Climate change was an insurmountable and complex issue when the Government of Slovenia held the EU Presidency in 2008.
Climate change had become a concrete priority for Slovenia, but not necessarily for the rest of the EU. Slovenia is a country where goods transit east-west and north-south, by road and by train primarily, where the fossil/fuel industry is fervent and the wood from the forest are the primary source of income for many industries. Climate change and economic development have become inextricably linked. Energy needs were growing and the natural heritage of the people had to be safeguarded. How to reconcile different needs in the future? Was this possible without societal and economic friction?
Over 40 leading individuals of different disciplines were brought together, dozens were interviewed and over 50 contributed to online consultations. Finally, three scenarios emerged. Their titles say it all: Clueless, Green Oasis and Chameleon. This work was fundamental at shaping the Slovenian Low Carbon Strategy in a holistic manner. The Low Carbon Society Vision for Slovenia in 2050 is informed by the 2008 scenarios. Indeed, this scenario building work has been referred to as “one of the pearls of holistic, integrative, cross-sectorial policy planning for sustainable development”
In the short term, bringing people together in Slovenia, during the country’s EU presidency to present Climate Change issue to the European Union has created a pride of contribution in the country, which has illustrated the real drive of a nation engaging in such topics
In the long term, the scenarios, the resulting ideas and the networks have clearly shaped Slovenia’s Carbon Strategy.
Somalia is faced with a multifaceted problem: Stabilisation after the war.
When is a good moment in history to develop scenarios? When things go well to ensure they continue that way? Or when things are challenging in order to change trajectory? Probably both. However, the perceived need is perhaps greater in the latter case.
Here is an example, Somalia. In a Bilateral-supported project, scenarios were employed to create dialogue among key individuals, leaders and decision/makers to understand what will affect stabilisation dynamics in Somalia. Somali clan elders, artists, students, soldiers, businessmen, government officials and more developed possible scenarios and timelines based on how they envision Somalia in 20 years’ time.
Scenarios were developed in 2010 and 2011 paving the way for a USAID’s strategic and tailored social investment programming under its 7-year, $115 million Transition Initiatives for Stabilization. This case from Somalia is a testament to the fact that it’s never too late to think about the future.
In the short term in Somalia, perhaps more than in any other context, the need to understand the risk of “unwittingly” undermining progress has become evident. Good intentions can at times yield not just limited outcomes, but even detrimental ones.
In the long term, programmatic alignment has been improved through participatory processes of building scenarios.
In 2005 and in 2015 we developed scenarios for UNAIDS. In 2005 this was through contribution to a UNAIDS-Shell partnership for the future of AIDS in Africa. In the run up to the post-2015 world, Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, was keen to know what political decisions were key to end AIDS in each global region by 2030.
While the 2005 scenarios grappled with some very fundamental questions about the epidemiology, impact and governance relative to AIDS in Africa, 2015 offered a different set of insights: each global region faces a very different future because the context is different and specific to each region – today and in the future. The big questions that each region will face range from political commitment, to strategic prioritising and whether human rights are interpreted and promoted. Although extraordinary progress on the HIV epidemic has been observed in almost all regions, the most desirable futures are not a given and complacency is the biggest enemy across the globe.
The risks, impacts and consequences of complacency have become embedded in rhetoric on the future of AIDS, the need to act and the strategy that UNAIDS has adopted for 2016-2020.
In the long term, it became clear that a closer look at regional, national, local realities was needed, even to shape global policies. The scenarios of 2015 have illustrated that there are global commonalities due to shared realities, but these are not where the battle on HIV can be won – the differences are the unique areas where to engage with people and fight the virus.
In the short term, the UNAIDS scenarios sharpened the global resolve to change the funding and governance.
PARTNERSHIP – UNIVERSITY, BOROUGH AND PRIMARY HEALTH CARE TRUST
Ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games we were asked to look into the wellbeing the Games might bring to the relatively impoverished Boroughs and neighbourhoods of east London. Plagued by generational unemployment and reduced life expectancy, the Olympics offered apparent hope to supercharge much-needed regeneration, better health and greater opportunities.
The scenarios developed with residents, policy makers, investors, academic and officials have suggested just how complex it can be to balance hopes of the games, political calculations and citizen’s ambitions. The scenarios that have emerged were a rallying cry for interests to become more aligned and for social opportunities to be seized. One thing was sure: hopes and expectations were high and nothing seemed impossible in the future after the Games. Yet, pragmatists were not so optimistic, bureaucrats remained cautious and academics remained analytical.
