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Probable futures

Suggested tasks/questions for this sub section

  • Use what you know by now to predict what is going to happen in the next 12 months.
  • Based on the system analysis and causal relations you have discovered, what are the likely direct effects of the problem that has not yet manifested itself.
  • Use the indicator trend graphs to see if some variable/indicator is about to go above/below some level. Then what is likely to happen?

Watch out for

Advanced topics

Further reading for intermediate problem solvers:

Possible short term effects are the things we believe will happen relativily soon if nothing is done about the problem.

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What are some likely short term effects or outcomes we can expect to see soon?

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Add new possible short term effect

Add a description about an effect that is likely to appear soon because of the problem not being solved adequately.

  • This effect should be verifiable against our current models and understanding.
  • Why is this effect likely to happen?
  • Don't add effects that are trivial and expected.
  • Don't add effects that are already happening. These should be described in previous stages.

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Suggested tasks/questions for this sub section

What will the future bring assuming (1) there are no significant change (in current plans, policies, programs, etc.), and (2) the future environment evolves as currently expected?

  • Go back and revisit the behavior over time graphs. Based on just these graphs how much worse or better will the situation become?
  • Decide a time frame that makes sense.
  • Build the forecast and validate it with historical data. Consider using Extrapolation methods or other trend analysis methods if variables can't be simulated.
  • Test the assumptions that are used in the model for the forecast.
  • Remember to update the forecast when there is new data.

Watch out for

  • Forecast bias. What is your role in the problem? Have you considered other points of view?
  • Is your forecast process one-dimensional or are you gathering and integrating forecast data from multiple sources across multiple time frames?

Advanced topics

Further reading for intermediate problem solvers:

The forecast is telling us what will happen with the indicators if the problem situation continues to evolve in the exact same way and there are no other external events affecting it.

Forecasts are always wrong. The only question is "how wrong is it?"
- practicalforecasting.com

Even though the forecasts will be wrong they are important as a best bet.

This forecast can then be used to predict future probable events.

Suggested reading

If the situation continues without other influences, what will happen with the indicators?

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Add new forecast

Add a note about the forecasted indicator level and that that is likely to result in.

  • Events that may become more or less prevalent.
  • Some symptoms that will become more prominent.
  • Some aspects that will become more apparent.
  • A percentage increase in some related variable.
  • Indicate the degree of uncertainty attaching to forecast.
  • Make sure the forecast is sufficiently clear so it can be easily disseminated among all of the stakeholders. Doing so will raise awareness of, and interest in, the problem.

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Suggested tasks/questions for this sub section

What are the social, economic and environmental drivers for change? Here you should describe and analyse these so they are well understood.

What are some influential trends?

Step 1 - find the drivers for change

  • What are the underlying forces that drive the change in variables in the previous section?
  • Brainstorm a list of forces you believe can shape the future of the society in which the problem is situated.
  • What are the most important factors that will decide the nature of the future environment?
  • Consider using PEST analysis to look for key drivers.
  • What are some seeds of change?
  • What from the past is influencing the present?

You may also track variables on the external environment. These variables will provide trends that can be translated into key drivers for change?

Step 2 - bring drivers together into a viable framework

  • Remove duplicate and overlapping drivers.
  • Remove drivers that are considerably constrained.
  • Find key uncertainties.
  • Map the driving forces on two axes, assessing each force on an uncertain/(relatively) predictable and important/unimportant scale.
  • All driving forces that are considered unimportant are discarded.
  • Consider using Trend Impact Analysis.

Watch out for

Advanced topics

Further reading for intermediate problem solvers:

The key drivers for change are external forces (somtimes big and usually out of our control) that will shape the future.

These key drivers help us to get a picture of how the external environment is likely to evolve.

To predict how the problem will evolve we need to understand external variables that may affect the problem which is always part of a greater context.

As our problem is part of this larger environment we can use this to devise solutions that may have a higher chance of being sustainable and future proof.

Suggested reading

What are the key forces or drivers for future change?

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  • What are driving change?

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Suggested tasks/questions for this sub section

Long-term and comparative studies are important in developing a means to anticipate tipping points. Long-term studies provide baselines in rates of change; comparative studies help define boundaries of likely change or alternate states that the system may assume if pushed past a tipping point.

  • How much can variables in our problem situation be increased or decreased before a critical threshold is reached that will create an abrupt change?
  • What factors lead to systemic and rapid change; at what point does the situation tip over?

Other questions related to tipping points

  • Can we identify vulnerabilities to threshold change, i.e. leverage points in the dynamics of systems that make them especially sensitive to perturbations?
  • Can we identify the processes that lead to either positive or negative feedbacks to perturbations?
  • Can we stop movement toward a tipping point?
  • Can we reverse a system’s trajectory once a tipping point is reached? How can we mitigate the changes that we expect to occur?
  • How can we adapt to the new state that is reached after a tipping point?

Watch out for

Advanced topics

Further reading for intermediate problem solvers:

A tipping point is often defined as an instantaneous, and in some cases irreversible radical change that usually comes without warning. It has been thought of as being connected to or caused by a series of smaller changes that came before it.

Predicting and understaning the nature of tipping points is important as they can have profound consequences.

The financial crisis of 2008 is an example where a tipping point was reached and which led to severe abrupt changes.

Tipping points are often viewed as low probability— high consequence events.

From this perspective, a research priority is to recognize early warnings, define boundaries of potential impact (scenarios), and develop mitigation plans.

Suggested reading

What are the tipping points for the situation?

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Add your thoughts on tipping points

  • What variables should we be on the lookout for?
  • When will combinations of smaller changes reach a tipping point?

