Techniques- Seven Questions

Strategic Futures Analysis Techniques: The Seven Questions

This technique was originally used by Shell for internal strategy reviews. It was developed for broader applications when Shell and the University of St Andrews jointly established SAMI Consulting.

The Seven Questions is a very useful interview technique that provides valuable insights. It is also particularly useful for obtaining the engagement of senior stakeholders to any project or issue. It can be used with individuals, groups or as part of a workshop.

Before undertaking interviews it is important to clearly define the issues that you wish to explore, the ‘focal question’. It is often helpful to provide interviewees with briefing on the issues and the objectives of the work you are undertaking. This is often best done via a project brief. 

It is useful to start interviewing early in any project as interviews help to define the scope of the project and its critical issues. It is therefore important to think about who to interview as soon as possible. The number of interviews depends on the scope of the project and the range of its stakeholders but to get representative results you should have at 15 to 20 interviews.

Before starting the interview process it is important to consider how the results are going to be recorded and analysed. This needs to take into account other data collection activities, such as horizon scanning. It is usual that all interview data are strictly non-attributable (Chatham House Rule), as this allows greater openness by interviewees.

The Seven Questions are as follows: 

Start with an invitation to the contributor to talk about what he/she sees as the key factors shaping the future of …… When he/she has exhausted first thoughts, use the questions as a set of “triggers” for drawing further response.

Thinking over a time horizon of XX years:

  1. Clairvoyant. 
    If you could spend some time with someone who knew the future of ……, a clairvoyant or oracle if such existed, what would you want to know? (i.e. what are the critical issues?)
  2. An optimistic outcome 
    Optimistic but realistic. If things went well, how would you expect the ……. to develop and what would be the signs of success?
  3. A pessimistic outcome 
    How could the environment change to threaten …….? How could …… deteriorate?
  4. The internal situation 
    From your knowledge of the culture, organisation, systems and resources (including people), which impact on ……., how would these have to be changed to achieve the optimistic outcome?
  5. Looking back 10/20 years 
    What factors shaped …….. as it is today?
  6. Looking forward 
    What decisions need to be made in the near term to achieve the desired long-term outcome for ……….?
  7. The Epitaph 
    If you had a mandate, free of all constraints, what more would you do to ensure a successful future for ……..?

Question 1 (Clairvoyant) and question 7 (The Epitaph) are often the most challenging for interviewees but provide particularly valuable insights.


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