Scenario Planning at The Mandarin: Prediction vs. Plausibility

My December 2019 article in Australia’s publication for public sector leaders, The Mandarin, is available here on my site and can be republished freely.

Here’s the full text of “We Can’t Predict the Future, but Scenario Planning Can Identify What It Might Look Like“:

File:Parliament House Canberra NS.jpg
Australia’s Federal Parliament house, by Wikipedia user JJ Harrison – (CC BY-SA 3.0)

What would it mean to prepare for a future that you didn’t see coming?

Whether it’s the Brexit vote, Trump’s presidency, the global financial crisis, or the changing climate, we increasingly face what some foresight experts call “TUNA” conditions, characterised by turbulence, uncertainty, novelty, and ambiguity. In such circumstances, old models of the future lose predictive power, and our expectations are thwarted.

Scenario planning is a foresight methodology that seeks not to predict the future but to usefully challenge our assumptions about what’s coming next. The pioneering scenario planner Pierre Wack was among the figures who developed the approach in the mid-20th century and gave it credibility through successful strategic counsel at the oil firm Royal Dutch Shell. Read more

2020 Foresighting Forum, Energy Consumers Australia

I’ll be appearing via video at next month’s 2020 Foresighting Forum hosted by Energy Consumers Australia, the national voice for residential and small business energy consumers in Australia.

The Forum brings together stakeholders from across Australia’s energy sector to explore long-term questions of heat, light, and power.

I’ll be presenting a group of scenarios, created with representatives of the Australian energy sector in 2019, which could help reframe curent perspectives on Australia’s energy future and the strategic decisions which must be made in the present.

 

Planning your 2020 with Arrows of Time

The arrival of a new year tends to focus our attention on what’s coming. People make resolutions, use the holiday season to take stock and decide where they want to go next, or treat January 1st as a turning point for their lives at work or home.

Here’s a tool I sometimes use, adapted from the Oxford Scenario Planning Approach, where it’s called “Arrows of Time”. I shared it at the end of 2018 and I’ve added a little something extra for this year’s version.

To get started, you just need a piece of paper and something to write on it with.

Read more

2019 GovLove Hit Parade: Leadership & Scenario Planning

The US-based GovLove Podcast, run by the Engaging Local Government Leaders network (ELGL),  celebrates the end of each year by showcasing the most popular episodes of the previous 12 months.

I’m pleased to announce that July’s episode on Leadership & Scenario Planning, which I recorded with ELGL’s Kirsten Wyatt, has taken the number one slot.

Check out the whole list in this Twitter thread from the GovLove team.

 

The Mandarin: Scenario Planning for the Public Sector

My latest article has just been published in The Mandarin, Australia’s publication for public sector leaders.

File:Parliament House Canberra NS.jpg
Australia’s Federal Parliament house, by Wikipedia user JJ Harrison – (CC BY-SA 3.0)

We can’t predict the future, but scenario planning can identify what it might look like” explores the practice of scenario planning, including interviews with practitioners and clients from the OECD, Australia’s science organisation CSIRO, and leadership roles in government and policy bodies.

Visit the Mandarin website to read the article today.

Kurs setzen für mehr Bibliothekserfolg: Bremen workshop, March 2020

How far ahead do you plan your professional development? German-speaking librarians and information professionals interested in foresight, strategy, and leadership can join me and my fellow consultant Andreas Mittrowann for a special one-day workshop in Bremen on 9th March 2020.

Andreas and I will be exploring questions of design, planning, and innovation in this special event incorporating the “Library Island” game.

You can read more about the Bremen event at Andreas’ blog and sign up to join us via the workshop’s Eventbrite page.

Dots that I haven’t joined yet

I’m momentarily at rest in my beloved Brisbane, with the sun blazing down in December and bushfires on the news and Leila Taylor’s book Darkly to read.

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Taylor’s book, subtitled Black History and America’s Gothic Soul, blends memoir and criticism to explore the places where African-American history, culture, and experience meet the Gothic – from The Castle of Otranto through Edgar Allan Poe to Marilyn Manson.

