In this latest lecture in the Dean’s Seminar series, Dr Rafael Ramirez, Fellow in Strategy & Director of the Oxford Scenarios Programme, reviewed current research in scenarios planning, linking scenarios with the building of social capital, the reframing of top management attention, innovation, and with strategy.
Dr Ramirez’s talk centred around six academic papers and a book, with titles such as How Shell’s Domains Link Innovation and Strategy, and Business Planning for Turbulent Times. He opened the lecture by discussing the huge surge of scenario growth.
‘After 9/11, scenario and contingency planning went up significantly,’ says Ramirez. Previously companies’ use of scenario-and-contingency planning tools was limited but since 9/11 interest has surged and with the financial crises, the topic now has more than 47,000 Google entries in 2013-2014, up from 16,000 in 2009-2010.
Strategic scenario planning explores plausibilities. Sets of scenarios are not forecasts, which follow a linear line of past – present – future, explained Dr Ramirez. Instead, scenarios look at an assortment of multiple possible future contexts, attributing to multiple paths, which help to bring attention to the future in the present. These scenarios are usable fictions, which are also disposable once they have been used – for example to render assumptions explicit and testable.
Importantly, scenarios render disagreements to be productive assets, not liabilities. Disagreements on plans and options enable these to be more robustly assessed and to launch experiments to test the hypotheses underlining them.
At Saïd Business School research and scholarship on this practice-led field has flourished. The Oxford Scenarios Programme in Executive Education helps participants to explore theory and methods to improve their practices; and the Oxford Futures Forum bring scholarship and practice together on a regular basis. The newly reopened Pierre Wack library at Saïd Business School, is one of the world’s leading resources for study in this field.
Dr Ramirez closed with an overview of work with different teams across Oxford University using scenarios as a scholarly research method.
Saïd Business School Dean’s Seminars are held each term. Please check the School's research events' calendar for more information on where to attend.