Challenges for open source scenario planning

After reflecting a while about Jamais’ idea about open source scenario planning and after reading Art Hutchinson’s comments about some difficulties I thought I should add some of my reflections about problems an open source approach could face.

After having teached scenario planning for several years, as well as being involved in several scenario projects on different levels I had problems accounting for the different levels of quality in the results. It is no secret that scenario planning is an art and not a method, which of course have something to do with it. What I see almost every day is that in overall young students have problems grasping and formulating driving forces, uncertainties and possible chains of events of some quality. What comes out are scattered sentences which doesn’t seem to connect to each other. The ability to reason on that level of abstraction, time-span or uncertainty doesn’t seem to be present.

After having delved into Elliott Jaques theories of time-span capacity and how people are able to manage uncertainty and levels of abstraction I have found a tool for analysing this (there are many, many references but the article “Are you big enough for your job? Is your job big enough for you?” by Judith McMorland is pretty new).

What I find is that people with a certain level of capacity (level IV and above) are in general capable of talking about abstract and uncertain chains of events in a intelligible way. At lower levels people in general can understand and appreciate the result of a scenario process, but are seldom able to construct them with any consistance or quality.

Why does this theory apply to this approach and not say open source software development? Probably because when constructing something “mechanical” you can test things and see if they work. Different individuals can provide the project with their own code, but the test comes if the code works or are being better than before. What we don’t see in open source processes is which individuals are being ignored or all the code that don’t match the quality level and thus is being replaced by others. The working code is a brutal fitness test which effectively filters out the crap.

In an open source scenario process such a filter is not possible and most of the crap will quickly hide all the goodies.

4 thoughts on “Challenges for open source scenario planning

  1. I, too, was very excited by Jamais’s suggestion about an open source scenario database. But like you I have some concerns about “quality control”. Open source software programming is a somewhat self-regulating process since only people who know how to program are inclined to try to jump into the fray; but since everyone believes he or she can write and think clearly, there is no effective psychological “hurdle” in place to keep ineffective scenarists from dominating an open source scenario database.

    Still, I find the idea tempting, especially as I work here to expand the universe of people engaged in our regional project, TechFutures. Exposure to the final scenarios is a necessary but not sufficient step towards meaningful engagement and purposeful actions. I spend a lot of time working with groups to help them understand the critical uncertainties we used (20 of them) to develop the initial 51 scenarios (17 small groups, each producing three scenarios–an “official” future, a variant on the official future, and a “wild card”/pick any four uncertainties” future). It would have been extremely valuable for me to have been able to see the uncertainities other regional groups used to develop their scenarios, and I’m sure at least a few people outside my part of the world would benefit from exposure to the uncertainties we used or, more likely, make improvements to them.

    If not an “open source database”, then perhaps some sort of open practitioners’ forum as a start?

  2. Interestng idea with a collaborative practitioners’ forum!

    I am tempted to try the Wiki concept, but have until now been turned off by the complete openness together with the increasing number of bots which tend to soak both blogs and discussion sites with crap. Your idea of having a practitioners’ forum/database is a good start. It could easily being started with a wiki which is being developed by participants and a simple discussion forum.

    Some questions pop up:
    – Membership mechanisms? By invitation only or what?
    – Who will perform the basic administration needed?
    – I believe there will be a evaluation process/panel system in some way… how will it work?
    – Will there be a public part of the site where some of the evaluated results is published?
    – Who will be responsible for administrating that process?
    – Will everybody be encouraged to send in their scenario process results to the forum to be screened by “an expert panel” or should it be a completely closed forum?

    and more, but these willl be sufficient for now….

    Maybe this is a discussion which we could have in an electronic forum somewhere to which we could invite interested practitioners? Do Worldchanging have a closed forum which we could use for this??

  3. Excellent questions all.

    If WorldChanging doesn’t have such a forum, I’m sure we can find or create one. I know Jamais has officially left, but perhaps he’d still be the best “point of entry” (since this was originally his idea) to find out. Do you want to suggest it to him?

    Or perhaps GBN or another of the large scenario planning firms might be open (no pun intend) to hosting such a forum…? The risk there of course is that they have a proprietary interest that might be in conflict with the goals, although they could just as easily see it as a way of stimulating greater interest in the approach.

    There are also groups like Business as an Agent of World Benefit at Case University that could be a neutral host for such a forum.

  4. Martin,

    There is another option to consider–we could do it ourselves. I’m game if you are.

    Obviously we have to address/answer all the questions you raised, but if we aren’t qualified to do that,then we shouldn’t be having this discussion.



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