Rafael Ramirez & Angela Wilkinson – Strategic Reframing: The Oxford Scenario Planning Approach

April 29, 2016 00:05

Take a look at “Ramirez & Wilkinson – Strategic Reframing: The Oxford Scenario Planning Approach” on Managementboek.nl. (You are sponsoring the Dutch Future Society for free by placing your order at Managementboek through this link!)

By Freija van Duijne

The Oxford Scenario Planning Approach is an established paradigm in strategic foresight. The Oxford Scenario Programme offers a world class education in scenario planning. Therefore, it is great news that the two main faculty representatives, Angela Wilkinson and Rafael Ramirez , have coauthored this book building on their shared and different experiences and insights. These two authors combine some of the most refreshing minds on scenario planning, with hands on experience in foresight both in the private and public sector. As a bonus, Kees van der Heijden who has been scenario chef in Shell and an influential author on scenario planning, has been involved in the book and wrote the foreword.

This book is not like a regular textbook that explains scenario planning in a series of steps or through a framework. Rather, the authors dive into the essence of scenario planning, which is the learning process that emerges from scenario planning and its strategic dialogues. Indeed, Ramirez and Wilkinson mention in the preface that they have tried to consolidate their own learning about scenario planning. This even includes a philosophy of science reflection on the methodology and the logic of intervention. In a way, they share their personal journey with you as a reader, inviting you to think and learn as you go through the chapters. In my case, it made me read the book in a slow pace, putting it away for a day to think about the content, make notes and learn as a foresight practitioner before reading further.

The common trap with scenario planning is that a small team in the organization is very busy in crafting scenarios, and there is hardly time to discuss the scenarios. Without engaging a wider group of people, the rest of the organization does not see the value of scenarios. Likewise, with a poorly designed scenario intervention, learning opportunities are also limited.

Ramirez and Wilkinson focus on scenario planning as a social process that contributes to new meaning making, better decision making and better strategic management. Their central thesis is that scenarios facilitate the process of meaning making – framing, reframing and reperception which can create a powerful shift in group think and individual mindsets. This is a unique asset of scenario planning, because people tend to hold on tightly to their deeper beliefs and worldviews and remain blind to their assumptions. In organizations this mindset – which legitimizes the official future – can even be narrowed down, by choices in personnel selection and organizational culture. Scenario planning is one of the strongest tools to open up the space for more reflexive and courageous conversation to refresh organizational insights, if used in the right way.

This explains why most of the book is dedicated to this interactive social and intellectual learning process. In a thorough academic way, that suits them rightly as Oxford faculty members, Ramirez and Wilkinson zoom in on the learners’ journey in scenario planning. Throughout the chapters, they take a practitioners point of view. The appendix is essential as it explains the six case studies they refer to in the book, but it can also be seen as a bonus chapter introducing the readers to all their interesting field work. The effect of this practitioners perspective is that it brings you closer to the learning experience and where it happens. Even though it is not a handbook scenario planning, they do take you through some important elements of facilitating a strategic conversation, such as building scenarios in teams using a combination of systems thinking and a storytelling, and the logic of the questions in the strategic conversation. In addition, they reflect on the social setting that enables a rich learning experience, both as action learning and as a teaching environment. By emphasizing the reframing process as a social learning process Ramirez and Wilkinson present many useful insights to lift your scenario intervention to the next level in enabling constructive interaction resulting in new strategic insights and actions.

However, there is one influential topic that is only marginally addressed. Scenario planning builds upon a paradigm of sensemaking that is different from most Western academic teachings. This makes the logic of scenario planning difficult to understand for all of us who are used to evidence based policies, predictive scientific theories, formal modeling and instrumental rationality . The dominant thinking style of the Western world could be attributed to a logical positivistic tradition and the fundaments of science from the age of Enlightenment. We stress the need for research in order to support rational decision making, relying on heavy reports with clear and concise recommendations and management summaries to attract the attention of busy decision makers. How different does this standard approach to projecting the past sound from opening up the discussion space to consider new and different futures (which are already in the present) by crafting storylines about fictitious futures that enable greater bandwidth between external realities and internal conceptions? When used to using model based projections, how difficult must it be to understand a set of scenarios as alternative future contexts that are something different than ‘high’ and ‘low’ growth worlds? When used to management summaries, how different must it be to see the learning experience and meaning making potential of dialogue-by-design? This opportunity to redirect attention to meaning making as a pre-requisite in the exercise of better leadership judgment, collaborative strategy and decision making is often the first reframing to occur in a scenario planning project and the openness of the institutional context and authorizing environment determines the effectiveness of any scenario planning project. The authors have touched upon this briefly, but I can only be very curious for Wilkinson, in particular, to address this topic in more detail given her recent experiences in leading the upgrade of strategic foresight at OECD. I had the opportunity to work with her on this for six months and hear rumors she is already drafting a third book that navigates the issue of colonization of the future to explain how strategic foresight and scenario planning can enable better, inclusive and actionable policies in fast and fundamentally shifting world.

Take a look at “Ramirez & Wilkinson – Strategic Reframing: The Oxford Scenario Planning Approach” on Managementboek.nl. (You are sponsoring the Dutch Future Society for free by placing your order at Managementboek through this link!)


About Freija van Duijne


This review is part of the collaboration between the Dutch Future Society and Managementboek. If you intend to buy the book, please complete your purchase through this link and support the Dutch Future Society.

Orginal publication at Futurista Blog.

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