Futures Table – A Powerful Scenario Planning Tool

Learn how to build scenarios and analyse alternative future development paths with this step-by-step guide.

December 14, 2021, Tuomo Kuosa

Futures Table is a tool that we at Futures Platform use on a daily basis in our scenario-building work. Our process begins with horizon scanning, where we identify emerging signals of change, trends, and other phenomena that deserve further analysis. Then, we analyse the potential future developments of the topic at hand using the Futures Table. In this article, we walk you through how to use this tool to build fully-fledged, logical and engaging scenario narratives.

Futures Table has its roots in morphological analysis, a method developed by the astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky in the 1940s-1960s. It was originally created to structure and investigate the total set of relationships in multi-dimensional, non-quantifiable, astrophysical problem complexes, where simulations and causal models were not possible.

In 1983, futurist Yrjö Seppälä modified the method for futures context, discussed its use in scenario building, and named it the Futures Table. In the foresight context, Futures Table offers a structured, comprehensive approach to analysing how different variables of a trend, development or change signal may develop in the future.

 

How to use the Futures Table to build scenarios

Start by defining your topic and research question. After you’ve researched the issue at hand, list the main drivers or change factors that play a key role in the development of your topic. At Futures Platform, we also have a peer review process at this stage, where another foresight analyst assesses the identified drivers.

Once you have identified the main drivers and discussed them with your team, you can start filling in the Futures Table. The identified drivers go to the first cells of the rows. The development options, named “Future States”, are specified in the other cells of the row. These “Future States” are clear and logical development paths, each about 1-3 sentences long and mutually exclusive.

Futures Table

 

After you've filled in the Futures Table, it is time to choose development paths for each scenario. Create alternative future paths by choosing one future state from each row. You can also use the same future state for more than one scenario (as seen in the example of box C2 below).

While the principles of choosing between these future states may vary, one often used method is to start from, e.g. box A1 first, and then select another box from the next row that suits A1 the best, either logically or causally. The same principle is then applied to all four columns. After completing the first development path, continue with the next alternative paths by following the same logic.

Filled futures table
Choosing development paths for each scenario

 

Iterative rounds are recommended. One method you can use to verify that the development path´s future states are a logical combination is Russell Rhyne´s Field Anomaly Relaxation method (FAR).

Each selection of the logically compatible future states is a development path that is now called the “future image”. Once you have these four future images ready, select the two most probable or the two most useful future images for your organisation for further analysis.

At Futures Platform, we perform a hypothesis falsification test on each Future Image, where we assess the plausibility of each scenario in light of existing knowledge, to choose the most probable and second most probable scenarios out of the four future images.

Next, use the backcasting method to map out the development steps for your two selected future images. Start by focusing on the end state of your future image (e.g. 2040), and consider what needs to have happened by that time so that the scenario logic is solid. Then do the same with the steps before that (e.g. 2035, 2030 and so on) until you reach the present time.

Once you have the development path mapped out, it is time to write the final scenario narratives. This is a creative process where you build on the development path that was mapped out in the previous step, but you can also leave some things out or add new things to produce a logical, engaging storyline.

Scenarios on Futures Platform
Scenario narratives and development paths on Futures Platform

 

Explore alternative futures with Futures Platform. Start your free trial today to access a database of 700+ future trends and scenario narratives curated by leading futurists.

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CREATE ORGANISATIONAL PREPAREDNESS WITH SCENARIO PLANNING

Remember that, in scenario building, you don’t need to predefine or forecast future events. Even if none of the scenarios you have discussed will happen just as described, your strategy work now involves an inbuilt activity that creates flexibility and agility and makes you see the opportunities in future changes. Once the scenario work is in place, you only need to decide how to utilise and test the ideas and opportunities explored during scenario work.

After conducting scenario building activities, your organisation will be more alert and prepared for future changes. Scenario building exercises will foster a mutual understanding among your team on what alternative futures could look like and what potential disruptors you may face.

If you’d like to discuss how to build and utilise scenarios in your planning and strategy work, book a free consultation with one of our foresight experts, and we’ll help you get started.

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