, but on what could be. They discuss implications and effects of each scenario and identify possible early indicators.
ENGAGE: Plans of action are developed that answer what should happen if a given scenario “comes true.”
Finger painting: Also less science and more art.
Finger painting: Also less science and more art.Courtesy CrazyUncleJoe

As with most good things, in reality, SBDM is not a tidy four-step process; it’s less of a science and more of an art. Last month, I got to be a fly on the wall at the St. Paul Climate Change Adaptation Scenario Planning Workshop (“Workshop”), an exercise in SBDM that took place right here at the Science Museum of Minnesota. My next post will be primarily about the conclusions of my group and the Workshop as a whole, but first I want to share a general observation:

SBDM is messy because people are messy. We each have unique personalities, experiences, and values that cause us to think about the world around us differently than everyone else. That’s pretty cool! But you can see why asking a group of individuals to collaborate on a thought experiment might be troublesome. It’s kind of like trying to get all the balls in the cart after recess. Order from chaos.

The Workshop’s goal was to have a discussion between three groups of people that don’t often have the opportunity to talk deeply about climate change: public professionals, business people, and academicians. Talk about a group with different personalities, experiences, and values!

Asking scientists and engineers to make educated guesses about the future is tricky. Asking decisionmakers to talk about what could be instead of what should be is tricky. Why? Because doing so goes against how they usually go about their business. Scientists and engineers are trained to study a world that can be measured and repeated. Decisionmakers are trained to make their best judgments for the future and rule out inferior possibilities. In asking them to make educated guesses about a possible future, even if it’s not a future for which they would hope, SBDM asks both groups to go outside their comfort zone.

The beauty of SBDM is that it takes messy people outside their comfort zone to create a masterpiece of a resource that will help plan for an unknowable future.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

dodo's picture
dodo says:

awesome picture!:)

posted on Wed, 12/28/2011 - 12:32pm
nman's picture
nman says:

i think the future will have new types of rockets/spaceships.

posted on Sun, 01/08/2012 - 2:35pm

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