Ultimately, in this case the scenarios had a limited impact outside the critical mass of participants built throughout the process. Yet, had there been the opportunity to release the work more widely across the range of actors, the ensuing debate would have shaped and influenced the planning and the feebler voices would have been heard.
In the longer term this engagement had all the possibilities for shaping social and structural investments to improve the conditions in east London.
In the short term individuals felt empowered to express their hopes and expectations.
Building and developing scenarios is a process. Much time and experience are needed to develop the right skills to embark on a scenario building journey. We have collaborated with the London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSE) to help senior managers from all sectors to acquire a basic understanding of the skills and applications of scenarios. Conducting annual training events with LSEAids, dozens of professionals from around the globe have joined us in London and thought about the future.
All events were structured on experiential learning. This has meant that the scenarios resulting from a four-day training event have had direct application and implications for course participants. Participating in these events has forged a network that has outlasted the event itself and has led to collaborations over time. To date, when we meet former participants we are regularly reminded of the insights developed during the courses at the LSE, and note how much everyone was able to anticipate opportunities and challenges in the international health space.
In the long term the substantive elements have provided continuous reference points for course participants to understand the signals of emerging change in their field of work, enabling them to align their responses.
Over the short term the collaboration with the LSE has resulted in a large number of senior professionals gaining practical skills for using scenarios.
It is often believed that building scenarios is something for big business and the military. Our experience shows that any organisation can develop and benefit from scenarios to shape its future. The processes involved in building scenarios are flexible. Elements of it are applicable on a reduced scale, while maintaining high impact.
SustainAbility is a medium-sized non-profit organisation with the massive ambition to make the business sector sustainable. Co-founded in the late 1980s by John Elkington, the drive he continued to provide in the late 2000s was palpable: a visionary with a clear agenda! The scenarios processes we have deployed with the senior management team at SustainAbility has helped surface and hone the collective thinking and usher in the organisation’s third era of “Transformation”. This current era is characterised by questions surrounding the ability to sustain globalisation and the rules of engagement for the future.
In the long term the direction the organisation has taken can be traced back to the debates, the issues and the ideas generated in this period of work.
In the short term, the use of scenario techniques has helped crystallise the thinking about a key annual report.
Scenarios have had their debut in the private sector within Shell in the 1970s. Pierre Wack was the first, and most legendary, leader of the scenarios team within Shell. Their pioneering work has ensured Shell’s survival during the 1970s oil crisis. Many other businesses either use internal or external teams to advance and enhance their view of the future. The “external team” option was employed by a major multinational with operations in Russia in 2007.
Scenarios were developed to assess the employment outlook and the future uncertainties in this country. Surprisingly, a minority group convened for the event was picking up signals of an impending return to a “Stalinist” world. Though initially dismissed as unlikely, the multinational was made aware that scenarios are not about preferences, but possibilities. Even a negative scenario must be prepared for – in order to prevent the potential risks it carries. Within a few months, the multinational identified signals of just such a damaging scenario materialising. Eventually all assets were sold to reduce risk exposure.
In the short term, some of the scenarios appear unlikely. However, if they are plausible, they offer insights and a vantage point no optimistic scenario could ever provide.
Over the longer term, tools are available to mitigate risk and exploit opportunities.
FINANCIAL SECTOR / BANKING
In this sector, scenarios have traditionally meant forecasts, including small variations of interest rates, growth, productivity, etc. Such an approach can be limiting and produce results of narrow value. A qualitative and more open-ended scenarios based inquiry can offer insights into elements that are apparently removed from banking or finance, but with a very real implication for the sector itself.
For example, the entire business model of countries that relied on bank secrecy was undermined. Not by financial matters, but by changes around the concepts of trust – the foundation of secrecy. Similarly, there are plenty of other issues whose future can be assessed using scenarios. What is it that could ender banks obsolete altogether?
Financial innovation would be missing an opportunity if it was only about the innovative product. Partnerships are as important as the product itself; what if public and private capital from investors who share common wealth management future, goals and aims worked together to fulfil a common mission.
Wealth management could be developing in the future in different ways, strictly related to behavioural components; what if we could logically analyse the behavioural components and shape the future of wealth management.
In the longer term a vision of the possible futures provides structured insights into how the sector might evolve and what will shape it.
In the short term, scenarios can offer critical insights about the key forces that shape the sector, expectations and opportunities.