Opening the 'black box' of scenario planning through realist synthesis

Frith, David and Tapinos, Efstathios (2020) Opening the 'black box' of scenario planning through realist synthesis. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 151. 119801. ISSN 0040-1625 (

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Most of the scenario literature describes how to undertake scenario planning and it asserts its effectiveness as an aid to strategic planning in uncertain conditions. Rarely, however, does the literature exhibit a robust or standardised approach to evidencing how the various recommended features of a scenario planning process might lead to specific outcomes, and therefore why they should form part of that process. This perspective paper examines this gap, seeking to open up the 'black box' between scenario process and scenario outcome. We explore how realist epistemology can enhance the design and utilisation of scenario planning through the provision of an evidence-based framework. This research explores the 'mechanisms' and ‘contextual factors' that contribute to the generation of cognitive change within scenario participants. It takes advantage of personal reflections from recent scenario planning interventions to provide an iterative framework for constructing a 'programme theory' of how a social intervention generates its effects. We describe here the use of such a framework to develop a programme theory of how scenario planning works. We conclude that the realist synthesis method supports the development of an evidence-based framework through which researchers and practitioners alike can collaborate in improving the practice of scenario planning.