Scenarios can range from rather simple to quite complex pictures of the future, but they must always be plausible and challenging. The level of preparation depends on the purpose. Two keys to producing useful and challenging scenarios are broad participation of stakeholders and careful analysis of trends.
Content and context
Scenario creation involves applying the Futures Thinking methodology to inputs from the world of education. This includes opinions and information from everyone involved, from policymakers to students and parents. One criterion for success is to involve people with marginal stakes as well as those with central stakes in the issue. Participants gather around trend analysis to identify key features of the local, national and global context, considering how these features might develop and the possible effects. Content and context for the scenarios arise through consideration of demographic, economic, and cultural phenomena, as well as past, present, and possible future trends.
Getting a first picture
Here is the most common way to build scenarios, combining broad participation and trend analysis. First, participants are invited to brainstorm key factors driving change and development in the relevant field. For schooling, participants may point to the level of government funding, the market size for private education, the population age, who controls the curriculum, the salaries and working conditions of teachers, and public views on education. These drivers are then consolidated into a manageable number of generic categories, such as public and private attitudes to schooling, teacher profiles, school organisation and structure.
Participants then discuss relevant trends within these categories (for example, is teacher pay increasing? How much more involved is the private sector becoming? What use is being made of ICTs?) thereby generating a picture of the status quo and possible directions of change. Analysing the relationships between different categories and trends gives a picture of the most important factors underlying change.
Staying with the example of schooling, participants might conclude that school structure affect several other factors, like teachers' working conditions and public opinions regarding schooling, while the size of the market for private education might affect private-sector attitudes, school structures and teachers' salaries.
Digging deeper: scenario structure and actor analysis
Once these relationships have been discussed and a picture created, this body of information can be turned into concrete scenarios. This generally involves combining two methods. First, the 'scenario structure' method combines two or more key drivers of change to give a range of possible scenarios. This can be done to various degrees of complexity; a very simple example can be given with two key drivers: 1) levels of government funding; and 2) size of market for private education.
The second technique, 'actor analysis,' begins with the question 'who are the most important actors in the scenarios and how might they be expected to act?' It is possible to identify several key players, assess their relative importance, and enrich the scenarios with this information. The aim is not to predict what key players will do under each scenario, but to consider what they might realistically do under various circumstances, the possible actions and reactions. This approach is generally used to supplement the scenario-structure approach, and adds finer levels of detail and alternative directions of enquiry into the scenario development process.
The scenario development process itself is an important part of strategic planning. By focusing our thinking about what the future may hold, we improve our awareness of the relative importance of current trends and issues, and generate an understanding of how various courses of action may unfold and interact in the short-, medium- and long-term.