I’m back in Australia helping organisations to look at their future and imagine what might await them in years to come, using scenario planning. This is a method by which, instead of trying to predict what’s coming, we co-create plausible visions of the future which challenge our current assumptions. Successful scenarios are not judged by whether they come to pass, but whether they trouble, complicate, and enrich our thinking.

And the dots which I can’t quite join yet became visible when I read this, in Darkly: “Gothic narratives were (and still are) a means of working through the discomfort of a changing world through the safety of fiction.”

Which is so close to what scenarios do as to blur the edges of the two concepts. In scenario planning we talk about avoiding the “brutal audit” of a crisis by rehearsing for the things you can’t, or don’t want to, see coming through your current framing of the world.

Read more

IMAJINE: The Future of Spatial Justice

I’m pleased to announce I’ll be joining the EU-funded IMAJINE project on spatial injustice and territorial inequality.

Part of Horizon 2020, the biggest EU research and innovation programme ever, I’ll be working with a team of international researchers to design and deliver a participatory scenario-building process across 2019 and 2020.

We’ll be helping interested parties from across Europe to develop and present a set of future scenarios which will challenge today’s assumptions. Our work will complement IMAJINE’s substantial portfolio of empirical research into the geographical inequalities which exist within Europe, building capacity for foresight and strategic action.

Wide-angle lens shot of the Atomium from near its base
Atomium in Brussels, by Wikipedia user Mcsdwarken – CC BY-SA 3.0

Six hours, three sentences for Libraries Tasmania

This September, I spent a day with senior leaders from Libraries Tasmania as part of my Australia/New Zealand workshop tour.

Accompanied by Aussie consultant Brendan Fitzgerald, my task was to help over 20 senior managers to agree an overarching mission statement that reflected an existing strategic plan, plus the full scope of an organisation encompassing archives, a museum, the State Library of Tasmania, and an island-wide public library service.

We set the scene for the mission statement with a series of iterative tasks exploring plausible futures that the organisation might face – and ways of responding if those futures came to pass.

By the end of the day, we had built enough common ground for the workshop participants to agree a wording which framed and articulated their service’s mission in an accessible yet inspiring way: three compelling sentences that could only be found after a solid day of future-facing inquiry.

Libraries Tasmania’s Executive Director Liz Jack wrote:

Throughout the day, Matt kept things moving while still being emotionally intelligent enough to notice when people were feeling uncomfortable, respectfully encouraging them to articulate what they were feeling and thinking.

Comments from participants included the following:

  • Matt captured the context of Libraries Tasmania very well and his in depth
    knowledge and experience of other libraries internationally added value to the
    sessions
  • Matt kept us on track and had a great ability to read the room
  • A great find!
  • Best facilitator seen in a long time; a good understanding of both strategic
    planning and the library field
  • Matt is one of the best. Clever listening and guidance and good subtle questioning of assumptions . . . a paradigm changer and questioner
  • The fact that there was an outcome was a significant improvement to any
    other vision/mission related workshop I have engaged in . . . It could not get
    much better.

Matt’s work has set us up with a mission statement that everyone has embraced and now owns, and the discussion and ideas he generated have laid a solid foundation for future planning and visioning work with the entire organisation.

You can read more at this site’s testimonials page.

#NotEnoughSciFi: Writing Futures with Jasper Fforde at the Brisbane Writers Festival

The British novelist Jasper Fforde joined attendees of the Brisbane Writers Festival in Queensland, Australia to explore the creation of plausible, intriguing imaginary worlds in a half-day workshop.

Fforde is known for eclectic genre-bending novels including the Thursday Next series, which follow the exploits of a woman who is able to cross the boundary between literature and her reality.

I was interested to see if Fforde’s work could be useful for strategists and foresight professionals trying to craft evocative visions of the futures we might inhabit. Although his stories tend to be set in wild and comic universes, his workshop had more than a few nuggets of wisdom for people trying to imagine futures they could strategically act on.

Read more