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Suggested tasks/questions for this sub section

Create a list of possible events that are likely to significantly impact the situation.

  • Based on the trends in the previous section, what events can occur?
  • You may use Futures Wheel in the thinking process.
  • Only list events that are relevant in a timeframe that makes sense for the problem at hand.
  • Are there forces that are likely to result in events that will alter the course of time?
  • What are our hopes and fears for five to ten years from now, and how can that be translated into possible events?
  • What decisions are likely to take place?
  • Consider using Agent-based modelling or Cross impact analysis.
  • If not already used in previous sections, consider using PEST analysis to discover possible future events.
  • Look for events as a result of Continuities (Hidden long term change) and Discontinuities (possible disruptive events, breakdowns etc).
  • Use trends as a basis to predict possible events.
  • Use brainstorming and give room for crazy ideas.
  • Look for weak signals. Observe marginal ideas & groups. E.g.
    • Trendsetters and artists
    • Science Fiction
    • Socially excluded persons
    • Youth
  • Events may not just be clear one-time events but rather a change in the situation. For example:
    • The labor party comes into power.
    • The economy comes to stagnation.
    • Foreign policy becomes more cooperative.
    • Distribution of wealth becomes stronger.
    • More riots and social unrest.
    • Increased solidarity.
    • The public perception of ... starts to dwindle.
    • The government intervenes in ...
    • The ... industry expands into ...

Watch out for

Advanced topics

Further reading for intermediate problem solvers:

What are some possible future events that would significantly impact the situation?

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  • The event should not be highly predictable. (If we know it is highly likely to happen then it should be part of the forecast).
  • If it were to happen we predict that is will have considerable impact on the situation.
  • There should be some likelyhood that it will happen. To decide if you should add it make the following calculation:
    What is the probabiliy that it will happen (P) from 0-100%?
    What is the impact (I) if it actually happened? 0 is no effect on situation and 100 would be complete revolution or radical change.
    If P*I is less than 500 don't bother adding it as there are probably other more interesting events to keep a lookout for.

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Suggested tasks/questions for this sub section

  • What are likely future scenarios based on these trends?
  • Create set of Scenarios e.g. most likely scenario, worst case and best case scenario.
  • Group drivers together to form scenarios.
  • Condense down to a few scenarios so they will be more managable.
  • These scenarios should have about the same probability.
  • Test the scenarios to see if they make sense. Are there any unrealistic assumptions
  • Iterate if you need to.
  • Consider using wild cards / black swan scenarios. These are unlikely events but with extremenly high impact. This is a powerful way to provoke thinking about the unexpected and to rethink the problem. This can lead to more resilient solutions as well as innovations through new ideas.
  • Write the scenarios in word form (almost as a series of alternative essays about the future). Develop scenarios into narratives—stories. Scenario narratives are powerful communication tools. A well written story can quickly capture a lot of complexity and leave a lasting message with the reader.
  • Consider using System Dynamics to simulate variables over time and to improve the quality of the models.
  • Use metaphors to give life to each ecenario so it is more communicative
  • Rule out any "impossible" scenarios (incompatible combinations of drivers).
  • Assess and judge the level of certainty about drivers. Uncertain drivers such as those governed by undecided people stance should be investigated more closely.

See Scenario planning - Wikipedia for more information on the process of defining scenarios.

For more tools to use in defining scenarios, futures and forecasts see Integration, Comparisons, and Frontier of Futures Research Methods - Theodore J Gordon and Jerome C. Glenn, foresight.jrc.ec.europa.eu

How do we use these scenarios

The scenarios will be used to cross check solutions. When you get to the solutions stage these scenarios will appear again and you can check if solutions are viable by predicting what will happen if the solution was implemented and the scenarios became true.

Watch out for

  • Do not include driving forces that are relatively predictable and certain. These would go into any scenario, so the scenarios should not be based on these.
  • Don't add too many scenarios, or you will end up with analysis paralysis.

Advanced topics

Further reading for intermediate problem solvers:

Scenarios are plausible alternative futures or examples of what might happen under particular assumptions. Scenarios are stories about how the future might unfold.

Scenarios are used to stretch our thinking about the opportunities and threats that the future might hold, and to weigh those opportunities and threats carefully when designing solutions.

Scenarios are not specific predictions or forecasts. Scenarios instead provide a starting point for examining questions about an uncertain future and can help us visualize alternative futures in concrete and human terms.

Using scenarios helps to identify vulnerabilities and plan for contingencies.

Many plans fail not because of what was in the plan, but what was not in the plan.
- Zsolt Nyiri

The scenarios you define here help us to design better solutions for a more resilient future.

The results of this section will be used in the solutions stage as part of a framework to encourage you and the problem solving team to think systematically and creatively about potential surprises and the possible responses to them.

Suggested reading

What are the most interesting future scenarios we should plan for?

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The scenario could start with the words "A world in which..."

The scenario should contain:
Name, Possible trigger, Key elements and Impacts.

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###Heading2###
**Bold**
_italic_
1. First list item
2. Next list item
* bullet item 1
* bullet item 2
[link text](http://url.com/ "tooltip")

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Suggested tasks/questions for this sub section

Based on your forcast and best case and worst case scenarios how will the key indicators evolve.

  • Show the main forcasted trajectory and add stipled lines for best and worst case scenarios.

Watch out for

Advanced topics

Further reading for intermediate problem solvers:

The trajectory sub step is for depicting the forcasted indicators in the future.

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What are some illustrations that give an overview of the situation?

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Add a graph that shows the projected development of one or a few indicators.

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