Adaptive vs. Visionary-Advocacy Approaches in Scenario Planning: Implications of Contrasting Purposes and Constraint Conditions

Abstract: Scenario planning has steadily grown to become a significant part of business and organisational foresight processes, particularly where planning situations demand approaches beyond traditional forecasting, due to extent of uncertainty variables or length of future time under consideration. However, despite general consensus as to the importance of the scenario approach in general, and rapid growth in both theory and practice in the field, fundamental questions remain over which situations are most tractable to scenario planning and why; and, in the face of uneven success in application, which among an apparent myriad scenario planning approaches best serves different planning situations, or organisations holding different goals. This dissertation makes an intervention into this problem, investigating to what extent scenario planning projects can be separated by underlying project purpose, and, based on original primary case studies and case-based structured interviews, finds that two meta-categories of purpose exist, which are here referred to as “adaptive” and “visionary-advocacy” purposes. It is argued that a purpose-based distinction of scenario modes provides part-explanation of the effective basis, or absence thereof, of scenario work for different situations—a basis which is achieved via congruence of scenario project purpose with (a) underlying organisational planning purpose, and (b) the extent of organisational influence over external conditions, including macro-variables of change, that constrain it. These findings suggest additions to scenario method as currently understood, particularly pre-project analysis (audits) of both an organisation’s planning purpose and its external constraint conditions, to ascertain the presence of absence of necessary congruencies, so as to inform adoption of the purpose platform (and allied methodology) more likely to produce successful outcomes in application.

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