WHAT are scenarios?


Scenarios are carefully constructed snapshots of the future and the possible ways a sector might develop. Scenarios help focus thinking on the most important factors driving change in any particular field. By considering the complex interactions between these factors, we can improve our understanding of how change works, and what we can do to guide it.

Scenarios and education

Scenarios do not predict the future - they are tools to help us explore different ways the future might unfold, so that we may form a shared vision, develop strategies, and create high-impact policies to be implemented now. A scenario for a given field, such as education or schooling, ought to tell us what each of the major stakeholders could expect in a certain set of circumstances, so decision makers at all levels should find scenarios useful. In the case of schooling, a scenario should give us an account of the basic structure of schools of the future, as well as the attitudes of private and public sectors, teachers, students and parents towards schooling. Furthermore, it should give us information about each of these groups: Are the teachers of the future full-time professionals, or experts with short-term contracts? Do students expect to be taught information and facts, or skills that will help them later in life? And are the schools of the future focused on learning or on acting as broader social centres, or perhaps a mix of the two?

What do they contain?

A well-constructed scenario must contain enough detail to be useful for strategic planning, but not so much as to become overly specific and irrelevant to the issues of interest. We must be inventive and imaginative, without letting our pictures become too obscure or fanciful. To help decision makers arrive at this middle ground, CERI/OECD has developed a sophisticated approach to scenario building. This involves analytic tools such as 'trend analysis' and 'actor analysis', with step-by-step methods for creating and using scenarios in any environment where decisions that are necessary now may have important consequences in the future.

Scenario or scenarios?

Scenarios can differ in various ways that allow them to be classified by type. Grouping and considering them by type can help bring specific aspects of an issue into relief. On the other hand, considering each scenario in isolation can help highlight different ways to achieve the same outcome. By combining these approaches, decision-makers can gain a detailed understanding of the drivers of change, and a platform for strategic thinking.

In brief:

  • Scenarios present snapshots of possible futures.
  • Scenarios are tools for focusing thought, developing shared visions, and determining policy.
  • Scenarios do not predict the future, but help us to decide what to do now in order to shape it.


Scenario development: a typology of approaches

Related topics:
WHY to use scenarios?
HOW are scenarios made?
The Schooling for Tomorrow Scenarios
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