Scenario building



Our cornerstone method for collectively imagining the outlines and basic concepts of new worlds or possible futures. It's borrowed from the analytical branch of Futures Studies, so tends to be a bit brainy. But it's fun nevertheless. There's a god-like satisfaction in creating new worlds, and it's magical to do this in a group. After this exercise these new worlds and possible futures exist — you have created them so you can visit them…


Start by choosing good parameters for a horizontal and a vertical axis. We initially learned to use the method of Horizon Scanning (p. ) and the notion of 'critical uncertainties' (trends, signals or drivers of change that seem important but are also unpredictable). Along the way we experimented with a variety of ways to define our parameters. We found that as long as the parameters relate to values, themes or trends that your group is interested and invested in, anything goes. If a choice between different options needs to be made, you can use dot-voting (p. ) or Sociometry (p. ), or call in a medium or burn some candles to help the group make choices.

Once you have defined the parameters, draw your two axes and name the extremities. At one extreme, imagine the chosen parameter developing in one direction. At the other, imagine it developing in the exact opposite direction. (Some examples from our own experience: speed versus slowness, globalised versus localised, partriarchy versus matriarchy, centralised power versus distributed power, security versus insecurity, centralised social media versus federated social media, equality versus privilige…).

By drawing the axes you will produce four quadrants, and it is these quadrants that will inspire four different scenarios for as many different worlds or futures. Every quadrant is defined by two different extremities, and the group now imagines a world defined by these parameters. Add seperate elements that can be part of this world, things you associate or would expect to develop in this kind of context. You can help the group by asking how society would be organised in this world: how does politics work in this scenario, or media, education, sport, culture, economy… (Or you can write these questions on seperate pieces of paper, put them in a hat or bowl, and have the group pick them randomly. – But actually, we explain that in the activity Drawing Questions at Random (p. ).

Once you have listed enough elements, some general outlines for your new world will become clear. Congratulations, you have created a world!

Repeat the same procedure for every of the four quadrants, and for future reference give every scenario a catchy title. You can also divide the group in four smaller ones, and ask every sub-group to develop one quadrant into a possible future.


We used this method on several occasions and despite its cerebral character it's quite amusing to do and works very well. It's an easy way to use the collective imagination of the group to dream up new worlds or possible futures. And once the blueprint of a world is laid out, there's a lot of potential for fun, using less cerebral ways to develop and concretise the imagination around these worlds.

We noticed that in most cases at least one of the four worlds seems totaly utopian at first, and another one absolutely dystopian. But upon closer inspection we always bump into the same conclusion: there are very nice things to be found in the dystopian scenarios, and awful ones in the utopian ones. As in real life, none of the scenarios turn out to be simply black and white.

Diederik P.

Axis tracing session. Good big axes. Extremities:

  • Autonomy vs. Obligation on one axis
  • Order vs. Disorder on the other one

Good old groups. Lots of deliberation. What hovers is the immense need for coherence in each world. We are all frail little things and Lady Complexity is always around the corner.

The exercise forces us to draw the line, stretches our political sense, makes it crack... Not all the time, but if the group has the right instructions and forces itself to push the cursors, at some point it 'cracks', it gives in to the demon of the 'system'. A reversal then occurs (at least in one group that could be said to have 'succeeded' in the exercise): the world overtakes you and you become its servant. You may not like its description, but that's not the point, it imposes itself through its own spirit of coherence. So people seemed possesed, enchantments and horrors. They were messengers. A frenzy creeps in with little panics, necessary frights, raptures, confusion. We end up disturbed by what we describe and our real world comes out slightly bewitched.

Julien F. (about a session in the frame of his project Enfance Majeure)


Maja Kuzmanovic thought us how to create worlds and futures during the opening workshop of our research project. The workshop was called The Art of Futuring and took place at PAF (Saint-Erme, F) in February 2019.

This entry was written by Anna Cz. and Diederik P. after studying the tremendously clear notes that Delphine Hesters made during the workshop.