What is the difference between Science Fiction and Strategic Foresight? Luckily Madeline Ashby over at BoingBoing.net has created a brilliant post that discusses the differences. Here are the bare bones:
“The real difference between Science Fiction and Strategic Foresight, from the writer’s perspective is the degree of freedom afforded by each context. Strategic foresight is also a collaborative process. It involves workshops, sitting down for long conversations, and standing up at white boards with sticky notes. Unlike the writing of a novel, there are other people in the room with you — and their ideas matter more than yours.
- Find signals. Or, as I think of it, pay attention and take note. Get a team together. Learn everything you all can about the industry, market, demographic, problem, etc. Find recent news stories about it. Save and organize them. Listen to the sources no one else is listening to, because weak signals have more to say about the future than strong ones. (A good example is the anti-vaccination movement. Once upon a time, it seemed like a small cluster of people influenced by faulty research would have no impact. Now, California has record numbers of measles patients.)
- Organize those signals into trends. Inevitably, some of the signals you find will fall into the same areas. Group them together as trends, like “the democratization of media” or “spending cuts for education.” When you have those, further organize them into a STEEPV (.pdf) framework of social, technological, economic, environmental, political, or values-based trends. Some will overlap. That’s okay. You’re describing a culture, and cultures are messy. (Worldbuilders, take note: STEEPV also works as a method of organizing the current events in your fictional realm. It’s like a character sheet for a whole culture.)
- Determine what drives those trends. Think of signals, trends, and drivers as the ocean: signals are waves, trends are the tide, and drivers are the moon. Waves may be big or small, the sea may be choppy or flat, but without the moon the water wouldn’t move in the same way it does now. Drivers are elemental forces impelling the trends we participate in. They can be things like the expanding capacity of a chip, the price of lithium in Afghanistan, or the human urge to communicate. But they’re always the thing undergirding reality that you most take for granted.
- Create a critical uncertainties matrix. Critical uncertainties are independent factors that have little influence on each other within the problem space, but could change the space as a whole if they tipped too sharply in one direction or another. They’re determined from the drivers, and the client’s workshop group decides which uncertainties are the most nagging. It’s easiest to establish uncertainties which are polar, like “public funding for scientific research,” which can go high or low. Then it’s set against another uncertainty in a 2×2 matrix. That matrix creates the four scenario worlds.
- Write a scenario. When I’m writing a short story or a novel, I can decide which aspect of the future I’d most like to explore. When I’m developing a foresight scenario, I need to explore the aspects that are most important to the client. Scenarios can be heavy or light on the narrative, or somewhere in the middle. Sometimes they’re more like a field-guide description. But the more lived-in that future feels, the faster the client can decide whether or not she’d like to live there, too. What both have in common is the need to write entrancingly about a place and a time that doesn’t yet exist.