Comparions with other approaches

There are many different ways of doing scenario planning, and variants of scenario planning (futures exploration/research, horizon scanning, strategic foresight, etc.). Here is one recent review: Bengston, D. N. (2019). Futures Research Methods and Applications in Natural Resources. Society & Natural Resources, 32(10), 1099–1113.

In the above paper, Bengston describes three axes that can be used to differentiate different types of scenario planning methods:

3 axes

In terms of this framework, ParEvo is on the qualitative, imagination and participatory edge of this space. But within any ParEvo exercise, there is room for expert input, quantitative data, and real-world evidence. But as Bengston notes “…there are limits to evidence-based approaches to studying a future that does not exist. Bell (1997, 148) observed that “The future is nonevidential and cannot be observed; therefore, there are no facts about the future.” The creativity- and imagination-based dimension is what sets futures methods apart from most other social science research methods”

Other reviews: Amer, M., Daim, T. U., & Jetter, A. (2013). A review of scenario planning. Futures, 46, 23–40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2012.10.003

The Futures Wheel

The most similar approach I have found is called the Futures Wheel or Implications Wheel. Like ParEvo, this starts with a common text, it then involves multiple parallel additions to that text by different participants, through a series of iterations. Here is a description: Bengston, D. N. (2016). The Futures Wheel: A Method for Exploring the Implications of Social–Ecological Change. Society & Natural Resources, 29(3), 374–379. 

Here is a simplified example from the above paper:

futures wheel

“A complete wheel typically has about five second-orders for each first-order, and five-third-orders for each second-order. Starting from the center the group is asked, ‘‘If this occurs, then what might happen next?’’ “Both positive and negative first-order consequences should be identified, and the process should be open to even low-probability consequences— the idea is to identify possibilities, however remote”…” Once the group has identified the most significant first-orders, the process is repeated
to identify a set of possible second-order consequences. For each first-order, the
facilitator again asks, ‘‘If this occurs, then what might happen next?’’ Positive and
negative second-order consequences should be identified for each first-order. It is
important to complete all first-orders before going on to the second-orders, and
all second-orders before adding any third-orders.”

Unlike ParEvo the process tends to end with the identification of third-order implications because “going beyond this level becomes too tenuous.” and probably also because the amount of time required for each level tends to increase geometrically. This does not happen with ParEvo : (a) because the number of contributions per participant per iteration is limited to one and (b) because the selective extension of existing storylines – only those extended in the last iteration can be added to in the next. Thre is no geometric growth in content.

“Some approaches to the Futures Wheel use the groups to subjectively rate each of
the consequences in terms of their importance, uncertainty, and other factors” But with ParEvo such ratings are applied to whole surviving storylines, not individual contributions. However, the Comment facility in ParEvo does allow a more free form of evaluation of individual contributions.

There are other common features in how the results of the two types of exercise can be analysed. Each of these possibilities for the Future Wheel can also be pursued within ParEvo:

“Inductive thematic analysis may be performed to identify broad themes (Benckendorff 2008), but more in-depth analysis aims to discover:
. Highly desirable, low-likelihood consequences (and policies or management
actions designed to increase their likelihood).
. Highly undesirable, high-likelihood consequences (and policies or management
actions designed to decrease their likelihood).
. Surprising consequences, including those that could have catastrophic or extraordinarily positive impacts.
. Differences in scoring from alternative points of view.
. Information and monitoring needs for developments that are highly uncertain.

However, because of the Future Wheel’s less structured approach to participation ParEvo enables analysis of the process as well as the content of an exercise. Notably, how the different participants contributed, to each other’s contributions and to different storylines

Comparisons with other scenario planning approaches

“Various futurists and researchers have recommended different number of alternative scenarios usually ranging from three to six scenarios”…”Moreover, in case of generating more than five scenarios, the cost of drafting and evaluating these large number of scenarios will be very high and not justifiable.” (Amer et al, 2013) However, the ParEvo process has no problem with generating larger numbers of scenarios, if each storyline is recognised as a scenario.

“Number of scenarios developed for a project significantly depends upon how many uncertainties of the future environment are considered and their plausible combinations create scenarios.” This approach, of identifying dimensions of uncertainties (aka drivers) then combining these in matrix form, is the opposite of how ParEvo works. In ParEvo exercise storylines are developed first, then later they can be compared and categorised on various dimensions. In this sense, ParEvo’s approach is more inductive.

However…I have discovered some middle ground practice. In a large scale online participatory approach using WhatsApp, Lambton-Howard et al (2019) allowed “drivers of change” to be represented by participants taking on different roles…

The IFRC were particularly interested in how global drivers of change (e.g. climate change, demographic shifts, migration etc.) may impact local communities. To this end, we identified four specialist roles that players could choose in the game that would encompass four large drivers for future change (DG2), as identified by the IFRC. The specialisms were technologist, cultural expert, environmental scientist and political advisor. Much like the roles chosen in traditional pen and paper role-playing games (e.g. warrior, thief, wizard), these roles gave a player a unique perspective, and unique responsibilities within their team (DG1)

The idea that ParEvo participants could take on different stakeholder roles has already been mentioned elsewhere on this website. The IFRC experience suggests this is a direction of practice well worth exploring.