What next for scenario planning?

How are online tools and social media transforming the practice of scenario planning?

Recently I have been interviewing a variety of high profile futurists and  up-and-coming strategists on how online approaches are transforming scenario planning and futures work.

Although the questions have been largely open ended, conducted in person, over the phone and by email, they revolve around the following general questions:

  • What kinds of social media (SM) do you use in your daily life (Blogs, FB, Twitter, etc.)?
  • What are the most important and least important aspects of SM that could be relevant for futures work / scenario planning?
  • Have you ever thought of using, or have you ever used, any social media approaches to your professional (or academic) futures work?  Can you give an examples?
  • If so, what did you think of this process?  Did it work work?  Do they bring anything new?
  • How will social media approaches transform the way futures work is done in the next year?  5 years? 10 years?  25 years?
  • Regarding: scenario planning, at what stage of the scenario planning process do you think social media could have the most impact?
  • Is face to face scenario planning on the decline?  Could it ever be replaced by web-only social media or data mining approaches?
  • The web offers more and different kinds of participation.  Do you think more participation is necessarily better for futures work?  If so, how and why?  If not, why?
  • Is there else that you would like to comment on in relation to futures, scenario planning and the role of social media and online culture?

I will be posting the most interesting results of this discussion here over  the coming weeks.  Some of the more interesting themes to have emerged so far are:

  • Is more participation necessarily better?
  • Is the scenario workshop process really just an elaborate form of the Hawthorne Effect?
  • Does real time environment scanning and sensemaking approaches minimise the need for futures thinking?
  • Will online approaches fragment stake-holders more than it will connect them?
  • Why are they so few young futurists in the field?  Is futures irrelevant to the current generation?

I plan on conducting a few more interviews before summing up.  If you would like to participate, please feel free to contact me via email (nraford at mit dot edu), by Twitter (@nraford) or in the comments below.

Everyone’s perspectives are very welcome and I am especially interested in those professionals or academics who sit between the world of futures and social media, or those who have used techniques from one or the other in their own work.

Thanks to all those who have contributed so far and to those still interested in contributing!  The responses so far have been fantastic.


  1. Randy Bosch
    Posted February 10, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Concern: How is use of social media in research verifiable and accountable (“crowdsourcing”? Hate that term – very unsocial)? How is it not purely 3rd party hearsay? How can that dilemma be solved?

  2. Posted July 18, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Permalink


    I’m very interested in your work! I’ve been positing Scenario Planning in virtual environments for several years now and look forward to your progress. Have you seen Jamais Cascio’s (2007) documentation of Scenario Planning in an online environment?

    Here’s the link: http://www.openthefuture.com/2007/01/the_virtual_workshop_or_how_to.html . It’s titled: The Virtual Workshop (Or, How To Run A Scenario Event In Your Pajamas With Nobody the Wiser)

    I’ve been working with mixed reality events with virtual world technologies and definitely see possibilities in that venue.


  3. Posted August 4, 2010 at 10:57 pm | Permalink


    What were the results of this study?


  4. Noah Raford
    Posted August 9, 2010 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Hi Rochell,

    Sorry for the delay replying to this. I love that you linked to Jamais’ early post on these ideas. That conversation was one of the inspirations for all the work I do now on collective intelligence approaches to futures work.

    I was lucky enough to host a dinner with Jamais last month here in London and we had a brief chance to chat about all this stuff. Once I get the grunt work of the PhD out of the way, I plan to revisit some of those earlier conversations and inspirations again. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the mixed reality events in the mean time, however. It sounds fascinating.

    All the best,

  5. Noah Raford
    Posted August 9, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Permalink


    Just about to publish the results from Round 1, which created the scenario frameworks using a completely bottom-up, inductive crowd-sourced approach. Round 2 will be to invite people to detail these scenario frameworks to produce final (multiple) narratives and filter which ones they think are the most powerful. I’ll be sure to email you as soon as they’re up.


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