How Scenarios Work

Scenarios are not strategic plans; they are not about the community but rather, about the context in which the community operates. They are mostly about the things we don’t know, which are coming at us from the future.

Scenarios help organizations make sense of their context and identify trends and factors that might affect them in the future. That allows them to “wind-tunnel” their strategies by asking themselves how they’ll fare in each of the alternative futures they may face. What threats and opportunities may present themselves in each scenario? What do we need to do today to prepare? How do we survive, thrive, and be resilient in the future, knowing that the future is uncertain? As in a wind tunnel, one can ask, “How does my airplane fly in different conditions of turbulence?” and “under what conditions will it stall and fall?”

Scenarios don’t try to predict the future, and they are not  good or bad. In fact, we avoid the commonly parlance of “best case” or “worst case” scenario, because all scenarios can present opportunities and threats.

Scenarios are alternative stories of the future. They are built by imagining how different variables will evolve over time and assigning different outcomes to trends and events that are uncertain. Will the economic recovery be fast or slow? Will there be social unrest? Will families strengthen or weaken? Will travel resume? Will social distancing continue? Will education be mostly virtual? Will there be a religious renaissance? Will civil rights be curtailed? The different answers we imagine for each of these questions – and many more – form the building blocks of our alternative scenarios.

The JFN Scenarios Process