Scenario Background

Scenario Typologies

Most scenario studies include a classification scheme for their own scenario set. Also, there have been several attempts to create generic classification schemes. There are at least two benefits to classification schemes: broadening the thinking of the scenario developers themselves and communicating the results of the exercise to an outside audience. The very need to “fill in a box” on a classification grid can prod scenario developers to expand their thinking. Also, a classification scheme can succinctly summarize the purpose or worldview underlying a scenario.

A recent comprehensive classification scheme was developed by researchers at the International Centre for Integrative Studies (ICIS). They created a “Scenario Cartwheel” that can be used to put scenarios in broad categories. (They also list detailed categories, which are not included here.) To use the Scenario Cartwheel, place the scenario in the appropriate sector on the outermost circle. For example, a simple, intuitive, exploratory scenario would go in the top right segment in the outermost circle.

A different approach to classifying scenarios was followed by the Global Scenario Group in its report Branch Points. The GSG divides broad scenario story lines into classes and variants, with a special focus on sustainability scenarios. Their scheme is summarized in the table below.

GSG Scenario Structure
Adapted from: Gallopin, G., A. Hammond, P. Raskin and R. Swart. 1997. Branch Points: Global Scenarios and Human Choice. PoleStar Series Report no. 7. Stockholm: Stockholm Environment Institute.
Conventional Worlds
Continuity of institutions and values, rapid economic growth, convergence toward industrialized country norms
Market Forces
Mid-range population and development projections, typical technological change assumptions
Policy Reform
Strong, comprehensive and coordinated government action to achieve greater social equity and environmental protection
Social, economic and moral underpinnings of civilization deteriorate, as emerging problems overwhelm the coping capacity of both markets and policy reforms
Unbridled conflict, institutional disintegration, and economic collapse
Fortress World
Elites control an impoverished majority and manage critical natural resources, while outside the “fortress” there is repression, environmental destruction, and misery
Great Transitions
Visionary solutions to the sustainability challenge, including new socio-economic arrangements and fundamental changes in values
Bio-regionalism, localism, face-to-face democracy, small technology, and economic autarky
New Sustainability Paradigm
Seeks to change the character of urban, industrial civilization and to build a more humane and equitable global civilization

Outside of the more elaborate classification schemes, there are two classifications that seem universally applicable: the relative weight of narrative vs. number and whether the scenario is a forecast or a backcast. These options are discussed in their own sections.