The Leading Question

How can organizations use scenario planning to prepare for unpredictable and turbulent futures?

Abstract

Rather than trying to predict the future, organizations need to strengthen their abilities to cope with uncertainty. A new approach to scenario planning can help companies reframe their long-term strategies by developing several plausible scenarios.

Research

This paper is part of a long-standing research and practice stream on scenario planning practices and the use of scenarios as a scholarly methodology. The research has included integrating scenario planning with other fields such as social ecology, sense-making, and design in interdisciplinary forums (namely through the Oxford Futures Forum), as well as an inquiry on specific scenario planning issues raised by participants in executive development programs. In addition to writing two books, Strategic Reframing: The Oxford Scenario Planning Approach (Oxford University Press, 2016) and Business Planning for Turbulent Times: New Methods for Applying Scenarios (Earthscan, 2008), we have examined the ideas in a number of articles. We wish to thank a number of our colleagues, including Kees van der Heijden and Angela Wilkinson; as well as Trudi Lang, Cynthia Selin, John W. Selsky, Jerry Ravetz, and Malobi Mukherjee.

Insights: Putting Scenario Planning to Work

1. Scenario planning involves attending explicitly to what is framed in and what is framed out in strategy. In this process, what matters is not so much the organization’s strategy itself but the frame that strategy is built on. The frame is made up of assumptions, and these assumptions implicitly shape how the strategy comes together.

2. By proposing a limited number of scenarios, scenario planning enables organizations to reperceive current and plausible future contexts.

3. Scenario planning relies on iterative reframing and reperception. By building several frames from the contextual environment factors, strategists have an opportunity to see the actors they do business with take different roles in each scenario.

4. Everyone involved in and impacted by the process should be considered a learner. This means that people involved with scenario planning need to work on the organization rather than in it. Having external facilitators or dedicated staff members assigned to the process helps make this possible.

5. Scenario planning is designed to explore different types of weak signals. In order to explore weak signals, scenario planning needs to focus on the plausible as opposed to the probable.

 

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Prof. Rafael Ramírez

Prof. Rafael Ramírez

Author

Founding Partner of NormannPartners and Professor of Practice at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. 

Associate Prof. Jonas Hoffmann

Associate Prof. Jonas Hoffmann

Author

Associate at NormannPartners and Associate Professor at SKEMA Business School.