Scenario-building methods as a tool for policy analysis

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Abstract

In terms of innovative methods for policy analysis, the foresight and scenario building methods can be an interesting reference for social sciences. A scenario-as a central concept for the prospective analysis-can be considered as a rich and detailed portrait of a plausible future world. It is a useful tool for policy-makers to grasp problems clearly and comprehensively and to better pin-point challenges as well as opportunities in an overall framework. The purpose of scenario-building is policy decision making. A scenario is not the prediction of a specific future. Rather it can better be considered as a plausible description of what might occur. In this sense, scenarios describe events and trends as they could evolve. They are not simulations. The term "scenario" comes from the dramatic arts. In theatre, a scenario refers to an outline of the plot; in movies, a scenario is a summary or set of directions for the sequence of action. Often in creating a scenario, the questions that are considered are of the following types: What is uncertain? What is inevitable? What are the driving forces of..? In general, this term has been used in two different ways: first, to describe a snapshot in time or the conditions of important variables at some particular time in the future; second, to describe the evolution from present conditions to one of several futures. The latter approach is generally preferred because it can lay out the causal chain of decisions and circumstances that lead from the present. Some authors try to introduce exclusive quantitative techniques to the method. The results are normally not very consistent and in this case it proves the need for a balanced use of qualitative as well quantitative techniques for data analysis. In a book entitled Toward The Year 2000, Kahn and Weiner examined the future possibilities of world order, describing potential power alignments and international challenges to American security.^ One of their scenarios depicted an arms control agreement between the United States and the former Soviet Union; another assumed the former Soviet Union would lose control of the Communist movement; a third projected construction of new alliances among countries. These authors also described the technology "hardware" of the future, which included centralized computer banks with extensive information on individuals as well as parents able to select the gender and personal characteristics of their children through genetic engineering (cf. UNMillenium project, below). Some corporations also developed scenarios as their planning became more sophisticated. For example, Shell International Petroleum Company used scenarios before the 1973 oil shock. The method proved useful in allowing Shell to anticipate the rise and subsequent fall of oil prices. In the mid-80s, this same corporation created scenarios that focused on the future of the Soviet Union because that country was a major competitor in the European natural gas market. This kind of applications of the method are well disseminated in the economic structures, although mainly with large-sized and internationally operating firms, or with state institutions and public administration (Ministry of Economy or Finances, Ministry of Health, central planning departments, statistical bureaus). Thus, a scenario is di policy analysis tool that describes a possible set of future conditions. The most useful scenarios (for corporations, for policy decision makers) are those that display the conditions of important variables over time. In this approach, the quantitative underpinning enriches the narrative evolution of conditions or evolution of the variables; narratives describe the important events and developments that shape the variables. In this respect one may say that there is, to a certain extent, some compatibility with Charles Ragin's (1987, 2000) approach underpinning both QCA and Fuzzy Sets. However the specificity of scenario-building is that it is specifically aimed dX future sets of conditions. Techniques such as QCA and its extensions have (thus far) not been used specifically for scenario-building. Some examples of these exercises will be presented in this paper, either related to vision in science and technology developments, social and technological futures, or related to aggregated indicators on human development. Two cases (Japan and Germany) are held on behalf of the ministries of science and education (respectively. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Bundesministerium fUr Bildung und Forschung (BMBF)), and another with the support of United Nations.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInnovative Comparative Methods for Policy Analysis: Beyond the Quantitative-Qualitative Divide
EditorsBenoît Rihoux, ‎Heike Grimm
Place of PublicationBosto, MA
PublisherSpringer US
Pages185-209
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)978-0-387-28829-1
ISBN (Print)978-0-387-28828-4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2006

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