Scenario Planning, Science and Technology, National Research and Societal Considerations

by Moya K. Mason

The paradox of the twenty-first century may be that our ability to use technology to our advantage is going to be linked to the quality of our human social networks. The quality of our social networks is going to be linked to how well we use communication technologies. I'm optimistic that is entirely possible to take hold of our futures in this way. We can navigate change in a wired world moving at incredible speed. The new futurists among us have already taken the first steps. -- Jennifer Stone Gonzalez/The New Futurists: A Handbook


Scenario planning is the application of visual dialogue. It is a way to structure and facilitate strategic thinking in management teams and multi-organizational corporations where there is increasing uncertainty in the business environment. The beauty of scenario thinking is that it allows us to tell each other stories about how the world might work. The key element is not whether we are right or wrong, but rather, that we dig deep down to understand that it is our assumptions and perceptions that underpin the imaginations in each scenario, and evaluate their plausibility. Scenarios are not linear or mechanistic; they are displays of exponential connections.

Scenarios create a language with which to communicate as an organization, allowing a light to shine in on it. Through the identification and observation of events and patterns of behavior and by stretching the boundaries of possibility, scenario planning can imbed thinking and learning processes into an organization. Scenario planning is a great tool for managing change because it allows for the consideration of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in a dynamic context provided by long-term perspectives, and brings together many factors crucial to competitiveness and innovation, such as helping to identify commercially valuable research areas and market indicators. A growing number of managers are using scenarios to make decisions more effectively, allowing them to get beyond the question of what future is most probable? To more powerful questions such as what future do we fear the most? And what future do we want to create?

The process of building scenarios starts with looking for driving forces, forces that influence the outcome of events. Driving forces are the elements that move the plot of a scenario, and determine the story's outcome. The problem is that they may seem quite obvious to one person but hidden to another, and without driving forces, there is no way to begin thinking through a scenario. Every enterprise, personal or commercial, is propelled by particular key factors, such as the workforce and goals. Others, such as governmental regulations, are external. Identifying and assessing these fundamental factors is both the starting point and one of the objectives of the scenario methodology. Underlying driving forces can include social dynamics, technological issues, economic issues, political issues, environmental realities, technological change, government economic and social policy, demographics, international environmental institutions, and world commodity markets. Is control of driving forces a possibility?

We have little control over driving forces, and the only way we can leverage them is to recognize them for what they are, understand their effects, and contribute to creating new driving forces if we do not like the ones we find. In addition, it is very important to identify and understand the underlying forces, so that there is a framework in which to relate the deeper, more fundamental forces acting behind the scenes. The opportunities lie in understanding the arc of change and moving in that direction. As Joseph Bordogna, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer of the National Science Foundation put it:

The future is never easy to see. But the chances of having good vision are much better if you understand the larger context in which you work -- the sector, the society, and even the time in history; the moment in civilization. Learning to read the larger context gives you a path for imagining the future. Peter Drucker put it best when he said, "I never predict. I just look out the window and see what is visible, but not yet seen."

Scientific discoveries are key drivers of economic growth, driving and fueling the economy. Leading economists have identified technological progress as the single most important determining factor in sustained economic growth. While some technologies can be anticipated, especially those that are improvements or new uses of old technologies, there is such rapid change in fundamentally new areas that it is hard to fully understand the implications. Examples are the human genome project, the explosive changes taking place in information technology, the growth of nanotechnology, and biotechnology, which has the potential to transform areas as different as farming and computer technology.

Howard Rheingold of The Virtual Community fame sees continuing miniaturization and progress toward nanotechnology and self-replicating technologies that threaten the future of humanity as we know it see as the most innovative or consequential scientific areas of the next decade. He also see the availability of desktop bioengineering tools in coming years bringing the threat of human-created plagues as we are about to reap the consequences of unregulated and unthoughtful technology development, with no way of telling what damage the backlash will do. Lee Rybeck Lynd, Associate Professor of Biology, Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College considers biotechnology, particularly directed toward commodity applications; agriculture, including innovation-driven progress; resource and environmental systems analysis; communication; and health-care to be the most innovative or consequential fields/sub-fields of Science and Technology to watch.

Science, technology and industry are in a period of change, reflecting the ongoing move to a knowledge-based economy that is global in its scope. Rapid technological progress, resulting from a productive scientific community and more efficient business practices, the growing role of information and communications technologies, and the globalization of economy and society are some of the key forces driving this transformation. And although the links between science and socio-economic progress are complex, future scenario work offers promise as a means to help ensure that science, engineering and technology contribute to national objectives, by identifying priority areas in research and development.

By looking forward to possible future developments and their implications for research, we can obtain valuable alternative perspectives on our present activities. National research facilities and services, regulatory frameworks, and the extension of physical structures such as telecommunications networks should be top on the list of governmental priorities to enable the creation of a better tomorrow and provide an infrastructure for innovation. Quality, quantity and diversity of scientific output is clearly a national goal for any country to work towards as is a scientifically and technologically competent workforce for the 21st century, and the development of a sophisticated technology policy. By uncovering and studying the underlying forces and directions that experts and visionaries expect will be significant, can help to provide some insight into the future, and more importantly, assist us in creating one that we would like to live in.

Driving Forces/Trends

As writer and thinker, Howard Rheingold postulates, the driving factors for Science and Technology for the first decade of the 21st century will be public understanding, since it lags far behind technology, and that lag is already causing collisions. See the very recent survey that revealed that most US consumers are extremely concerned about online privacy violation, but few understand how their privacy is violated. With multiple controversies over transgenic crops, genetic testing, and very little public education about the social impacts of technology, the situation isn't going to get any better. Technically, the wireless web will be the most important driver of change over the next few years, the way the Internet has been for the past few years. And science and engineering are moving toward interdisciplinary at the same time that they become steadily more complex and vibrant from within.

In The Role of Science and Technology in Society and Governance: Toward a New Contract between Science and Society, the report of the North American Meeting held in advance of the World Conference on Science, uncovered the following driving forces for Science and Technology:

1. Privatization because it is influencing the focus and practice of science in many countries, and there is major concern it may be undermining public-sector science, especially fundamental research and efforts to solve socially important problems of no interest to commercial enterprises, and

2. Globalization because of improved communications; the collapse of the Soviet Union; improved transportation infrastructures; the liberalization of the market; and the development of economic, social, technological, and informational linkages, there is a growing interdependence among the world's populations. Overall, these forces are boosting cross-border scientific cooperation and information exchange between individual researchers, institutions and governments. The problem is, much of the expansion is occurring in just a handful of scientifically advanced countries. What is needed is the formation of true international partnerships that allow scientists in different disciplines and countries to fully support each other's aims, and share resources and management duties to mutual advantage.

The report recommends that scientists and scientific institutions should:

  1. Promote multidisciplinary approaches to research, encourage cooperation between the social and natural sciences, and draw lessons from the humanities, local knowledge systems and aboriginal wisdom;
  2. Encourage a holistic approach to problem solving that takes into account a realistic range of socioeconomic conditions and effects, as well as multiple time and space scales, where appropriate;
  3. Carefully explain the implications and the inherent limitations of their research findings to the public;
  4. Fully exploit the predictive power of science to serve social needs with candid awareness of the limitations of scientific predictions;
  5. Promote the inclusion of scientists from resource-poor countries in international cooperative projects and maximize their access to information and technology;
  6. Encourage the creation of science-coordination mechanisms at the highest level of the United Nations, fully involving the governments of all countries, as a way to promote integrated responses to global problems.

The Arlington Institute in Virginia has put together its own set of trends. How will they effect S&T? How can science be used to help the future?

William E. Halal, Professor of Management, George Washington University sees the IT Revolution as the driving factor for Science and Technology for the first decade of the 21st century because the powerful new ability to accumulate scientific knowledge faster is causing breakthroughs in all fields. However, Dr. Halal points out that there are issues and controversies for society to consider:

This unprecedented power is raising vast ethical and moral problems. For instance, genetic engineering offers the power to control life processes. Who dies? Who Lives? How much can we change human qualities? Animals?

In Investing in Innovation: Toward A Consensus Strategy for Federal Technology Policy, Lewis Branscomb and associates state that three changes in the world environment have made the old technology policies less effective and require a shift to a new perspective on the government's role in technology development. By updating its technology policy to take into account these new realities, the United States will build for itself a better technology policy and a better future.

  1. Shifting corporate structures and relationships with a transformation altering the internal structure of the firm, with new emphasis on the use of teams, a high degree of task integration, decentralized decision-making, continuous innovation, organizational learning, and a blurring of the sites of innovation and production.
  2. Globalization
  3. Tight fiscal constraints at the federal government level are also shaping a rethinking of how government can most effectively support innovation, both in the private sector and in its own operations. Such a rethinking creates the opportunity to develop new models and strategies for technology policy that can overcome existing ideological and partisan differences.

Investing and Encouraging Innovation in the Private and Public Sectors

In order to expand our body of knowledge, it is crucial to cultivate new ideas about the world we live in. Innovative breakthroughs in science and technology give us the means to move forward and create new worlds of opportunity. Is there any question that the development of a culture within which the advancement of knowledge is valued should be an important component of national development? The importance of excellent, curiosity driven-research cannot be emphasized too strongly, since major innovations flow from breakthroughs made by this kind of research. Researchers and managers will only innovate if they have incentives to do so and are encouraged to take risks. Governments need to work hard at creating environments that are supportive of innovation; if not, creative and innovative people will either play it safe or else leave for countries that are more in tune to their needs.

The establishment of an efficient, well-coordinated and integrated system of technological and social innovation is a fundamental requirement. Governments need to invest heavily in the science base, with measures to open up channels to allow scientific innovation to flow beneficially through to society, into businesses, and also into health care, public services, and the environment. To achieve this, there is a need to create bridges between the public and private sectors, often at a grassroots or regional level where clusters of companies and universities can form to share ideas and exploit opportunities. Howard Rheingold believes that the use of Public Communication -- face to face, online, and media programs -- about the social impacts of technology will go a long way towards building effective linkages between national research facilities and the community.

Lewis Branscomb, the Aetna Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Management Emeritus and former Director of the Science, Technology and Public Policy Program in the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government believes that the engine of American innovation and productivity growth is the private sector. The fuel is private investment. The combination of public and private research enables economic progress and informs decisions about the most fruitful avenues for technical advance. Private firms perform three quarters of all the R&D in America, and they carry out the transformation of new science and engineering ideas into products and services from which wealth is created. Private firms are also prime sources of innovation when the government is the primary consumer of the innovation. One important federal role should be to foster an economic climate which favors private investment in R&D, innovation, and the effective and innovative use and absorption of technology by firms and organizations.

Branscomb and associates regard private investment in innovation to spur economic growth, improve living standards, and accomplish important government missions by creating incentives for and reducing barriers to technology development and research-based innovation. In addition, the leveraging of global innovation to get maximum benefit from worldwide sources of technical knowledge is fundamental for the growth of new scientific frontiers.

Innovation does not arise spontaneously. It is the product of private entrepreneurship, intellectual creativity, and collective effort. Patterns of innovation are growing more complex every day as countries around the world join in a global effort to create and exploit new possibilities. The most appropriate and effective role for the federal government is to ensure that organizations and individuals have the knowledge, skills, and incentives to stimulate private investment in innovation.

National Research Facilities: What's the Future?

One of the most successful institutional innovations of World War II and the early Cold War period was the development of a network of national laboratories based in or operating on behalf of federal agencies and governments. Traditionally, national facilities cater to big science and draw in researchers from institutions across the country, with the potential to attract international collaborations, and partnerships with industry. Government has developed a strong record in promoting partnerships to move science and technology objectives into the future. Partnerships are important because they introduce a different dimension to the process of promoting science, engineering, and technology by bringing together participants with different expertise and resources, and a diversity of perspectives. In the current climate of general pressure toward shorter time horizons in research, the federal government should pay close attention to its role as "funder of last resort" for long-term science and engineering research.

The federal government has provided strong leadership by advocating public-private partnerships in federal research and development, and by doing so, has brought together different perspectives and objectives. National Research institutes and laboratories attract some of the best brains in the world. What they need to get better at is keeping them for the long term by continually investing in world class facilities and providing competitive rewards for the scientists and researchers. Dr. Lee Rybeck Lynd thinks that by making the S&T system more responsive to non-market factors (e.g. environmental benefits, planning ahead to avoid long-term risks), will go a long way to improving it for the world of the 21st Century, motivating risk avoidance and benefits realization that are not captured by market prices. These will impact upon research facilities in a variety of ways, depending on the public policy response.

Dr. William E. Halal also believes that impact on research facilities will become more of a reality as the conduct of science increasingly become subject to public scrutiny. He takes it one step further by stressing the need to incorporate social values and a spiritual dimension into the world of science if we want to see an improvement for the 21st Century.

Recommendations: Games People Can Play

The HipBone Games can be found at

The games were developed by Charles Cameron, Senior Analyst/Designer, who directs The Arlington Institute's gaming development. The HipBone Games can offer us a glimpse over the horizon -- to where we are going, or could go. An Oxford graduate in Theology, Charles is also Principal Researcher for the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University. He is a regular contributor to The Millennium Watch Institute's Millennial Prophecy Report and a member of the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals (IACSP). Charles is a member of Rheingold Associates, and host of the Mind conference in Howard Rheingold's Brainstorms online community. Educators can use the games in the classroom to convey facts and generate new creative insights in an exciting and playful atmosphere of cooperation and competition, therapists find them helpful in conflict resolution and dream interpretation, businesspeople can use them in problem solving... and AI researchers may find them a challenging and insight-provoking "pocket universe" in which to study the basic, fascinating human thought processes at the heart of creativity and innovation.

The World Game -- in its more sophisticated versions, acts as a simulation and laboratory, used by policy makers, corporations, diplomats and world leaders to devise efficient problem solving strategies. One of the goals is to distribute World Game programs as widely as possible in order to increase citizen participation in global and local policy development. It is basically Bucky Fuller's program for applying the principles of science to solving the problems of humanity in an aggressive, anticipatory and comprehensive way. Because the principle of ephemeralization shows we can accomplish more and more functionality with less and less energy, material and time investment, "we are now able to do so much with so little that we can provide for the basic needs of 100% of humanity without disadvantaging anyone." Fuller suggests that by taking the design principles of Universe (as described in Synergetics and elsewhere) and our consciously developed values, we can emerge from the present-day dark ages and prosper like never before in history.

The World Game is being developed by the World Game Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan, independent 27 year-old research and education organization based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, whose mission is to supply the perspective and information needed to solve the critical problems facing global society of the twenty-first century. It is keeping Fuller's vision alive and vital as it takes advantage of new advances in technology and data availability. One of its products is the World Game Workshop, an interactive, experiential workshop that takes place on top of the world's largest and most accurate map of the whole world. Participants are placed in charge of the world and lead it into the 21st century.

NetWorld Game is an Internet-based simulation of the global economy where people from around the world assume leadership for the world for twenty years and address the problems of their region and the whole world. Some of the problems are local in origin, others are global in scope. Both these active, information-intensive games involve people in solving the critical problems facing global humanity. Participants learn a huge amount about the world, its resources, problems, options for development and what they can do to actively engage in solving the problems that their values deem important. They tap the creative imaginations of groups as diverse as high school students to corporate executives.

VisionMapping -- unleashes creative energies contained within the group and then marries the collaborative forces. VisionMapping is a facilitated workshop that helps individuals give concrete form to their ideas and helps groups create shared visions. It is based on research on how people innovate, communicate, problem-solve and tell stories.

Other Interesting Sites to Visit Include:

The Foresight Project -- is about New Zealand's future and the role of research, science and technology. The future is not entirely unpredictable. Many of the global trends identifiable today are an almost inevitable part of at least the near future. Prominent developments in science and technology are among such trends. They are important to consider as a component of a Foresight exercise as they are clues to the future that is probable, rather than just possible. They are also a valuable source of ideas for new opportunities in research, science and technology. There are a number of trends or developments that are generic to science and technology, and include a growing prominence of inter-disciplinary technologies, such as micromechanics and molecular diagnostics; the application of biological qualities, such as sensory capability, to manufactured products; the general acceleration of technological advances; and the emergence of societal and ethical issues arising from technological advances, including those related to privacy, identity, and ownership of knowledge. Environmental sustainability also stands out as an agenda of growing importance to most societies which is calling on many areas of science and technology to achieve its goals.

Of particular interest is InnovationLink:2010, an online database. It is a tool to capture and manage information surrounding the Foresight Project. The database allows you to:

And finally, the Science, Technology, and Industry section of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) web site.

The OECD groups 29 member countries in an organization that, most importantly, provides governments a setting in which to discuss, develop and perfect economic and social policy. They compare experiences, seek answers to common problems and work to co-ordinate domestic and international policies that increasingly in today's globalised world must form a web of even practice across nations. Their exchanges may lead to agreements to act in a formal way - for example, by establishing legally binding codes for free flow of capital and services, agreements to crack down on bribery or to end subsidies for shipbuilding. But more often, their discussion makes for better-informed work within their own governments on the spectrum of public policy and clarifies the impact of national policies on the international community. And it offers a chance to reflect and exchange perspectives with other countries similar to their own.


We must keep in mind that science and technology are the propelling and sustaining forces of the economy, and this will become increasingly true in the future. Science and engineering progress are central to achieving key national goals such as raising living standards, creating good jobs, ensuring national security, strengthening education, improving public health, and protecting the environment. Innovation, science and technology have a vital role to play in the shaping of a country's national identity through economic, social, and cultural developments. Those nations that will be prosperous in the future will be those that develop technologies appropriate to their cultural, economic and social needs. As Honorary Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University, Ian Lowe suggests, "unless Australia develops an innovative culture based on science and technology, our continued economic decline is absolutely inevitable." And, one of the keys will likely be the inclusion of the public by giving them a voice.

In the Australian Science Communicators (ASC) Submission to the ABC Inquiry, the members stress the importance of civic science literacy as it is espoused by American physicist, Benjamin Shen:

The aim of civic science literacy, he wrote, was to enable citizens to become more aware of science and science-related issues so that they and their representatives would not shy away from bringing common sense to bear on such issues. Such literacy allowed people to participate more fully in the democratic processes of an increasingly technological society.

Shen maintains that the importance of a public that has a sound awareness and understanding of S&T issues has been recognized across the political spectrum, and is indicative of a society, which is truly committed to the creation of a quality life and one that is interested in supporting an awareness program for young people to develop their technological and scientific savvy. Howard Rheingold also stresses the importance of public involvement, public understanding, and some other regulator besides market forces if we want to improve our Science & Technology system for the world of the 21st Century.

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