On 20140425 we (Rasa, Maja, Nik) held a scenario building session with FoAM's generalist in transience Michka Melo. This was the first scenario session we designed for one person, looking at one of Michka's burning questions that arose during his transiency: what activities and balance of activities would keep me in a state where I feel useful, energised and peaceful?

We used this session as an experiment to see how we could make the flow less structured and more informal, so that it could be done on a napkin in a bar. This meant having less formalised 'steps' and less facilitation materials (like blackboards, post-its…), so that the session has much more of a conversational quality. We began the conversation at FoAM, sitting on the couches drinking tea, then continued over a 'pizza friday' lunch outdoors, we then documented the process and the scenarios. The next phase consists of retrocasting and backcasting to distill weak signals, as well as fleshing out a preferred scenario and steps needed to move towards this situation.

Summary of the process:

  • preparation beforehand (by email): deciding on the question, thinking about the present situation (what is known, presumed, unknown and unknowable)
  • framing of the experiment
  • discussion about the present and the change drivers, using the kpuu framework
  • selection of five most important aspects of the present situation (from all KPUU categories), using red dots
  • placing the 5 critical aspects on an importance scale (important - more important - very important - extremely important - essential)
  • mapping the critical uncertainties on the 'diamond' matrix based on formalised_decision_making
  • choosing two scenario axes and using the GBN / 2×2 uncertainty method to come up with four scenarios
  • fleshing out the four scenarios in text (written in first person) and images
  • retrocasting (how would you get from here to there) - for all scenarios, and more detailed for the preferred scenario
  • summary, next steps, documentation and debrief

Preparation beforehand

We asked Michka to think about a few things before the session started (message sent the evening beforehand)

1. Think about what is vital to your situation and if you can formulate your issue as a question:

  • A good way to start might be to ask yourself, “what keeps me awake at night?” or “what am I most concerned about?” or “what questions keep returning over and over again?”

2. Think about your present situation related to the issue above:

  • What do you know for sure? In particular, one of the things you want to look at is the origin of the issue: when and how did it start? When did it become an issue for you?
  • What can you safely presume? These are the assumptions that you can safely make about the issue.
  • What is unknown? These are things that are unknown by you but are “knowable” by someone else. You could get to know these things by finding the right person or source.
  • What is unknowable? These are the mysteries which nobody can know how they will evolve. Here the difficulty is that information simply doesn’t exist (but you think it should if you want to answer your question with certainty).

Note: when thinking about your present situation, think on both micro and macro scales - yourself, your close circles and the wider context in which you (want to) live and work…

Mapping the present

Michka came prepared with a question he felt encompassed an issue that keeps coming back throughout his transiency:
what activities and balance of activities would keep me in a state where I feel useful, energised and peaceful?

Although this question was a bit of a mouthful for us to remember, Michka was certain that it was clear enough for him. Different from a group process, we didn't insist on perfectly wording the question so that we would all understand and remember it, but instead relied on Michka that he knows what the question means to him. This also meant that the process took only a few minutes instead of the usual half hour or longer.

We used the kpuu_framework to have a structured conversation about the present situation. We split the present into:

  • what is known?
  • what is presumed?
  • what is unknown?
  • what is unknowable?

We looked at both Michka's personal experience and the wider context in which he lives and works, meaning that we began from himself and his daily needs, moved to the professional activities and ended with larger macro trends that might be relevant to Michka's question.

We moved between the categories of KPUU, which made the conversation flow easily, except we had some difficulty distinguishing what things are considered unknown and which unknowable. We realised that for the scenario planning process perhaps this distinction isn't so critical, meaning that we could use three instead of four categories (known, presumed, unknown).

Defining critical uncertainties

After about an hour of conversation, we had a break and asked Michka to place red dots next to five most important aspects of the present situation (regardless whether they were known, presumed, unknown or unknowable). We then drew the importance range and asked Michka to place his chosen aspects on this range:

important - more important - very important - extremely important - essential

After this we mapped the important things on a relative graph with two dimensions: uncertainty and importance

We then picked two most uncertain and important aspects, and created the scenario axes (which might sound vague, but were very clear for Michka himself):

  • implementation on the edges ↔ specialised theory
  • constrained activities and sleepless starvation ↔ complete lifestyle freedom

Scenario construction

The scenario construction happened over lunch, using a napkin and a few pieces of torn A4 paper. We looked at the critical uncertainties and the KPUU lists and speculated what Michka might be doing in each of the four scenarios. Michka took notes himself and we asked questions, found patterns in the KPUU aspects, summarised and offered our views on what might happen in the scenarios.


After about 30-45 minutes we had sufficient information for Michka to be able to retreat to find titles for the scenarios and to write them out as narratives from the fits person's perspective.

Scenario narratives can be found here:

  • future_fabulators/transiency_scenarios.txt
  • Last modified: 2015-05-20 10:10
  • by nik