When we develop scenarios with clients, we emphatically avoid the kind Frank Furedi (rightly) decries here [emphasis added]:
From global warming to obesity, bird flu to terrorism: 2007 was the year when the threat of an apocalypse became an everyday, even banal public issue... The fear market in apocalyptic scenarios continued to flourish in 2007. Almost every week we were told that ‘the situation’ is far worse than we originally thought... Public figures appear to have lost the capacity to reassure or lead people. Instead, they frequently opt for evoking frightening futuristic scenarios where the line between fiction and reality become unclear.
One consequence of Western societies’ obsessive preoccupation with the apocalypse-to-come is that less and less creative energy is devoted to confronting the all too important problems that exist in the here and now. Take the global credit crunch unleashed by the sub-prime home loan crisis this year for instance.
In terms of its material impact, this was arguably the most significant event of the year. After more than a decade of economic stability, the world economy faces the threat of a major recession with important implications for people’s lives. This threat may not make an exciting plot for a sci-fi movie, but it has a direct bearing on the quality of life of millions of people. It also raises important questions about an economic system that is so heavily reliant on using fictitious capital to reproduce itself.
Events over the past 12 months suggest that what we think and how we think influences how we experience our reality.
Some rules and questions we use to avoid these traps and test whether scenarios are useful include:
Are scenarios sufficiently orthogonal to and distinct from one another? Does each embody both 'good' and 'bad' elements? Real world developments are seldom all good or all bad at the same time and from the same perspective. If participants in a scenario workshop find it trivial to line up the scenarios in the same way from "good/easy for us" to "bad/frightening for us", we haven't done our job of representing real-world nuance in hypothetical future stories.
Do scenarios incorporate "here and now" events and choices? (We usually embody these in what we call 'events', a component of modular scenarios). Scenarios entirely about some far-off, visionary 'place' with no explicit ties to current issues are seldom useful beyond the fiction stacks.
Are scenarios directly comparable to current conventional wisdom? (I.e., as Furedi puts it, "how we think... [and] experience our [present] reality"). Without a concrete "you are here dot" scenario that represents what constituents are thinking and assuming, it's impossible to describe how "far away" hypothetical future scenarios really are, or what change they imply. If I'm contemplating a trip to Miami, it helps to know (in terms of budgeting, preparation and mode of transport whether I'm currently in Juneau, Ft. Lauderdale or Tiera del Fuego.