In today’s uncertain world, change is the only constant. We can manage change by playing a waiting game and then be surprised or overtaken by circumstances when events unfold; or we can anticipate and prepare for events, even to the extent of influencing or making the events work in our favour. By anticipating change, we can make the best possible decisions or find novel solutions to new and existing problems that we face everyday.
In the Civil Service and the formulation of public policy, scenario planning and thinking has been widely implemented as an important mechanism to help decision-makers anticipate change and understand how the changes will affect both organisations and individuals. People tend to develop certain mental maps of how things work and view issues or events from a certain perspective based on their own assumptions. Essentially, scenario planning and thinking involves questioning those assumptions so as to think about the future and the plausible outcomes based on what we know of the world today.
In the academic context, scenario planning and thinking is a very useful tool to incorporate as part of the pedagogy to enhance students’ critical thinking processes. Scenario planning and thinking allows students to experience real-life decision-making in the safety of the classroom by exploring creative and alternative solutions to a range of possible future outcomes and exercising critical thinking in the process. The essence of scenario planning and thinking is for students to ask ‘what if’ questions, develop likely scenarios and then find the best possible solutions to deal with those scenarios.
How does scenario planning and thinking assist students’ learning?
Scenario planning and thinking is very effective as a teaching tool, especially for constantly changing and dynamic modules that are industry-linked and practice-oriented. Students would be able to relate the unexpected situations and unusual scenarios that arise in the industry to particular trends or specific events. In other words, students would be able to identify the key driving forces and constraints that operate in the industry or environment.
Unlike case studies and problem-based learning which focus on a particular situation at a single point in time, scenario planning and thinking provides an added dimension in that a range of possible real-life illustrations is developed over a period of time into the future. Students would be able to examine the impact and implications of several scenarios, their interrelationships as well as how those scenarios evolve over time.
As scenario planning and thinking raises one’s awareness of how the future could be, how opportunities could be maximised while minimising negative effects, and serves as an efficient channel to highlight or incorporate the latest ideas, developments and innovations in the field. Students would not only be kept updated with the latest developments, challenges and issues, they would also be encouraged to formulate new breakthroughs and strategies when they explore the range of plausible scenarios and learn how to manage them.
Scenario planning and thinking does not predict the future. Instead, it provides a suitable platform for formulating policies and contingency plans that are sufficiently flexible and pragmatic so that they could adjust to future events as they unfold. Thus, in addition to appreciating the significance or relevance of existing policies, statutory regulations and legislation, students could also test their own policy proposals and strategic ideas for validity and robustness against various scenarios that are mapped out.
As the value of scenario planning and thinking lies in its ability to translate scenarios into operational strategies and solutions, it is a valuable mode of learning which helps students acquire critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. Students would be able to reflect on theoretical concepts learnt in classroom and apply them to solve real-life illustrations or scenarios, or they may even explore totally novel methods to resolve the issues.
The contribution of scenario planning and thinking lies not so much in the scenarios themselves but rather in the process by which the scenarios are developed. This is because scenarios get outdated the moment they are formulated. However, the development of scenarios often entails group discussion and decision-making among people from diverse backgrounds and interests. Students would therefore be able to experience group dynamics, conflicts as well as convergence and divergence of views in the course of generating the wide range of scenarios.
I have used scenario planning and thinking in my third year RE3485 “Property Management” tutorial classes as well as project-based continuous assessments. The students taking RE3485 are matured working adults attending a part time Bachelor degree course. With their working experience and knowledge of the industry as well as the information gleaned from lectures and references, these students are guided through a process of experiential learning, where role plays, field research and hands-on experiences are employed. The students’ perspective as well as critical and creative thinking skills are broadened with the application of ‘what if’ questions when they go through the process of developing scenarios. Furthermore, by exploring ideas and issues beyond the existing situation, the students also manage to learn things outside the context of the classroom as well as through their own discovery and research.
In addition to the above learning points, more importantly, scenario planning and thinking tends to nurture active learners by motivating students to think about alternatives when developing scenarios, prompting them to explore innovative ideas when deriving strategic policies and solutions to deal with each scenario, as well as making them more aware of the constantly changing circumstances, hence producing a more adaptable cohort of students who can anticipate and manage change.