What is scenario planning? Why use it?
Scenario planning is a futures technique used for medium to long-term strategic analysis and planning. It is used to develop policies and strategies that are robust, resilient, flexible and innovative. Scenarios are stories (or narratives) set in the future, which describe how the world might look in, say, 2015 or 2050. They explore how the world would change if certain trends were to strengthen or diminish, or various events were to occur.
Normally a set of scenarios are developed (between two and five) representing different possible futures, associated with different trends and events. These scenarios are then used to review or test a range of plans and policy options: the conclusion generally being that different plans are likely to work better in different scenarios. Alternatively scenarios can be used to stimulate the development of new policies, or as the basis for a strategic vision. They are also a useful means of identifying ‘early warning’ indicators that signal a shift towards a certain kind of future. At any given point in time, there are an infinite number of possible future scenarios. Scenario planning does not attempt to predict which of these will occur, but through a formal process identifies a limited set of examples of possible futures that provide a valuable point of reference when evaluating current strategies or formulating new ones.
How to use this Note
For readers that are already familiar with the general principles of scenario planning, and are about to embark on a process, sections 2-4 provide the main practical guidance. Sections 5 and 6 briefly summarise key points and provide links to further guidance. The Annex includes three country case studies of scenario planning work, illustrating the methodologies, explaining how scenarios were used in practice and what lessons were learnt in each case.