A 1 Alternative worlds and economies

The Alternative Worlds and Economies assignment focuses on: recognizing and exploring drivers / forces of change that are likely to shape aspects everyday life in the future including: live, work, play, and mobility. Alternative scenarios help people to see how forces of change can come together to shape desirable or extremely undesirable futures. For example, in one scenario, city government is innovative and flexible allowing zoning changes to support urban farming (e.g., green roofs, volume increases for greenhouses in urban lots, etc). In that scenario, urban farming may deeply change local food supplies, significantly reducing carbon emissions, creates local green jobs, changes use of free time, and sparks alternative economies (e.g., time exchanges, bartering). In the opposite scenario, city government supports the status quo and implements policies to limit urban gardening as a hobby under pressure from large food retailer chains.  One might add a second dimension to the two scenarios that looks at technological change. For example, how might the following: (a) very big  decreases in marginal costs, big advances in 3D printing, very popular collaborative commons, and a booming sharing economy or (b) very small decreases in marginal costs, very limited adoption and advances in 3D printing, very limited participation in collaborative commons, and the minor sharing economy affect the two alternative scenarios described above? What might the four alternative scenarios be like?

In this assignment, you will explore drivers / forces of change by creating an alternative futures scenarios for a topic. Topics may include the future of: education, mobility, entrepreneurship, work, live, play, energy,[1] waste,[2] climate change,[3] water,[4] demographics,[5] urbanization,[6] poverty,[7] food,[8] convergence, oceans[9], etc. One of the goals of making an alternative future scenarios is to deeply explore different plausible worlds.

There are six steps to creating an alternative world.

  1. Decide forces / drivers for change and the assumptions that you want to work on
  2. Sketch out how the drivers for change fit together in a viable framework
  3. Produce 7-10 initial mini-scenarios
  4. Reduce to 2-4 scenarios
  5. Draft the scenarios
  6. Identify the issues arising

Step 1 – decide assumptions and forces for change (due Wednesday September 3 to discuss in class)

Pick a topic that is of interest to you in the distant future of year 2050. This could be the future for a company that exists, a type of service (e.g., mobile computing, cloud services), or a series of forces / drivers of change that you find interesting.

Based on the readings what assumptions or forces / drivers [10] of change play critical roles for your topic in the future? Don’t worry about the assumptions and forces of change you identify. You will explore worlds where each force has a lot of effect and other worlds where such forces have little effect. For example, if the human development index (HDI)[11] is a relevant force of change for your sector: you will explore worlds with high and low HDI. One of the goals of the alternative worlds assignments is for you to explore issues from multiple what if perspectives. You do not have to agree with the worlds you depict in this exercise. Extreme worlds are quite often horrific.

The first step is to brainstorm on the assumptions you are making for the scenarios. Second step is to brainstorm the drivers of change you think are relevant. Use post-it notes on the whiteboard in the classroom or digital post-it notes in an online tool such as draw in Google drive for this step. Once the group has run out of new ideas to post, organize the ideas according to a horizontal axis from left to right: Important (low-high). Once the post-it notes or boxes are all sorted, add a second vertical axis labeled: Uncertainty (high- low). Resist the temptation to try to sort with both axis at once. It is too difficult to do accurately.

You should end up with a 2×2 matrix with your ideas sorted according to importance and uncertainty for the topic your are working on.

Other resources for thinking of alternative scenarios and forces/drivers of change.


Other resources you might look at include:

Step 2 – bring drivers together into a viable framework (due Monday September 8,  to discuss in class)

Link the drivers of change that were identified in the previous step tentatively into a meaningful framework. First, group the drivers of change that intuitively seem to relate to each other. The goal for this stage is to chunk into 7-9 larger groupings. For each grouping, provide a label that describes what is in each group. It is ok to add new ideas to the clusterings. Remove ideas that seem less important from each cluster. What might be a mini scenario for each cluster? For example, how might technological forces such as “siren servers”[12] be linked to: (a) economic forces such as “income inequality”[13]; (b) “employment opportunities”[14] and legislative forces “taxes on capital”[15].

Step 3 – cross-cluster connections (due Wednesday September 10 to discuss in class)

The 7-9 clusters of forces of change in the previous step are distinct. In this step, approximate possible connections between the 7-9 clusters you generated in the previous step. What type of scenario does each cluster of forces of change represent? How are these mini-scenarios similar or different?

Step 4 – reduce to three to four scenarios (due Monday September 15,  to discuss in class)

Reduce the 7-9 mini-scenarios to 3-4 larger scenarios. The difficulty in this step is to find appropriate 3-4 “buckets” to reasonably accommodate the topics. It will take quite a bit of iteration and discussion to find the right fit. The discussion will help you understand the forces of change in more detail. Try to pick complementary scenarios to avoid single-track forecasting one scenario. Once you have your 3-4 scenarios, user test them with people familiar with the topic you are working on. Do they make sense to your user-tersters? Does the logic of the scenarios seem solid?

Step 5 – depict the scenarios (due Monday September 22 to discuss in class)

Having user-tested the ideas of your scenarios in the previous step, it is time to depict the scenarios. Make a mood board for the four scenarios. What images best describe the scenarios? Describe each scenarios in words. What are some of the key forces of change shaping each scenario? Based on the key forces of change in the scenario, what might it feel like to live in that alternative scenario? For example, if you envision a future scenario world with robo-nannies, what might a day in-the-life of children and parents be like? Who takes care of the robo-nanny? and so forth. Make sure to link all the narrative aspects to forces of change and assumptions you identified in your research.

Step 6 – reflect on key emerging issues (due Wednesday September 24 to discuss in class)

Alternative scenarios are used to see what might happen in the future. What are the key emerging issues that the alternative scenarios exercise helped you notice in your topic? What are some critical outcomes in each scenario? What choices relating to forces of change might shift the future from one scenario to the next? What issues will likely have the greatest impact in the future? What strategies might reduce risks associated with undesirable futures?

Please answer the following questions with regards to your experience:

  1. what did you discover / learn
  2. what were you challenged by
  3. what did you question
  4. what did you do really well on this project
  5. what would you do differently

[1] http://www.driversofchange.com/energy/

[2] http://www.driversofchange.com/waste/

[3] http://www.driversofchange.com/climate-change/

[4] http://www.driversofchange.com/water/

[5] http://www.driversofchange.com/demographics/

[6] http://www.driversofchange.com/urbanisation/

[7] http://www.driversofchange.com/poverty/

[8] http://www.driversofchange.com/food/

[9] http://www.driversofchange.com/oceans/

[10] Forces of change are also referred to as drivers of change. We will use the terms interchangeably.

[11] http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-index-hdi

[12] Jaron Lanier (2013) Who owns the future.

[13] Reich, R. B. (2010). Aftershock: The next economy and America’s future. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

[14] Cowen, T. (2013). Average is over: Powering America beyond the age of the great stagnation.

[15] Piketty, T., & Goldhammer, A. (2014). Capital in the twenty-first century.

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