Scenario Terminology

“Focal question”

The focal question is the premise that sets in motion a probing enquiry into the overarching, common theme around which the different, uncertainty-based scenarios will be structured. The focal question is the guiding light of a set of scenarios and every word makes a difference. Focal questions lead to an understanding of who is accountable for responding to divergent outcomes and lead to clear definition of agency–who must act to respond to the challenge that is implicit in the focal question.

“Driving Forces” (or “drivers”)

Drivers are powerful causal forces that produce outcomes that bear on the focal question. Scenarios usually incorporate sociological, technological, economic, ecological, and political (STEEP) trends and identify the drivers of such trends. Such drivers shape the future and do not stand alone. The driving force should be named and made as specific as possible (for example, not “Demographics” but “Aging workforce in Japan, Korea, China, Australia”). Inhibiting and enabling attributes should be listed, and links to other powerful driving forces noted.


Genuine uncertainty is not amenable to probability estimation or assignation (in contrast to risk, in which a probability can be assigned to an outcome or event). In scenarios, we are interested in exploring that unknown. Thus, we try to put aside the predictable drivers and outcomes and focus instead on highly unpredictable drivers (critical uncertainties). Defining uncertain drivers and outcomes is inherently subjective.

“Wild Cards”

This refers to highly unlikely events which, if they came to pass, would radically change the future in unpredictable ways.

“Trigger events”

Short, sharp events, internal or external to specific communities, that bring about rapid and transformative changes to the whole system by exceeding thresholds of change to which a system is otherwise resilient. Trigger events often imply a cultural system that is predisposed to such change but its denizens do not realize that they are rapidly approaching or already at transformational thresholds. Trigger events often are associated with early warnings that whisper-if only we could hear them-that a dramatic change is underway. The 9/11 attacks are a good example of a trigger event.

“Branching points”

Forks in the road of each narrative where it is possible to make fundamental choices in the evolution of the story and outcomes. Branching points where strategic interventions are possible are of particular interest, especially in generative scenarios that try to aim narratives toward positive outcomes in terms of the values embedded in the focal question.

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