Micro-scenario Planning

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Definition

A micro-scenario is a small fragment or description about the future that can range from the plausible to the counter-factual. Micro-scenarios can be generated and used in the course of diverse planning methods and activities. Formal scenario planning is used in foresight, futures studies, and strategy and originates in post-World War II military planning [1]. Some aspects and approaches to it are closer to micro-scenario planning, especially those that aim at 'disturbing the present' [2], while those that aim to close the gap between the present and a predicted future are furthest away. Micro-scenario planning is distinguished from formal scenarios by its fragmentary form and the emphasis on the diversity and multiplicity of such scenarios collected, as well as the reduced emphasis and reliance on experts.

Applications

Exaptive discovery and weak signal detection

The generation of micro-scenarios about the future can be used to increase scanning capacity in the present and respond to both crisis and opportunity. The origination of multiple micro-scenarios from diverse sources is key to all applications of the method. As an ongoing aspect of organisational functioning, this can be separated from daily business and activated especially in times of crisis (see also the creation of human sensor networks in MassSense). Micro-scenario planning aids in navigating complex spaces by expanding the space of possibility that has not yet been imagined. It can be used in combination with other methods such as trios or social network stimulation. Because of the diversity of micro-scenarios and their lack of finality, the method is better suited for exploring uncertainty than foresight methods that attempt to extrapolate into the future. It can also be conceptualised as a way of moving from anticipation (trying to predict the future) to anticipatory awareness (honing our receptiveness to a wider range of signals).

Abductive/pre-hypothesis research and formal scenario planning

Micro-scenario planning can be used for both abductive research and formal scenario planning or inductive research by moving between scales of abstraction and changing the level of granularity. By staying at the level of diverse, variable, fragmented, and rich micro-scenarios that can be generated, we retain the capacity for abductive discovery and research. By aggregating and abstracting those same micro-scenarios, they can be fed or used at the beginning of scenario planning processes that retain the capacity to return to earlier, more diverse stages if needed.

Mapping ideation patterns

This use is often part of a situational assessment by a population, such as the workforce of an organisation or the inhabitants of a community. By sourcing perspectives on the futures envisioned in the form of micro-scenarios, a map of the underlying ideas can be visualised, and the process of generating ideas stimulated. Those maps of ideas can then be fed into workshops where the variety of the ways people see things are made visible, both in terms of overall patterns and in terms of the specific micro-scenarios that generated those patterns.

Strategy design and peer-to-peer learning

The use of micro-scenario planning in strategy is related to its use in exaptive discovery since it is also based on the use of a large range of diverse fragments of possible futures. These possibilities can be tested for coherence and form the basis of probes in the complex domain, eventually being tested for stability and moving towards the ordered space. They are used in combination with continuous real-time monitoring. As part of this strategic/learning use, stories about how we might have done better can also be generated in addition to future-focused ones.

Additional resources

  1. Dave Snowden, Diversity & coherence, published Nov. 2020

References

  1. Amer, M. et al. “A review of scenario planning.” Futures 46 (2013): 23-40.
  2. Curry, Andrew. (2009). From Foresight to Insight: Using Scenarios Well. Journal of Futures Studies. 13.

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Back of card summary

Micro-scenario planning aids in navigating complex spaces by expanding the space of possibility that leaders and decision-makers imagine. A micro-scenario is a fragment or description of the future that can range from plausible to counter-factual. Micro-scenarios are generated and explored in a diverse range of processes and activities, but the method always emphasise the diversity and multiplicity of micro-scenarios collected, rather than narrowing it - moving groups from anticipation (trying to predict the future) to anticipatory awareness (receptiveness to a wider range of signals).

How can it be used?

for diagnosis

for analysis/understanding

for intervention

Method Properties - Ratings

Represented by symbols - interpretation/voting scales are:

COST & RESOURCES: How resource-intensive is the Method in terms of materials and tools required, and thus costs?

  1. Requires only common office equipment (eg paper and pens)
  2. Requires simple facilitation materials (special hexies, printouts, whiteboards etc)
  3. Requires some inexpensive but specific tools and materials
  4. Requires moderate investment in tools or software to apply
  5. Requires significant investment in software or other specialist tools

COMPLEX FACILITATION SKILL: How much training and skill in complex facilitation does the Method require?

  1. No complex facilitation experience is required
  2. Some complex facilitation experience needed - practice in a safe space
  3. Should be mentored while developing complex facilitation skill
  4. Requires Mentoring until proven, familiarity with theory critical
  5. Advanced, requires deep knowledge of theory and experience

ENGAGEMENT GRADIENT: How challenging is engagement of participants into the Method likely to be?

  1. Ad hoc technique - can be used in multiple contexts with relative ease
  2. Requires time commitment but overall, engaging and not difficult to achieve
  3. Mild uncertainty or discomfort, may need work to keep people engaged
  4. Indirect/ambiguous method, requires engagement through sustained levels of uncertainty
  5. Challenging method – may incur resistance if people expect a more traditional approach