3. Scenarios

3.1. Objectives

The original Millennium Project design anticipated that global issues would be surfaced in three ways - first, through the activities of a "look out" panel describing current developments that seemed to have important future consequences. The second approach involved scanning published literature to uncover developments of the same sort. The third method was through the construction of scenarios depicting plausible future states of the world and the future histories leading to these images. It was known from the beginning that limitations of funding and time prevented the development of full scenarios with appropriate study of all the pathways they uncovered. But in this first year of operation the Project decided to at least sketch scenarios using a systematic approach that might be expanded in the future and to review the scenario literature to identify important and useful scenarios that could be the basis of future work.

Scenarios, and indeed all future research methods, can be either exploratory or normative; that is, they can produce images of expected futures or desired futures. Exploratory forecasts portray futures that seem plausible, given actions or inactions of key players, exogenous developments, chance, and the internal dynamics of the system under study. Exploratory forecasts respond to the question: "What do you think the future might be?"

Normative forecasts describe the hoped-for future; these forecasts also can be produced with either qualitative or qualitative methods. While the utopia literature and science fiction fit here, the methods can be quite systematic. Normative forecasts respond to the question: "What kind of future would you like to see?"

In this year's work, the study team focused only on exploratory scenarios; the Project intends to include both exploratory and normative scenarios later. The Project was fortunate in receiving normative scenarios for consideration (see Section 3.4); these were helpful in illustrating the complexity and depth that will have to be considered in subsequent scenario analyses.

A scenario is a narrative description of the future that focuses attention on causal processes and decision points (Kahn 1967). No scenario is ever seen as probable; the probability of any scenario ever being realized is vanishingly small. It's not accuracy that's the measure of a good scenario; the more appropriate measures are:

Sets of scenarios are used in planning; if the sets encompasses a broad span of futures, and plans are generated to cope with the eventualities they portray, then the plans are robust and the future can be met

with some degree of confidence.

3.2 Scenario Construction

To develop world scenarios that are encompassing, self -consistent, innovative and useful is a tall order. Limiting the focus to regions or countries doesn't help much, since complexity seems to be constant at any level of detail. This fractal nature of scenarios is, of course, similar to other non-linear systems that can be driven into chaotic states. Nevertheless, the study team and six experienced members of the staff of The Futures Group began by asking about the principle dimensions along with descriptors of future worlds might vary. The list was a long one and included economic, political, social, and technological factors such as:

In the end the team chose the following three dimensions for its scenario space: Clearly, if the team said that a given scenario included a strong economy it need not be so everywhere simultaneously; rather these were taken to be descriptors of the general state of things.


Scenario Abstracts
Cybertopia

The explosive growth of Internet accelerated globalization in all forms. Cyberspace became a primary medium of human activity, as the city had for the industrial transition. With individual access to world education and markets, individuals acted like holding companies investing their time into diverse activities, inventing their careers, granting access to others as nations used to grant visas. Individuals easily switch loyalty from one company to another. Most people had a sense of what they wanted to do and what they had to do to achieve it. Developing countries made remarkable progress via tele-education, tele-medicine, tele-business partners, and tele-citizens in richer areas who assisted their poorer homelands. The division between people is not as much by north-south, but by those who act globally though technology and those who don't. Unfortunately, unemployment - particularly in the cities - is still a problem. The knowledge economy has left some people behind; most of these people are poor. Entitlements seem an archaic concept and the safety nets, such as they are, are thin almost everywhere.

The Aftermath

While there was still some uncertainty as to the exact cause, most analysts believed that, the fiscal crisis of 1999 was triggered by the siphoning of capital from the international financial flow of funds, deliberately and systematically over a period of ten years. The criminals/terrorists that caused the debacle used the scorched earth policy and destroyed the international databases that could have been used to reconstruct the history of their activities. With that base gone, markets tumbled, trust evaporated, banks failed, fortunes on paper evaporated, the credit industry collapsed, bankruptcies proliferated, and the world endured the deepest and longest depression on record. As we look at the scene today, we see signs of revival. Growth is sporadic. It is the risk takers and the wealthy - people, as well as corporations and nations - that best survived. Working together - that's the slogan. Rules of trading, standards of computer and network security, accounting principles, police oversight, settlement rules - all of these have become the subjects of international standards. Criminal behavior is harshly dealt with.

A Mean World
Jobs are the problem; population growth has outpaced the rate of job creation almost everywhere over the past decade. Most technology doesn't help. In general, technology improves productivity - more output per hour worked - but with jobs scarce most countries need a magic technology that increases output but also increases the number of jobs. This is a mean world because the economic pie has been discovered to have become zero sum. Massive unfunded pensions create dangerous liabilities. As a result, protectionism abounds. People are tired and dis-spirited. Crime and corruption are increasing. Attempts to convince people they're better off are greeted with appropriate cynicism worldwide. Yet against this background rises the belief in belief. Faith in community, in religion, in the sanctity of the group. But it's largely every group for itself, serving its self-focused interests.




In parallel with the development of the scenarios, other members of the study team were collecting data about global scenario constructed previously by other agencies. This activity resulted in the formation of a bibliography of scenarios, annotated to provide some guidance as to the content and scope of the scenarios. This bibliography appears as Appendix F.

3.3 Newly Identified Issues

The scenarios constructed in this phase of the Millennium Project were only designed to be illustrative. Fully developed scenarios, which will be produced in the future will include a quantitative backbone using computer software to help assure internal self consistency, additional feedback for expert critique and modification, and a detailed analysis of the global issues and therapeutic strategies that might be employed in each of the worlds depicted in the set of scenarios. If the worlds describe the range of possible futures and some strategies are identified that seem promising in all, then these are surely the important ones to pursue.

Despite the fact that the scenarios constructed in this project were crude and incomplete, they were searched to identify significant issues that were not captured in the list of 15 that formed the basis for the third questionnaire and the policy interviews. Some of the most important new issues identified by the study team are listed below; these may be considered in later work.

3.4 A Normative Scenario Example

At the mid-term project review, the study's Planning Committee observed that the scenarios under consideration might be seen as having a distinctly downbeat flavor and recommended that normative scenarios be considered in addition to those already in design. An example of a previously published normative scenario was sent to the study team by one member of the Planning Committee.4 This serves as an example of the scope and flexibility that can be accommodated in such a scenario, its role in evoking imaginative images of the future, and the difficulties involved in establishing a framework for producing and evaluating such work.

Here are some of the features of "Looking Back from the 21st Century," by Hazel Henderson, that reflects a normative view:

The scenario is written from the perspective of 2010, in a setting that is describing to the European Parliament the evolution of the socio-economic world of the past three or four decades. It is a communications led world (called "mediocracy" with a values driven "attention economy"), that has changed in many ways:

The ideas in this normative scenario are provocative and many have already found their way into the study through suggestions made by the look-out panel. But the methodological questions raised are significant and will be pursued in later work:
Hand Millennium Project Home Page

Hand Back to the Table of Contents