Charting an Uncertain Future Through Scenario Planning

Scenario planning is a strategic method of addressing uncertainty in the future. Long used by corporate boards and executives, its application in association management is gaining traction. By describing several scenarios for the future and then thinking about the implications, you create a more prepared and agile organization.

Start with what’s possible
Thinkers are recognized for their ability ‘to see around corners’ anticipating rather than reacting. To prepare for what may come, you also need an eye on happening in the market - especially developments, events, and trends the association does not influence but is affected by. The advantage of this method is that members, staff, stakeholders, and even external thought leaders knowledge, expertise, and imagination are critical to the process. It employs a trend survey, where there are no bad ideas. It is open to the widest possible spectrum of subjects and captures not only facts, but ideas, opinions, and observations. These include demographic, economic, environmental, political, technological, and social developments. Subsequently, driving forces and uncertainties with regard to these developments can be identified. This provides the insight mapping to the outside world and leads to new, more-informed strategic questions.

Move from trends to scenarios
Identifying and assessing trends is usually the first step in an exploration of the future. After determining the degree of uncertainty what could happen, potential developments can be combined in a meaningful way into several different, complex conceptual images, i.e. scenarios. These scenarios sketch worlds the association could find itself in the coming years, but on which it has no real influence. By using scenarios, knowledge and imagination are mobilized in the organization. While scenario planning is not an end in itself; it helps structure and give meaning to information so that leaders in your association can make better informed, more strategic decisions.

About the author:
Renate Kenter is a strategy consultant, facilitator, and teacher with De Ruijter Strategy since 2005. De Ruijter Strategy is based in The Netherlands and specializes in ‘scenario-based strategy’ projects. Renate has broad experience in supporting and leading projects in both the public and private sector (e.g. the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, ministries, municipalities, provinces, NECE (Networking European Citizenship Education) and government agencies such as PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (project The Sustainable City).