Scanning Retrospective, No. 32

‘From the pages of prospect’ – No. 7

[Originally published] Issue 6, December 2001
Special Issue – Preparing for the Swinburne Scenarios Project, 2002

  • A Primer on Futures Studies, Foresight and the Use of Scenarios
  • Envisioning (and Inventing) the Future
  • Making the Future Visible: Psychology, Scenarios and Strategy
  • From Scenario Thinking to Strategic Action
  • The Swinburne Scenarios Project 2002

Welcome to this special issue of prospect.

In early 2002, Swinburne will undertake its first University-level scenario planning project, the aim of which is to generate a set of scenarios describing plausible futures for Swinburne’s strategic environment. The purpose of the project is to identify major issues, challenges and options which need to be taken into account now in order to ensure that the University is well positioned to respond effectively to whatever the future eventually holds.

This issue of prospect has been compiled so as to introduce readers to scenario methodology in detail, its rationale, how it fits into broader foresight processes, and how to turn the strategic insights generated by the scenarios into purposeful strategic action.

The Swinburne Scenarios Project 2002 will run from March to July, and will have opportunities for staff input. The [FPU] Briefing Paper [see below] contains a project time-line and I commend it to you for your further information.

As ever, I hope you find these articles interesting and thought-provoking.

A Primer on Futures Studies, Foresight and the Use of Scenarios

The first article is a brief primer introducing key aspects of the discipline of futures studies, describing the foresight process being implemented here at Swinburne, and the place and use of scenarios within that process. While it is not possible to cover the vast expanse of the futures field in a few pages, I hope that I have captured enough of the key elements to provide a solid basis for further exploration, without readers getting too lost too often, if they choose to delve into this fascinating and increasingly necessary knowledge discipline. [This was the original publication of The Primer, 20 years ago.]

The three articles which follow the primer each address an aspect of using scenarios.

Envisioning (and Inventing) the Future

In Envisioning (and Inventing) the Future, strategic management consultant and scenario planner Ian Wilson describes in detail what scenarios are, why they are needed, the steps used in creating them, and how they can be used.

Wilson, Ian. 1995. On the Horizon 3(3):1-2, 5. Reprinted by permission of the author. It is also available online from the web address:

Making the Future Visible: Psychology, Scenarios and Strategy

In Making the Future Visible: Psychology, Scenarios and Strategy, internationally-renowned management consultant, consulting strategist and futurist Hardin Tibbs describes his concept of the “strategic landscape” where “the future” is regarded as a psychological space and is depicted using the metaphor of a landscape. This deceptively simple metaphor encapsulates many of the concepts found in much of strategic management. Hardin will be the lead facilitator for the Swinburne Scenarios Project in 2002.

Copyright © 1999 Hardin Tibbs. Reprinted by permission of the author, and is available for download as a pdf file from the web address: []
[It has also recently been formally published under the same title in:
World Futures Review 13(1):8–13. doi:10.1177/19467567211014557.]

From Scenario Thinking to Strategic Action

The third article, From Scenario Thinking to Strategic Action, also by Ian Wilson, emphasises one key aspect of scenario planning—moving from the scenarios themselves, to the development of strategy and thence to strategic action. Wilson believes that the movement to action is both the most critical phase of the scenario process as well as the most difficult, requiring, as it does, a change in the culture of the organisation. This article shows several approaches to turning the strategic insights into action.

Copyright © 2000 Ian Wilson. Reprinted by permission of the author. This article appears at the web address:

The Swinburne Scenarios Project 2002

The final article, by Maree Conway [Director] of the Foresight and Planning Unit, is an edited extract from the Swinburne Scenarios Project briefing paper (available for download from the FPU web site); it provides an overview of and rationale for the project, and briefly describes how it will be used to inform ongoing planning for the University.

As part of its vision to become a pre-eminent entrepreneurial university, Swinburne has committed itself and its staff to be “innovative in all that we do”. Scenario planning is a clear example of innovation in planning and is a key component of the broader foresight implementation plan.

Scenario planning is a strategic thinking process and does not replace what we view as traditional strategic planning. It enhances our existing processes by strengthening our understanding of the environment in which Swinburne will exist in the future. It also provides the opportunity to take time out to focus on what the future for Swinburne might be like.

The Swinburne Scenarios Project in 2002 is the beginning of a new stage of the University’s planning processes. Its successful integration into ongoing planning will involve continuing education and increasing participation by staff. It aims to provide a sound and productive contribution to a continuing “strategic conversation” about the future of the University.

One of the underpinning principles of foresight at Swinburne is that it must provide opportunities for staff to be involved more actively in planning. Scenario planning is a creative and participative process that uses the knowledge and expertise of staff. The value of scenario planning comes as much from the process as it does from the outcomes, so the involvement of staff in the generation of scenarios is critical.

The development of scenarios acknowledges that there is considerable expertise and knowledge held by staff. A basic premise of the process is that while there are no facts about the future, the overall “shape” of the future can be determined.

For the University to make wise choices about future strategies, therefore, we need to be able to “tap into” and use the knowledge and experience and staff to develop a shared view of the shape of the future, how Swinburne will look, and what functions and services it will be providing in that future.

The scenarios themselves are not the main point of the Swinburne Scenarios Project. It is the issues, challenges and options they identify which need to be taken into account now in our planning so that the most beneficial outcome is achieved given the range of scenarios produced. The idea is not to predict or get the future right, but to ensure that the University is positioned to respond effectively to the uncertainties of the future.

Scenario planning has the potential to give Swinburne a competitive edge. It requires open minds, the suspension of disbelief, and acknowledgment that no one truly knows what the future will bring. If we collaborate and communicate what we think might happen, and share our knowledge and insights, we can approach the future with a stronger, shared view of where we are going, and what we need to do to get there.

prospect is a quarterly publication of The Foresight & Planning Unit, Swinburne University of Technology.

Futura tenaciter in prospectu tenemus

This publication is intended to serve the broader Swinburne community, by highlighting areas of interest and concern to Swinburne stakeholders, by helping us take a long-term foresight view, and to expand our perceptions of our strategic options as we move forward together into our common future.

This collection is © 2001 FPU and Swinburne University of Technology. Copyright for the individual articles resides with the original authors and/or the original sources as listed. All articles have been used either with express permission or, where express permission is not required, following stipulated re-use guidelines.

NOTE: In all the posts in this series, the original source URLs are left exactly as they were when published 20-odd years ago. This means they will almost certainly be dead links (or good ol’ 404 errors). I do not have the patience or inclination to follow-up or find any archived or re-located versions of those web pages (because, well, life is too short). But, if it really bugs you, I invite you to see if you can find archived or relocated versions of those dead-link pages. And if you do, let me know, and I’ll update these posts with due credit to your detective work.

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