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Devastating shocks like September 11, the
Southeast Asian tsunami of 2004, and the
2010 Haiti earthquake had certainly primed
the world for sudden disasters. But no one
was prepared for a world in which large-scale
catastrophes would occur with such breathtaking
frequency. The years 2010 to 2020 were dubbed
the “doom decade” for good reason: the 2012
Olympic bombing, which killed 13,000, was
followed closely by an earthquake in Indonesia
killing 40,000, a tsunami that almost wiped
out Nicaragua, and the onset of the West China
Famine, caused by a once-in-a-millennium
drought linked to climate change.
Interestingly, not all of the “hacking” was bad. Genetically modified crops (GMOs) and do-it-yourself (DIY) biotech became backyard and garage activities, producing important advances. In 2017, a network of renegade African scientists who had returned to their home countries after working in Western multinationals unveiled the first of a range of new GMOs that boosted agricultural productivity on the continent.
Scenario planning is a methodology designed to help guide groups and individuals through exactly this creative process. The process begins by identifying forces of change in the world, then combining those forces in different ways to create a set of diverse stories — or scenarios — about how the future could evolve. Scenarios are designed to stretch our thinking about both the opportunities and obstacles that the future might hold; they explore, through narrative, events and dynamics that might alter, inhibit, or enhance current trends, often in surprising ways. Together, a set of scenarios captures a range of future possibilities, good and bad, expected and surprising — but always plausible. Importantly, scenarios are not predictions. Rather, they are thoughtful hypotheses that allow us to imagine, and then to rehearse, different strategies for how to be more prepared for the future — or more ambitiously, how to help shape better futures ourselves.