Futures Thinking Methodologies and Options for Education

 

Download article (.pdf) | By Jonas Svava Iversen | Published in Think Scenarios, Rethink Education, 2006

 

Jonas Svava Iversen gives step-by-step guidelines for scenario work, from conception to application. He divides the scenario process into four critical phases, and within each of them, he presents a range of methodologies and approaches:

 

Delineation and mapping

An appropriate project design will ensure that the processes and approaches fit the context and goals. Jonas Svava Iversen delineates the choices in project design using Van Notten's typology of opposites, such as exploration of issues versus pre-policy research; divergent versus convergent thinkingqualitative versus quantitative methods.

To give an overview of the scope and focus areas of the scenario analysis, the salient elements of the subject matter must be determined at the outset. This can involve such methods as desk research and interviews with experts, as well as relevance trees to illustrate the relations to similar subjects.

 

Identification of issues and trends

The data can be transformed into issues and trends through analytical methods such as biblio-metric analysis to track interest in the subject and identify key actors; extrapolation of historical trends to project possible future developments; and patent analysis to look for potential technological breakthroughs.

Iversen emphasises that participatory approaches are as important as analytical methods, because experts are key in generating new insights. Their inputs can be collected through interviews, focus groups, or the Delphi analysis. The latter is a technique for creating consensus among experts through a series of anonymous questionnaires, with each new round building upon the ideas acquired in the previous rounds.

 

Scenario creation

Scenario may be developed and used in either a normative or exploratory manner: Normative scenarios present visions of the future, and are frequent in organisations with a clear political agenda, whereas explorative scenarios are multiple and present how different the future may become, and are therefore most appropriate for education.

Large groups of stakeholders should be involved in scenario creation to ensure an inclusive approach. The trends to be used must be selected, prepared, and prioritised so as to create a consistent scenario structure. Iversen gives some techniques to stimulate out-of the-box thinking and recommends actor analysis as a means to identify a scenario's implications for different groups of stakeholders.

 

Using the scenarios

To transform scenarios into tools, Iversen suggests back-casting to identify the milestones and actions that would lead to the specific scenarios. As tools for decision-making in an organisation, he further suggests the SWOT analysis as a way to assess the implications of the different scenarios for the organisations. In brief, he points to the efficiency of scenarios for three broad purposes:

  • To develop shared knowledge while questioning existing assumptions;
  • To strengthen and guide public discourse;
  • To support decision-making on complex issues with long-term implications.

 

For each of these three purposes, Iversen explains which approaches and methodologies are typically favoured. He concludes by discussing key factors in all scenario processes, such as the importance of creating a sense of ownership and inclusiveness among the stakeholders, and the advantages to be gained by combining multiple methods.

 

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