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First Steps: Towards purposeful activities in scenario thinking and futures studies

Burt, G. and van der Heijden, K. (2003) First Steps: Towards purposeful activities in scenario thinking and futures studies. Futures, 35 (10). pp. 1011-1026. ISSN 0016-3287

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In this paper, we contribute to the understanding of the field of scenario development and future studies, which has been a key debate in Futures over the past three of four years. Our contribution is less on the philosophical issues surrounding future studies, but more on the hurdles faced by those interested in practising in the area of scenario planning and future studies. The issues presented and discussed in this article arise from a number of action learning research projects that we have conducted with small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in Scotland, who have embraced scenario development for the first time as part of their strategic management and learning process. Our contribution is targeted at identifying and understanding the hurdles to be overcome when (such) organisations consider adopting scenario development or future studies. The contribution is designed to first, help those in the field of scenario development and future studies be mindful of these hurdles and to build a trusting relationship between the scenario practioner and the client, and secondly, help those managers willing to engage in such activities to better understand the purpose of such work. First we identify three key hurdles: (a) organisational culture (i.e. tacit assumptions on scenario development and future studies); (b) "client" state of mind; (c) fear of engaging with the outside/fear of the future. We argue that these hurdles are a serious threat to the relevance and effectiveness of futures work. We argue that these hurdles need to be better understood as a basis for improving the impact and contribution that scenario development and future studies can make. Later in this article we propose a framework to help understand the purpose of scenario development or future studies work. This framework can be used at the outset of any engagement or study, to help the "client" to identify the purpose of such work and to understand its role and scope. We argue that this framework contributes to more purposeful, relevant and actionable scenario development and future studies in the future. Unless you changed something in the minds of managers, a scenario project had failed (Harvard Bus. Rev. 63(6) (1985) 139). Going one-step further, we would argue that unless something tangible happens as the result of the scenario development and future studies work, we have wasted our time.