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Introduction to the Scenario Methodology

© paul kline (licensed via istockphoto)

Why scenarios?

A scenario is basically a story that describes a possible future. Building and using scenarios can help people explore what the future might look like. Decision makers can use scenarios to think about critical risks and opportunities in the future and to explore ways in which these might unfold. Scenarios are a vehicle to highlight the critical uncertainties ahead that might affect learning.

Scenario development provides a process, a common language and tools so that people from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds can work together effectively on these things. The scenarios themselves broaden people’s perspectives on the future. They help us to become more adaptable in the face of change.

How scenarios? Key concepts

There are a number of key concepts which are important to keep in mind when creating scenarios.

  1. Focus on the contextual environment
    The picture below highlights the actor as the starting point. Depending on the focus question this can be a different actor. The actor can be a single individual, an organization or even a market. In this case we defined the actor as the Corporate Learning organization.The next circle defines the transactional environment. These are the factors that the actor directly interfaces – transacts with. In corporate learning these are for instance the businesses that the corporate learning organization supports or the suppliers of the different learning technologies that the corporate learning organization buys to support their activities.The largest circle is the contextual environment. These are the factors that shape the transactional environment. Key in the scenario planning process is to identify the driving forces that define the shape of the transactional environment. In Learning this means things like the demographics of learners, competence requirements that are set by regulators, new technologies that shape how learning will work in the future, etc.

    Adapted from Kees van der Heijden

    Adapted from Kees van der Heijden

  2. Identifying the driving forces
    Key in the scenario process is to uncover the ‘iceberg’. The idea is to move from new events (e.g. the release of a new technology by a specific vendor) to patterns of system behaviour (e.g. learning management systems and talent management systems are merging) to the deeper system structures – driving forces (e.g. data analytics in HR is becoming more and more important).

    © paul kline (licensed via istockphoto)

    © paul kline (licensed via istockphoto)

  3. Use a broad set of key drivers
    When identifying the different driving forces it is important to take into account many of the factors that can have an impact. The table below highlights some of the key areas for consideration.

Area Example elements Types of questions / uncertainties
Technical Learning InfrastructureLearning content What will the adaptation of learning technologies be?How will learning content by quality controlled in the future?What will the impact of mobile devices / sensors be on learning?
Economic Economic climate What will the impact of an economic downturn be
Commercial Dynamics in suppliers of learning technology & services What will drive shifts in the learning technology & service providers (e.g. consolidation of major players or specialization)?
Organizational / Human resources Organizational StructureGenerations What will the broader impact of the mix of generations be on learning?What will the future organizations look like (more closed or more open and networked)?
Political LegislationGlobal vs. Local How will competence requirements be regulated?Will there be global standards / mindset or local focus?

Criteria for good scenarios

Scenarios are reasonable and credible answers to the “what if?” questions that underpin survival in business. They are not forecasts or projections. They are not predictions of what’s to come. Nor are they preferences, views of how we would like the world to evolve. Scenarios provide alternative views of the future.

Good scenarios are:

  • Plausible – not easily dismissed
  • Recognisable from the signals of the present
  • Relevant and of consequence for the user’s decisions
  • Challenging
  • Internally consistent – based on analysis
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