The Scenario Exploration System

The Scenario Exploration System was developed to facilitate the application of futures thinking to policy-making originally geared at engaging EU policy-makers with foresight scenarios very easily.
The tool operates as a multi-role board game that makes participants naturally grasp complex opportunities and constraints in a future-oriented perspective. Never before had a tool been able to facilitate the uptake of foresight for policy-making and systemic thinking to such an extent.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wants to put foresight at the heart of European policy-making. This requires not only building foresight capacity in general, but also tools adapted to the circumstances. The Joint Research Centre (JRC) has long worked on foresight and in 2015 it developed the Scenario Exploration System (SES), a foresight gaming system to facilitate the application of futures thinking and the use of scenarios to policy-making. This filled a gap as most foresight work requires time and in-depth engagement, thereby preventing the high-level decision makers who would benefit most from the exercises from participating. From weeks or months, the SES provides in-depth strategic foresight exercises that can be performed in hours.

The SES was originally geared at engaging EU policy-makers easily with scenarios in a structured process. It was designed to help participants, in less than three hours, engage in systemic thinking with a long-term perspective and explore alternative futures on specific issues. Following multiple diverse experiences, the JRC also discovered that the SES has a much broader range of applications. This led to the emergence of small communities of practice around the tool. Successful responses to various requests to apply it beyond its original focus demonstrated the versatility of the SES. Specifically organisers discovered its ability to accommodate a very large array of scenarios to discuss an almost unlimited range of issues. This experience showed that the tool can be used as a platform for futures thinking and that sharing broadly the know-how for the creation and application of new versions would be beneficial to many people.

This experience resulted from running tens of demonstration sessions with very diverse audiences to understand better the strengths and limitations of the tool. This led progressively to participants coming to the JRC with specific requests for application of the SES beyond its original scope. Current estimates are that so far, 2000 to 3000 people worldwide have participated in a scenario exploration session on a wide range of topics and for different purposes (strategic reflection, citizens engagement, reflection on new applications of technologies, discovery of a topic in a systemic perspective, search for ideas, quick screening of solutions to concrete problems, etc.). The JRC are now entering a phase in which spontaneous demand for the tool is slowly picking up.

The course of action was determined on the basis of a clearly recognised need at a moment where organisers discovered the potential of serious gaming. They then engaged with serious gaming professionals in a co-creation process to combine technical competence in gaming with knowledge of content, culture and context on the policy-making side.
So far, beyond EU policy makers, the SES has been used with national policy makers, academics, students, people from business and industry, consultants, teachers, museums staff, children, people from NGOs and associations of many sorts as well as numerous members of the public. The JRC have also been able to engage with high-level decision makers from business (CEO), research institutions (president of science academy) and policy-making circles (Directors General at EU and national level) with positive follow-up.

The JRC are now reaching the point at which a few peer reviewed publications have been published, instructions for use are available in about 10 languages, the tool is available in Creative Commons, instructions for adaptation are available and organisers provide practical support whenever possible, both to train users and trainers and to support the creation of new versions of the tool. The recent exercise on the future of customs provides a test case of how to use the SES optimally in a foresight process for policy at the highest level and opens the door to institutionalisation, especially now that the new European Commission puts so much emphasis on foresight for policy-making. The SES is available as a foresight tool within the EU’s better regulation package. The tool is starting to disseminate and as more people become proficient in its use, the more it is likely to disseminate further. This is especially the case as users discover quickly how easy the SES is to use in spite of the fact that it remains what professionals call a “high-level foresight tool”.

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