Scenario planning is recognised as an effective aid to strategic planning in complex, uncertain conditions. It is an approach that the Strategy Unit is increasingly building into its work with health and care systems and third sector organisations.
There is a risk with all strategy tools that they are simply the latest management fad and lack an adequate evidence base. So it was to avoid this risk that David Frith (Principal Consultant at the Strategy Unit), and Efstathios Tapinos (Senior Lecturer and Director of Knowledge Exchange at the Hunter Centre of Entrepreneurship at Strathclyde Business School), researched what exactly it is about scenario planning that can help to change how decision-makers think. Although much previous research into scenario planning has focused on evidencing the outcomes it can generate (e.g. organisational agility and resilience, social capital) the mechanisms that underpin how scenario planning “works” to achieve those outcomes are less well known.
This new research offers a ‘programme theory’ for scenario planning. Following a method derived from realist evaluation, the researchers identified and synthesised evidence about the ‘black box’ of scenario planning to understand:
- What contextual factors enable or disable the success of a scenario intervention; and
- What are the mechanisms through which scenario planning activities provoke new thinking?
It is a paper that has much to offer both practitioners and academics alike. It provides both:
- Accessible, evidence-based information about what matters in constructing and delivering a scenario planning process; and
- A framework for further research that allows for the ongoing enhancement of an evidence-based approach to the use of scenarios.
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