Monday, March 5, 2007

DeWeerd: A Contextual Approach to Scenario Construction - and - Schwartz: The Art of the Long View

A bit more on scenario design.

H.A. DeWeerd wrote A Contextual Approach to Scenario Construction while he was working at RAND, for submission to the journal Simulation and Gaming. It was printed in the December 1974 issue (Vol. 5, No. 4), but it does not appear to be available for free online, either from RAND or the journal itself. It's only 10 pages of text, so it's not worth buying, but DeWeerd is an expert in scenario development (and is cited as such by his student, Peter DeLeon, in the piece I wrote about here).

DeWeerd's main point is that the way scenarios for games, research, or thought experiments are frequently designed back-to-front, with the desired problem or crisis as a starting point, working backwards to fill in contextual details to make the scenario as plausible as possible. DeWeerd contends that a better way to develop scenarios would be to construct the context first, based on current trends, and then look for the most likely scenarios that could take place in the posited context.

This approach is not too far removed from that described by Peter Schwartz in The Art of the Long View. Schwartz developed his techniques for scenario-based planning at Royal Dutch/Shell, and later started Global Business Network. His basic idea is that by developing alternate scenarios of future developments, the possible consequences of present day decisions can be evaluated under a range of conditions. When Schwartz refers to a scenario, he is essentially describing what DeWeerd would call a context.

While Schwartz's method works for considering present day decisions, DeWeerd's proposal for contextual-based scenario design is somewhat more problematic. As he notes, most scenario design is done with a specific problem in mind. As applied to gaming, this is almost always the case. The sponsor of a game has something they want to explore, and they describe it to whatever group organizes the event. Unless the context development takes place on the sponsor's side, before the problem for the scenario is selected, there is very little opportunity for the gaming group to follow DeWeerd's advice. Instead, the retroactive assembly of contextual details to bolster the credibility of the scenario is the only option. Is there another way? Perhaps if the gaming process were integrated well into a broader strategic planning process.

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