Skills for Impact - Scenario Planning: Context and Application

Course Description: 

Skills for Impact Program, Elective module

Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, the global financial crisis, Brexit, the Ebola epidemic, the election of Donald Trump among others, all caught experts and policy makers by surprise. It points to the fact that public policy is often ill equipped to better anticipate the future in times of growing complexity and uncertainty.

Scenario planning is one tool that allows policymakers and stakeholders alike to better anticipate and impact the future and consider the long-term implications of policy actions. Instead of trying to predict only one most likely or desired policy path policy practitioners, using scenario planning, seek to construct multiple histories of the future. Scenario planning can help to explore strategic reform options from the perspective of alternative futures in order to integrate potential threats and opportunities at an early stage to proactively shape the future.

The goal of this SFI module is twofold. First, to provide students with some aspects of the broader context that policymakers should situate scenario planning in. Second, to engage students in a concrete scenario building exercise in order for them to understand the process as well as the outcomes of this strategic planning technique.

We begin with a brief introduction to the field of complexity theory and public policy. Scenario analysis very much embraces the notion that today’s public policy context is best characterized as a highly complex system over which policymakers have little control. This makes any long term policy planning a questionable policy tool. Students can benefit from a better understanding how the science of complexity reconstitutes public policy in theory and practice.

Human psychology is another contextual element related to scenario planning. Students will be introduced to mental trappings that we all often fall prey to and should be especially aware of as strategists, policymakers and scenario planners.

In part two of this SFI students will be given a very first introduction to the technique of scenario planning, subsequently engage in an exercise that allows student teams to develop a scenario in a policy domain of their choice. We will end the seminar by discussing the way in which scenarios are used in strategic policy.

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of this SFI module students should

  • have developed a deeper understanding of the uncertainties and complexities that public policy encounters in everyday life.
  • become cognizant of some of the mental trapping policy makers often fall prey to.
  • appreciate the purpose and rationale of scenario planning.
  • be acquainted with some of the basic tools and methods of scenario planning.
  • have built a scenario in a team setting.
  • Class participation
  • Quiz
  • Building a Scenario