Uncertainty Scenarios

The Nautilus Global Problem Solving framework is built around three primary strategies:

  1. Research
  2. Networking
  3. Embracing Radical Uncertainty

The complexity of the inter-related problems threatening human security and environmental sustainability are manifested in many ways and make it very difficult to prepare for an increasingly uncertain future. Rapid changes in technology, pressure for emerging economies to minimize gaps between rich and poor, resource availability for a global population estimated to reach 7 billion by 20101, and the critical need to mitigate and adapt to climate change are just a few of the seemingly overwhelming challenges facing us.

Nautilus uses uncertainty scenarios to help those of us committed to a more just, equitable and sustainable world capture insight into what we should be doing today, what robust policies at the local and global level, will best prepare us for an uncertain future and help us develop strategies for working towards preferred futures.

Scenario methodologies provide a means to generate thought, explore creatively, and challenge assumptions. They provide an effective framework for dialogue among a diverse group of stakeholders. In a word, scenarios are tools – tools to examine a number of different, highly probable futures, and to better understand the driving forces of today.

Specifically, scenarios have several characteristics that generate powerful insight for shaping local, national and international policy.

Scenarios are decision focused

Successful scenarios begin and end with clarifying the decisions and actions the participants must make if they are to successfully deal with uncertainty. One common misconception of scenarios is that they are prescient, path dependent predictions of the future. On the contrary, scenarios are used to order our thoughts amid uncertainty, build common ground among differing perspectives, and think rationally about our options.

Scenarios are imaginative

As scenarios are about an unpredictable future, they require us to suspend belief for a moment. They allow, even encourage, participants to think more audaciously, to challenge their assumptions, create new contexts for existing decisions, and seek out new and creative ways to tackle decisions. At their core, scenarios are about learning. In examining a decision within the context of a number of different futures, scenarios impel us to reconsider our assumptions, challenge conventional wisdom, and think creatively about options.

Scenarios are logical

The scenario process is also logical, formal, and disciplined in its use of information and analysis. The creativity and imagination inspired by scenarios can only be as effective as the quality of the information upon which it is based. The process requires participants to challenge each other’s thoughts, perceptions, and mind-sets.

Lastly, scenario methodologies provide a common language for participants to communicate complex events and decisions.


1 Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations