By Maja Kuzmanovic and Nik Gaffney

This is a step-by-step guide to holding prehearsals for home futurists, distributed collectives and people with complex life-changing questions. It is a work in progress which has been tested with individuals and (small) groups, and will be revised and refined as more prehearsals are realised. Your comments, suggestions, revisions and additions will be most appreciated.

A longer text with our thinking behind prehearsals can be found at prehearsing_the_future.
NOTE: This is version 1 of the prehearsal pocket guide (circa 2012). Current developments can be found here: prehearsal_pocket_guide

Part I: Create scenarios

This part outlines how to build a scenario, and is based on the model presented by Peter Schwartz in The Art of the Long View.1)

Step 1: Identify a key question

Think about what is vital to your situation and formulate your issue as a question. A good way to start might be to ask yourself, “What keeps me awake at night?”

The key question can be phrased as something specific, along the lines of “Should we do A or B?” But you can also use more open questions, such as those starting with “How do we…”, “what if…”, “what could happen…”, etc.

It is essential to identify and explore the question with everyone involved and to agree that the question is fundamental for the future. Take your time to define a clear and memorable question and try to phrase it succinctly, as you will need to keep it in mind throughout the following steps.

Step 2: Map the local situation and identify important factors

Discuss what factors impact on the context or situation that will influence the outcome of your key question: people, places, resources (material, immaterial), history, technology, and so forth. Try to be specific and exhaustive. Make a mindmap of all the factors that together provide a complete picture of what influences the situation.

Step 3: Identify driving forces

Research what external forces influence the local situation (and its key elements). Depending on whether you want to construct your scenario based on facts or more subjective assumptions of the people involved, you can do two things:

  • Research in depth and breadth: make an extensive survey about what changes in the wider context in which you operate. Usually trend watchers look for societal, technological, economic, environmental and political changes (STEEP, or STEP). As we were looking at the artistic sector we also included “cultural” changes. Depending on how much time you have, you can spend an hour, a day, a week or a month researching these changes. Alternatively, you can search online for macro-trend reports by foresight companies, potentially shortening your time spent researching and finding substantiated analysis.
  • Collect drivers from the group: discuss and list the key driving forces as the people in the group perceive them. It is still useful to go through the STEEP/STEP categories to help make a comprehensive list of drivers. The outcome of this exercise will be strongly coloured by the perceptions, assumptions and opinions of the people involved and might not provide an unbiased picture. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, just something to keep in mind.

Make a list of all the driving forces you have discovered.

Step 4: Rank driving forces on their importance and uncertainty

Identify the most important driving forces for the outcome of your key question. We ranked them on a scale from 1–10 from least to most important.

Next, identify which of these drivers are the most uncertain. Some drivers are likely to remain more or less fixed and “certain” (for us, “European bureaucracy” was one such driver) while others are mostly in flux and quite unpredictable (“people's motivation”). We likewise ranked the uncertainty of the drivers on a scale from 1–10, from least to most uncertain.

List the drivers on a scale from most to least important and uncertain.

Note: At FoAM we ranked both the local factors and external driving forces based on importance and uncertainty. This meant that our scenario axes could be a mix of internal and external forces.

Step 5: Select critical uncertainties

Select up to three of the “most important and most uncertain” factors from the list. These are the critical uncertainties, and will constitute the axes of your scenarios.

Think about each of these critical uncertainties as a continuum from one extreme to another. For example, if you chose “happiness” as one important and uncertain factor, your continuum might be from “an ocean of tears” at one end to “all smiles” at the other.

Depending on how many critical uncertainties you choose, you'll have up to three axes on which to base your scenarios. Plot the axes on a large piece of paper.

Step 6: Create scenario narratives

Review what would happen with each of your critical uncertainties in each of the scenarios. Ask what would have to happen to get from where you are now to the situation in the scenario. How did the wider world evolve from the present to this particular future? How did your local situation change?

In a group, come up with an outline of each narrative. This can be short and succinct or detailed and elaborate, but should capture the “essence” of the narrative. From these outlines you can then write out the scenarios as short stories. We drew straws to decide who would write each description.

Part II: Design prehearsals

Note: These subsequent steps diverge from Schwartz's model. Schwartz’s own approach can be found here:

Step 7: Visualise the scenarios

Find images that help visualise your scenario. You can use a single image, a moodboard or collage. One image gets the atmosphere across; a moodboard can be used as a visual story where all important elements are connected. (We found Pinterest a good tool to co-create moodboards.)

Step 7a (optional): Design prototypes

Depending on the time available and the needs of your scenario, you can go deeper into elaborating how some situations, products, technologies or services might work in your scenario. For example, if it is crucial to have a new technology developed for your scenario to work, think about how you could sketch or mock-up the way this technology could be used, what it would look like, etc.

A speculative design can become a drawing, physical prototype, poster or makeshift interior design. It all depends on how much detail you need to get your scenario across. If you are in a group, it will be necessary to hold one or more co-creation sessions.

Step 8: Identify a central question of the prehearsal

Once you have chosen which scenario to prehearse, formulate what you want to examine in the prehearsal. Most likely you will be able to use your key question from Step 1 as a the starting point for the prehearsal. Create a new question to include the issue and critical uncertainties of your scenario. For example, “How will we draw in a future where wood is expensive and computers are wearable?“

Step 9: Define time and space for the prehearsal

Based on your prehearsal question think about how long you would need to prehearse to find satisfying answers. Sometimes an hour is enough, other times a day or a week. Define the duration.

Decide on date(s) for the prehearsal. Leave at least two weeks between this step and the prehearsal, to allow people to prepare. It is useful to specify the exact hour when the prehearsal will start and end.

Decide where the prehearsal will take place, based on the needs of your scenario. Also think about whether the prehearsal should be private or public. If it is public it will necessarily involve people who are not prehearsing. Think about how this will fit with the scenario.

Finally, plan a briefing at least one day beforehand and a debrief one day after the prehearsal.

Step 10: Create the framework of the prehearsal

Translate your scenario narrative into the framework of the prehearsal. Brainstorm about:

  • physical aspects of the prehearsal (infrastructure, objects, materials, tools, food)
  • atmosphere (interior/exterior design that brings out the tone of the scenario)
  • participants (who to involve, how many people, possibly specify roles if needed)
  • events and activities (what will people do, are there unexpected events, joint rituals)
Step 11: Write a framing paragraph for the prehearsal

In a few clear sentences, describe:

  • the scenario in a nutshell (i.e. a description of the prehearsal situation)
  • what you want to prehearse (i.e. your central question)
  • what the roles and essential activities people can perform are
  • what the basic rules of conduct. These can differ from everyday expectations.
  • what to do if you need help during the prehearsal. (e.g. How to signal ''Timeout”)
Step 12: Prototype the scenography

Decide on the minimum amount of props (such as tools, furniture, costumes) that could be used give the participants a sense of being immersed in the scenario. Repurpose existing materials, borrow stuff and mock-up prototypes – there's no need to make big investments (unless your scenario demands it and you have the budget!). Use a minimum amount of materials and effort for maximum effect.

There are quite a few methods you could use here, from design thinking, rapid prototyping, HCI, user-centred design and improv theatre that you could use to help with this step).

Step 13: Create a set of instructions and hold a preparatory briefing

Describe in simple instructions what the participants should do before, during and after the prehearsal. This should include anything that people might need to bring. Stress that it is crucial that people remain themselves, but adapted to different circumstances.

To help everyone get into character, suggest that everyone individually think about who they would be and what they would do in the given scenario. How would they have got to where they are in the scenario from where they are today? What would have to happen in their lives and in the world to find themselves in this scenario? What aspects of their characters would come to the fore? What knowledge, skills or talents could be more useful than others?

Even if you co-create the prehearsal together with a group, some people might overlook things that others think are crucial. Therefore it is essential to hold a preparatory briefing at least one day in advance. During the briefing, go through everything you think the participants need to know. Allow plenty of time for discussion afterwards. This will help everyone get into the situation and in character.

Part III: Prehearse

Step 15: Dive into your prehearsal role

Remain yourself, but try out a specific role/attitude that you think you might assume in this scenario. Try to stay “in character” for the duration of the prehearsal: pay attention to how you act, live and work in a situation you're prehearsing. Be aware of your thoughts, words and actions. Note what aspects of being in this scenario work for you and which ones don't. Watch how you react to different people, tools, events and how they react to you.

There is no need to pretend you are fictional character. Instead think carefully about who you are and how you can best engage in the given scenario. This might accentuate a different part of your personality to what you're used to. Observe the changes and interact accordingly.

Part IV: Reality Check

Step 16: Write down your individual reflection

Immediately after the prehearsal, take some time off – go for a walk, meditate, have a nap or a drink – do something to let go of your prehearsal character. Before speaking to other participants jot down a few personal reflections:

  • do you have any answers to the key question in step 1?
  • what worked and what didn't work for you in the prehearsal?
  • do you have any reflections/additions on the future scenario you prehearsed?
  • what do you think about the prehearsal as a method to explore possible futures?
Step 17: Hold a collective debriefing

Reflect with everyone involved on the questions in Step 16. End with a discussion on how you could integrate the prehearsal findings in your current situation.

Write clear minutes and share them with everyone.

Step 18: Define practical implementations and scenario indicators

Once all scenarios have been prehearsed, discuss what their implications are for your current situation and your plans for the future. Note specifically if there are steps that could be put into practice in real life. Agree on any indicators that you should be watching for that show you're heading towards one or aother scenario.

Step 19: Keep the learning alive

When you go back to your daily life, periodically remind yourself of the key question and the various forces acting on your situation. Watch for early indicators of possible scenarios and adjust your actions accordingly. Remember what you felt like during the prehearsal – what you did as individuals and as a collective, and what impact that had on the simulated situation. If all goes well, this should happen intuitively – just see what emerges and use it to help you make decisions in complex and unpredictable situations.

NOTE: We have found that it is important for everyone involved in the prehearsal to commit to the entire process, as people jumping in and out can disrupt the flow and create misunderstandings.

Summary of Steps

  • Part I: Create scenarios
    • Step 1: Identify a key question
    • Step 2: Map the local situation, identify important factors
    • Step 3: Identify driving forces
    • Step 4: Rank driving forces on their importance and uncertainty
    • Step 5: Select critical uncertainties
    • Step 6: Create scenario narratives
  • Part II: Design prehearsals
    • Step 7: Visualise the scenarios
    • Step 7a (optional): Create a speculative design prototype
    • Step 8: Identify a central question of the prehearsal
    • Step 9: Define time and space for the prehearsal
    • Step 10: Create the framework of the prehearsal
    • Step 11: Write a framing paragraph for the prehearsal
    • Step 12: Prototype the scenography
    • Step 13: Create a set of instructions
    • Step 14: Hold (at least one) preparatory briefing
  • Part III: Prehearse
    • Step 15: Dive into your prehearsal role
  • Part IV: Reality Check
    • Step 16: Write down your individual reflection
    • Step 17: Hold a collective debriefing
    • Step 18: Define practical implementations and scenario indicators
    • Step 19: Keep the learning alive

Peter Schwartz, 1998, The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World, Wiley
  • resilients/prehearsal_pocket_guide.txt
  • Last modified: 2014-04-28 16:05
  • by maja