ParEvo exercise #4: 2020


The purpose of this webpage is to document the process that was used to design, manage and evaluate the fourth ParEvo exercise, known as 2020. Through the comments facility below it will also provide an opportunity for participants to add their views on the process. Please feel free to add any comments or questions below.

I will structure reporting on the process using the 12 stages outlined on the Start Here page of this website, which describe how to go about planning and implementing and evaluating a ParEvo exercise.

1. Clarifying the aim of a ParEvo exercise

The purpose of this ParEvo exercise was to give a wide range of people an opportunity to see how ParEvo worked. If the exercise works as well as intended I hope a number of the participants will then look for opportunities where they can use ParEvo in their own area of work, with themselves playing the role of facilitator rather than myself.

With this aim in mind, I had to find a topic that was likely to be of interest to a wide range of people. Climate change seemed to be an ideal topic.

As explained on the start here page, there are two possible types of purposes. One is a content objective, in this case, it’s to learn about different perspectives on what might happen to global warming from the year 2020 onwards. The other is a process objective. In this case, it’s to observe how people participate in the construction of these different storylines about climate change and to show participants how they can analyse this kind of data when they themselves are facilitators of a ParEvo exercise.

The start here page also makes a distinction between forecasting and backcasting. In this exercise we are doing forecasting because we have no particular end goal in mind, it’s an exploration of possibilities and we don’t know exactly where that exploration will take us.

Lesson 1: Give a ParEvo exercise that will grab peoples attention. “2020” was not ideal. Perhaps “Climate Change 2020” or something like this might have been better.

2. Identifying who will be involved

At this stage (24/08/2019) there are 12 participants from 11 countries. Their names will not be disclosed because an important part of the ParEvo design is to focus on the content of people’s ideas not the identity of those expressing those ideas. Based on past experience of this kind of exercise I expect that some of the participants may drop out, in which case I will recruit additional participants from the same source. That source was the membership of the MandE News email list which I manage.

Query 1: Is there a case for offering incentives for people to keep participating once they join in exercise? Perhaps a donation by the facilitator to a particular relevant charity or one identified by the participants themselves?

Query 2: With some exercises is there an argument for allowing open-ended participation in some form? For example, in the first iteration allowing the first 10 participants who sign up to make a contribution at that point. Then in the second iteration to allow the next 10 people to make a contribution, building on the results of the first iteration. Then in the third iteration to allow the next 10 people to do the same in turn, et cetera, et cetera.

3. Describing the starting point of the process

The starting point of a ParEvo process is the development of a seed paragraph of text, which becomes the basis of all storylines which are developed by participants thereafter. All the participants will see this seed text as soon the ParEvo process begins and they are invited to make their first contribution, to be added to that seed text.

4. Defining the endpoint

Because this is a forecasting exercise, rather than a backcasting exercise, there is no endpoint which the storylines need to be orientated towards.

But another kind of endpoint has been defined and that is the number of iterations that this exercise will go through. At this stage, it is planned to go through at least 10 iterations. In each iteration, the participants will have the opportunity to review the developing storylines up to that point and to decide which of those storylines they want to add a new bit of text extending that storyline.

5. The facilitator provides guidance to participants

At the top of the ParEvo webpage which participants will have access to, showing the development of this 2020 exercise there will be a short body of text written by the facilitator. That text will provide guidance to the participants about their contributions. In some cases that guidance might be tailored specifically to the immediate iteration underway.

While carrying out this exercise I came across at least two items on the Internet which could provide some inspiration to the participants, stimulating their imagination about what could happen and how people react to climate change. I’ve listed these below. In future ParEvo exercises, it may be worthwhile if the facilitator identified in advance similar sources that could provide inspiration and context for the participants thinking.

  • “Hello From the Year 2050. We Avoided the Worst of Climate Change — But Everything Is Different” by Bill McKibben, in Time magazine
  • Act now and avert a climate crisis. Nature joins more than 250 media outlets in Covering Climate Now, a unique collaboration to focus attention on the need for urgent action.

At the top of the ParEvo page, which is visible when an exercise is underway, is a blank space with an empty circle on the left side. In the near future, this space should become available for a graphic image (diagram or photograph) to be shown alongside the Facilitators guidance. The intention is that this would help set the ambient mood within which the exercise was taking place.

6. Participants make their contributions

Lesson 2: Peoples’ contributions in the first iteration varied in the span of time they covered. Facilitators need to remind participants that there are 10 iterations and so they need to “pace themselves” i.e. not compress too big a span of time into the first few contributions.

Lesson 3: The facilitator may want to define each iteration as covering a specific span of time, rather than an undefined period of time.

Some other desirables: contributions would ideally refer to countries, organisations, people, times and places. Though some physical events might not necessarily involve people.

An open questions: To what extent should encouragement be given to develop specific types of storylines, versus just let whatever is there evolve in what ever direction is preferred? I now worry that I may have given overly limiting guidance in my 2nd iteration email.

7. Developing storylines are shared

How long should I wait before closing an iteration and sharing those contributions, so that they can be commented on? I have played with 48 hours, to allow people from all over the world to contribute in sufficient time. but if I hurry people up too much I may loose valuable participants. More participants, rather than less, is best at this early concept testing stage

Query 3: In each iteration, there are two phases. The first is a contribution phase where people add text to a selected storyline that they want to continue. The second is a comment phase, where people can comment or question the contents of those contributions. This is like a conversation about the conversation, a meta-level of discussion. Up to now, people have just been invited to comment as they wish. But there is an alternative which would be more prescriptive. This would be simply to comment on their own contribution, albeit anonymously. In those comments, they can elaborate on the thinking behind their contribution and why they decided to add to a particular storyline rather than another storyline.

8. Re-iteration of 5, 6, 7

9. Evaluation

12. Follow-up

Other information…

Hello From the Year 2050. We Avoided the Worst of Climate Change — But Everything Is Different” by Bill McKibben, in Time magazine





4 thoughts on “ParEvo exercise #4: 2020

  1. 1st interaction – some stories jumped quickly to solutions or a solution and perhaps left little room to expand (unless the storyline path was changed). Many early ones focussed highlighting the years of inaction (rightly so) but may be trapped in that – however, this does leave room for stories to expand over time. Many focus on reducing greenhouse gases – what about adaptions if we assume the greenhouse tipping point was reached or exceeded. Perhaps some scientific knowledge on what the initial scenario meant in terms of that may help focus scenarios

  2. A number of other types of scenario planning approaches do make use of the expert opinion at the initial stages. But my preference with the ParEvo approach is to allow a range of people to develop alternative storylines based on whatever knowledge they have at hand. Then later on one could invite experts to look at the storylines and identify where the strengths and weaknesses are in people’s knowledge and expectations, and then perhaps provide that feedback to the participants. Scientific knowledge is important but understanding the range of public knowledge is also important.

  3. I really like this approach – and the interface is easy to use. I have been trying to use the MSC technique to use stories to evaluate success in programmes but I think this will make it a lot easier. One thing that became clear is that people are not used to tell stories in a professional setting (something I found in my research as well). We all tell stories all the time, we just often don’t know where to start when someone asks us to tell a story – especially if it’s on such a complex topic in a professional setting. That is why I used a fairytale story spine to pretty great success (see ERSS Special Issue 37, Rotmann, 2017) in my behaviour change research. It provides prompts that help set the scene and frame the different elements of the “hero’s journey” and puts participants into a “storytelling frame of mind”. I hope we can collaborate on seeing how the two approaches would work together, Rick. I think they would complement and improve on each other. Sea

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