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  • Julian Talbot

How to Design, Run, and Report on a Scenarios Workshop



Scenario workshops are invaluable for envisioning plausible futures and formulating strategies to navigate them. However, the success of these workshops hinges on meticulous design, seamless execution, and insightful reporting. In this article, we’ll break down the step-by-step methodology for designing, running, and reporting on a scenarios workshop effectively.


Scenarios are not predictions but frameworks for understanding possible future outcomes. They help stretch the imagination and challenge perceptions, highlighting "inevitable surprises" based on current indicators. Shell emphasizes the importance of data and numerical models in providing rigor and balance to these scenarios.


The Shell Approach


Shell has taken future scenario modeling to an art form and is rightly renowned for their capabilities in this field. Shell Scenarios are developed through a rigorous methodology that involves multiple steps.


Their model starts from existing drivers, considers multiple stakeholders, and looks for turning points in trends. The model stresses the need for compelling narratives to engage stakeholders emotionally, making them more likely to act on the scenarios. Broadly speaking, the Shell model takes the following approach and frequently takes months to conduct.

  1. Identification of Key Drivers and Uncertainties: The process begins by identifying key drivers influencing the future. These drivers could range from geopolitical events to technological advancements. They also identify uncertainties that could significantly impact outcomes.

  2. Consultation with Experts: Shell engages with external experts in various fields, including economics, engineering, and social science, among others, to gain diverse insights into potential futures.

  3. Scenario Framework Construction: A framework is constructed based on the key drivers and uncertainties. This involves defining different axes of uncertainty that form the 'scenario space' where various futures could unfold.

  4. Scenario Development: Within the framework, multiple scenarios represent different plausible futures. These scenarios are detailed narratives, often accompanied by quantitative models, that describe how the future might evolve from today to a future point in time under a set of assumptions.

  5. Testing and Refinement: The scenarios are tested for internal consistency and plausibility. They may be refined based on these tests and new information or insights.

  6. Analysis and Implications: Once the scenarios are developed, they are analyzed to understand the implications for the business, policy, and other stakeholders. This can include many things, from potential investment areas to risk mitigation strategies.

  7. Communication and Application: The scenarios are then communicated to a wider audience, including policymakers, academics, and the general public, to foster wider debate and understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead. They are also used internally for strategic planning and decision-making.

  8. Review and Update: The external environment is continually monitored, and the scenarios may be updated or revised based on significant changes in key drivers or the emergence of new information.


Designing and Running Your Own Scenarios Workshop


It's all very well to know how a well-resourced team of experts look at scenario modeling but if you haven't done any before, here is a short guide.


Define the Objective


Clearly articulate the purpose of the workshop. Whether it's to explore strategic options, identify risk factors, or foster innovation, a well-defined objective will be the foundation of the entire process.


Assemble the Team


Gather a diverse group of stakeholders, subject matter experts, and facilitators. The more varied the perspectives, the richer the scenarios you'll generate.


Pre-workshop Research


Conduct preliminary research to identify the key drivers and uncertainties that will form the basis of your scenarios. Use these findings to guide the workshop discussions.


Running the Workshop


Icebreaker and Introduction


Start with an icebreaker to create a comfortable atmosphere. Follow this with a brief on the objectives and expectations of the workshop.


Identify Key Drivers and Uncertainties


Break the participants into smaller groups and let them brainstorm on key drivers and uncertainties. Aim for a well-rounded list, incorporating both micro and macro-level influences.


Develop the Scenario Framework


Discuss and select the most critical uncertainties that will form the axes of your 'scenario space'. Plot these on a graph to visualize how they intersect and create distinct quadrants.


Create Scenario Narratives


Divide participants into groups, each responsible for developing a narrative for one quadrant. Encourage the use of storytelling techniques to make the scenarios engaging and relatable.


Test for Consistency


Review each scenario for internal consistency. Ensure the assumptions are plausible and the outcomes logically follow the narrative.


Reporting on the Workshop


Executive Summary


Provide an overarching view of the workshop, summarizing its objectives, key findings, and actionable insights.


Detailed Scenarios


Document each scenario describing the key drivers, assumptions, and implications. Supplement the narrative with relevant data and models, where possible.


Recommendations and Action Items


Based on the scenarios, identify a set of recommendations and action items for strategic planning or risk mitigation. Prioritize these by their urgency and impact.


Future Monitoring


Specify indicators or signals that should be monitored to track the emergence of any of the scenarios. This will help in updating or pivoting strategies as needed.


Conclusion


Scenario workshops are a dynamic tool for future planning, but their effectiveness lies in rigorous design, execution, and reporting. By following this step-by-step guide, you can conduct a scenarios workshop that provides valuable insights and lays the groundwork for actionable strategies.

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