EC SAFIRE Scenarios: The Journey Game

EC SAFIRE Scenarios: The Journey Game

This is the third in a series of ten blogs based on a report to the European Commission by SAMI and a consortium of partners, IFOK, Cadmus, and Teknologi Radet, to develop a system for using foresight to develop EU R&I policy.

The first blog described four global scenarios for 2040. The second looked in more detail at one global scenario – OAK – the scenario that most closely reflects the current state of the world.  This third blog describes an interactive use of the scenarios that explores the impacts of trends and changes on the trajectory towards the future and also assists in monitoring leading indicators that the possible futures might be emerging. 

We will follow this post with a series of ten blogs that will look in turn at scenarios for each of the regions covered by the study.  The Report is available via this link.

The Global Scenarios

The first blog described the process by which we developed the four global scenarios.

The scenarios are based on:

  • horizon scanning by the Task 2 Project team, drawn from SAMI Consulting, and supplemented by comments and input from European Commission officials; and
  • a one-day workshop held on 20 November 2019 in Brussels, involving people with knowledge of the Regions under consideration, foresight experts, and European Commission officials.

The scenario axes allow scope to explore our volatile and polynodal world and the challenges it faces – challenges which have been amplified by the likely economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.  The axes are based on two uncertainties:

  • Whether protectionism or globalism will characterise international relations; and
  • Whether in the face of global crises, people and nations are inclined to transform geopolitical and economic systems, or to carry on with business as usual.

The resulting scenarios are depicted in the graphic below. The tree metaphors provided an apt summary of the core characteristics of each scenario.

From Snapshot to Movie: The Journey Game

The uncertainties summarised above frame four scenarios that depict possible futures for 2040 with an emphasis on geopolitics, economics, and values.  The commonly used ‘axes of uncertainty’ method for scenario building generates snapshots illustrating four possible outcomes for a specific time horizon.  This approach manages uncertainty by constraint, limiting the degrees of freedom to two uncertainties.  Complexity and chaos theory suggest, in contrast, that whatever future we face will be the emergent outcome of cascades of change and impacts.  Our challenge was designing a simple interactive format to reflect that by allowing more dynamic exploration of emergent possibilities. That become increasingly important as the pandemic crisis accelerated and disrupted previous patterns of geopolitical, economic, and social change.  Fortunately, we designed the scenario ‘Journey Game’ process to allow for this, adding a sequence of adaptive responses to change over time to the ‘snapshots of the future’ that scenarios usually describe.

Scenarios as Adaptive Journey

To use the gameboard, participants first review a deck of cards identifying possible changes. Next they consider how fast those changes are emerging, and how significant the resulting impacts might be on their particular region. That is, would the changes and their impacts shift the region towards a particular scenario?  In a two-round version of the game, this lets people consider fast-breaking changes whose impacts will be felt within a decade, as well as longer-range changes whose impacts may take 20 or 30 years to mature.  With continuously updated change data, EU policymakers could use these scenario sets to explore potential global and regional adaptation to emerging changes by exploring responses of different regions to changes over time, assessing the implications for European policy and strategy.

Playing the Journey Game

The journey into the futures and across the gameboard begins by placing the region in the scenario it is most likely to resemble in the next five years.  Players then pick two fast-breaking changes each from a deck of cards and discuss what impacts those two changes would combine to have on the region over the next ten years to 2030, how the region would respond, and where it would move across the scenarios gameboard as a result.  Marking the new position, participants repeat the process with two slow-maturing changes and explore where those changes will take the region over the next twenty or so years, to 2040.

To illustrate with an example from the November 2019 workshop, we see how the workshop participants placed their region in 2025, and then how the region “moved” in 2030 and 2040 due to the impact of change drivers.

Journey Game Example: Japan & South Korea (+ Taiwan)[1]

Two journeys from Redwood and Willow towards a common goal in Bamboo[2]

By 2030, more precarious employment and economic prospects, and greater difficulty accessing the raw materials on which these high-tech economies depend, sees an increased demand for change – more inclusive politics and new economic models in Japan and South Korea. In Taiwan there is a move towards less inclusion, but a similar demand for change.

By 2040, prompted by their own falling and aging populations and the impact of global warming, especially on food supplies, the three countries are all seeking change and new economic models and a more inclusionary world.

Starting position: 2025

Japan & South Korea: in the centre of the “Willow” scenario

Taiwan: in the centre of the “Redwood” scenario

Journey 1: 2025 → 2030

First selected driver of change: Rising social inequality and increasingly precarious employment options for youth as well as populism

Second selected driver of change: Decreasing raw materials availability (especially strategic minerals) as well as supply chain risks

Journey 2: 2030 → 2040

First selected driver of change: Dramatic population decline

Second selected driver of change: Increasing climate change impacts as well as increasing vulnerability of global food chains

Learning from the Journey

Adding this process to traditional ‘axes of uncertainty’ scenario building enhances the method in two ways: it assists participants in creating credible storylines depicting how a region might move into the future; and it enables participants to explore how multiple changes might interact dynamically with the two key uncertainties initially identified.  In an extended workshop, participants could play several rounds of alternative journeys, exploring how different drivers of change affect the same region.  Or each participant in a working group could role-play a single region, allowing the working group to compare how specific drivers of change create different paths into the future for different regions on the same gameboard.

The Gameboard serves to emphasise the point that we are moving into a less predictable, polynodal world: a world where current assumptions may not hold. The gameboard allows policymakers greater latitude to flex the scenarios, bringing different factors into play in particular regions.

The Gameboard also allows policymakers the chance to consider one major global disruptor, or a set of regional disruptors, which might cause several regions to move from one quadrant of the scenario matrix to another or even cause a shift in the predominant global scenario axes.

Finally, the Gameboard resources (scenario and change driver sets) allow policymakers to gauge the effect of different drivers of change and/or wild card events across all regions, to look at the way in which different regions respond, and whether some, or all, regions cluster together in particular quadrants of the scenario board.

The Gameboard approach thus allows policy makers the chance to give full rein to the unpredictability of the world we are now entering – and to update that perspective on unpredictability by playing the game with new signals of change as they emerge.


[1] Taiwan was considered as a separate entity with its own journey using the same drivers as for Japan & South Korea on this gameboard
[2] Drivers of change were selected from a set of possible trends based on their projected impact. Selecting a different set of drivers might result in a varied journey.

Written by Wendy Schultz, SAMI Principal

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

Achieve more by understanding what the future may bring. We bring skills developed over thirty years of international and national projects to create actionable, transformative strategy. Futures, foresight and scenario planning to make robust decisions in uncertain times. Find out more at www.samiconsulting.co.uk.

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Featured image by María_Alberto from www.pixabay.com

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