Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Classic Edition

A participative game to stimulate interest in future directions for New Zealand and to aid strategic-thinking about sustainability

The marketing image of New Zealand used overseas, of 100% Pure NZ, implying clean and green, conceals a growing domestic debate about the nation's environmental and socio-economic sustainability. What futures might we have in store, and which are more- and less-desirable directions?

Based on work begun in Wellington in 2004 with a team drawn from government, academia and business, Bob Frame, Rhys Taylor, Melissa Brignall-Theyer and colleagues at Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research Ltd,  have created four contrasting future possibilities for NZ. None are predictions, none are favourites, but each is plausible.

From these scenarios the participative game, or tool for the imagination, stimulates consideration of key drivers of change and the possibility of arriving 50 years from now at four different futures.

The four scenario descriptions are logically linked across two axes (Fig. 1) of socio-economic and environmental characteristics. Reading and discussing brief descriptions, followed by role-playing, offers an insight into what life in at least two (and if time allows, all four) of the possible futures might offer our grandchildren’s generation. You look at both positive and negative dimensions. The scenarios are either:

  • rich or poor in accessible natural resources and ecosystem services, and
  • strong or weak on social cohesion/'social capital'.

How the Four Scenarios Game for New Zealand and other resources can be used

(Uses will depend on the needs of an organisation and the time available)

Here are four possibilities:

Use 1: A vehicle for personal reflection, by individuals or small groups

At the simplest level, the screenplay provides each reader with a stimulus to thoughts about how different or similar the future may be compared with today, and how decisions taken today will influence directions or trends in society, economy, and the environment. Which futures (or elements of those futures) are desirable, which are to be avoided? Within Aotearoa/NZ society now we see elements or ‘seeds’ of each of these scenarios which make them plausible – you may find it helpful to imagine different people you have met who would like living in these four futures. The ‘appeal’ to the reader of each future scenario, will probably vary due to different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Do you think we have been bold enough – have we stretched the imagination?

Use 2: A group activity within an organisation or business: as 'future preparedness' and useful staff development

When there is a need to think strategically, hear others' viewpoints and consider implications of possible change for your organisation, the Four Scenarios Game for New Zealand can provide scope for participation by groups such as work-mates, board members or professional teams. International experience of using scenarios suggests the following four-step model that could be adapted for your context:

  • Assemble the relevant participants, for a day – you may only get ‘one shot’ at this, so it is important to get together all those who would find involvement valuable, including senior management (e.g., in a manufacturing company, it would help to have research/development, marketing, finance and production people present, not just a ‘strategy team’);
  • A lively presentation of the four scenarios is necessary – even if the scenarios are circulated in advance – with enough detail to show the drivers and the logic used to distinguish them, and role playing to get 'inside' the scenario, followed immediately by;
  • A discussion that connects the broad NZ scenarios to the more specialist interest of the group (e.g., your business sector, or geographic locality, or particular policy focus), during which the basic scenarios can be annotated or elaborated; followed after a break by
  • A brainstorming session to consider either implications for the group’s particular business purposes or policies, or the possible local impacts of different socio-economic and environmental directions NZ may take nationally. (Under which scenarios would you prosper, best advance your policy cause, or achieve required care of the local environment, etc.? How well prepared are you for change?)

Use 3: A conceptual framework for sectoral or issue-based quantitative work

If your particular interest is just one part of the economy/society/environment, or perhaps a particular geographic location, you may already have access to considerable quantitative data about past trends that could provide a platform for examining and ‘modelling’ different futures. The qualitative picture from these four scenarios, and understanding their different drivers, can provide a logical framework or context for such quantitative models to help you explore the potentially measurable impacts of future trends. Such work generates indicators, which you can then use to monitor real change in the following years.

Use 4: Evaluation of ‘future visions’ or your existing long-term policy goals.

Robust policy-making processes ideally require comprehensive input from all who can usefully inform it. In practice, however, it tends to be incomplete. The Scenarios Game can be used to address questions such as: “What circumstances could bring about our vision? What would help attain or hinder these policy goals? How sustainable are our policy goals?” These will help start dialogue that tests the plausibility of envisioned futures, or of distant policy goals. Back-casting from the goal towards the present day can reveal assumptions about change that were not originally explicit. This may lead either to changes in the policy or vision, or to variation in the methods being used to advance change into more-preferred directions. It can also help identify barriers to change that, unless they are known, can make your policy a mere token and thus ineffective.

Use 5. You may find other interesting uses

If you have found other uses for these scenarios resources, we would very much like to hear about them as they would help our continuing programme on building capacity for sustainable development – the enabling research, which is funded under FoRST contract CO9X0310.