The Centre for Scenario Planning and Future Studies
Rapid change, new technology, and increased competition are some of the factors making for unprecedented uncertainty in today's markets. The Centre for Scenario Planning and Future Studies at SBS has been set up to help organisations cope with these changes and manage the future.
A group of SBS academics - Professors Kees van der Heijden and George Wright, Dr George Cairns, Dr George Burt and Ron Bradfield are the founders of this Centre, realising that there was a need to help managers make sense of the increasingly puzzling world in which their organisations have to find their way.
The founders believe that this sense-making needs to be done by the managers themselves and the traditional approach towards providing help - in which the external consultant studies the situation on behalf of the managers - does not empower the manager sufficiently in today's turbulent environment. The Centre takes a different approach. It provides enabling consultancy that allows the manager to do the sense-making for him or herself.
The process used is based on scenario planning. A scenario is a tool for ordering perceptions about alternative future environments in which today's decision may play out. Scenario planning is an "outside-in" approach to strategic management. In the context of this, the Centre provides new opportunities for organisations to adopt an external perspective on drivers of change that will impact their business. From this understanding, appropriate strategic options and responses are developed which allow management to manage their environment proactively.
Professor van der Heijden was a pioneer of the technique when he worked at Shell. Royal Dutch/Shell made the tool famous by using it to great effect - for example, by putting superior policies in place ahead of the Arab oil embargo, and then again to prepare for the dramatic drop in oil prices during the 1980s. However, as a result of ten years of research and development of the SBS, in collaboration with others, the methodology is no longer the preserve only of the very large organisations, but can now be seen as a practical proposition for small and medium-sized organisations as well.
The methodology can be traced back to hundreds of years of experience with war games by the military but it is only in the last 30 years, in the face of increasing uncertainty and complexity, that corporations and other large, global organisations have begun to develop sophisticated scenario planning processes. Through the services of the Centre these approaches are now available to a wide spectrum of organisations, including both the public and private sectors, and their managers.
Deputy director and general manager of the Centre, George Burt, said, "The Centre is about working with organisations that want to be pro-active in managing their future, whether it's in Scotland or elsewhere. It's about utilising human judgement and adopting a learning framework for the future."
Scenario planning is not about forecasting the future but looking at all the possibilities. It involves using and building on a key resource - the information already known by people within the organisation, but enriched with external non-traditional perspectives.