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Coates’ Procedure for Scenarios as Illustrations

Joseph Coates is a famous and well-respected futurist, known for his high standards and careful analysis. As part of a special issue of Technological Forecasting and Social Change on scenarios, Coates presented a paper on scenario methodology [1]. He describes a procedure that he says he and his team use as “the equivalent of a sketch,” meant to be used as an illustration, “much like a cartoon or diagram.” His steps are summarized below.


Unspecified/flexible, but the author refers to a “team,” presumably of scenario analysts.


  1. Identify and define the universe of concern that you are dealing with (including the time period over which the scenarios extend).
  2. Define the variables that will be important in shaping that future. From 6-18 or 20 variables can enter into preparing complex scenarios. Identify the variables but do not supply values for them. Arrange and rearrange them in a hierarchy until you are satisfied with the relationships.
  3. Identify the themes for the scenarios.
  4. Create the scenarios, in (usually) two stages:


[1] Coates, Joseph S. 2000. “Scenario Planning,” Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 65, 115-123.