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From scenario planning to strategic action: bridging the gap with implications workshops

Reos Partners
July, 2023


Discover how to use implications workshops to apply scenario planning and turn scenarios into strategic action. Explore real-world examples and practical tips on how to apply possible futures and support collaborative change.

Preparing for an unpredictable future is critical to ensure your organisation’s success and sustainability.

Although a well-informed strategy can improve performance, it is meaningless without action. It’s a common phenomenon – according to the Harvard Business Review 60 to 90% of strategic plans never fully launch.

Transformative scenario planning (TSP) is a proven approach that we use to support governments, businesses, and civil society organisations to envision possible futures. When scenarios are applied to strategic planning, they can help you prepare for what’s to come.

The question is, how can you turn potential scenarios into tangible action?

We’ve found implications workshops extremely valuable in enabling teams to use scenarios to drive strategic action.

In this blog, we share what we’ve learnt, with stories of how implications workshops have been used to build resilience, by global development agency Heifer International, and to gather stakeholders behind a shared vision by the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

"Scenarios are just a means to the end. If you don’t use them, they don’t have an impact. The implications workshop is when you start to apply the scenarios to your strategy and get traction. It’s crucial."

Brenna Atnikov, Senior Consultant, Reos Partners

What are scenarios?

Before unpacking how implications workshops can be applied, we need to understand what scenarios are.

Mille Bøjer, author of Transformative Scenarios Process: How Stories of the Future Help to Transform Conflict in the Present, describes scenarios as stories of potential tomorrows. “Creating and telling stories about possible futures allows us to lift our gaze above our current stuck situations and polarised conversations into a longer time horizon and ask ourselves ‘what if?’”

The scenario planning approach we use at Reos Partners, transformative scenario planning (TSP), is an evolution of adaptive scenario planning, traditionally used by businesses, in which ‘experts’ develop scenarios to help businesses adapt for the future.

“Transformative scenario planning takes the well-established adaptive scenario planning methodology and turns it on its head—so that we construct scenarios not only to understand the future but also to influence it.”

Adam Kahane, Co-founder, Reos Partners

TSP differs in two main ways:

  • TSP aims to shape and transform the future, rather than just adapt to it.
  • It leverages the collective insights and energy of a diverse range of people who have a stake in the issue.

We have been refining the methodology since it was first used in South Africa in support of the peaceful transition to democracy. It’s one of four tools we use most regularly when supporting systems change initiatives.

Transformative scenario planning has been used to foster multi-stakeholder collaboration all over the world – from South Africa to Colombia, Ethiopia, Canada, and the USA. It has consistently generated new insights, enhanced trust and understanding, established new partnerships, and increased capabilities.


Turning scenarios into action


“Think of scenarios as different hands of cards you might be dealt; think of strategies as the way you would play those cards.” – Jay Ogilvy, Forbes

How can you effectively translate ideas about possible futures into strategic plans and execution?

This is a huge challenge. According to David Norton and Robert Kaplan, authors of The Balanced Scorecard – Translating Strategy into Action, 90% of organisations fail to execute their strategies successfully.

While scenarios can be used to inform and influence strategy, they alone are not enough to turn plans into action. Another step is needed.

Enter implications workshops.

They can play a key role in making scenarios more actionable in the real world. Let’s take a look at how they’re used.

What are implications workshops?

Implications workshops happen during the TSP process, when the team gathers to discuss the potential implications of each scenario, and what can and must be done as a result. Thinking through what could happen helps you to predict and prepare for consequences that happen as a result. Additional stakeholders can be invited to join the implications workshop.

There are three key stages in our transformative planning process. Implications workshops usually happen in the third stage.

The 3 stages of TSP:

  1. Convene a team from across the system, create a project plan, and mobilise resources. Observe what is happening. Conduct research, and talk to stakeholders.
  2. Construct the scenarios. Co-create stories about what could happen as a team. Choose the most plausible – 3 to 5 at most is ideal.
  3. Act & Disseminate. Unpack the implications of each scenario. Share the scenarios with a wider audience and leverage them to inspire action.

Screenshot 2023-06-12 at 15.52.23

As implications start to surface, the team considers what can and must be done in response.

According to our senior consultant Brenna Atnikov talking about implications is when “the penny drops of how the scenarios are a strategic tool, rather than proposals, visions, or options.”.

Implications for the Resort Municipality of Whistler

Atnikov was the project lead for ‘The Whistler Sessions: Possible Futures to Guide Us Beyond Recovery’ which brought together a broad and diverse group of people from across Whistler, the Squamish Nation, and the Lil’wat Nation to look at Whistler’s possible futures.

She says the implication workshop was when “people started seeing the scenarios as a strategic tool.”

The entire community was equipped to host their own implications workshops. “Participants realised that – whether they like it or not – these four possible futures could be coming at Whistler. The big question was what can and must they do to create the future they want – individually and together?”

Whistler is a great example of how implications workshops can inspire and enable participants to begin taking action, and how it leads to further conversations and partnerships. Atnikov reports that individual and cross-organisational collaborations started happening almost immediately on some of the implications affecting Whistler.


Using implications to drive internal collaboration

At Heifer International the scenarios and their implications were particularly helpful in developing a shared understanding of how the organisation needed to prepare for what may lie ahead. The global development agency had approached Reos Partners to help them develop greater resilience in times of disruption.

According to project lead Monica Pohlmann, the implications workshop was one of the most valuable phases of the process.

“The scenarios meant everyone was more informed and there was a mutual understanding. This enabled the team to address complex challenges collaboratively and be better equipped to develop and implement a strategy that would be more resilient to possible disruptions.”

Monica Pohlmann, Principal, Reos Partners

Reos Partners supported the Whistler convenors to produce an Implications Workshop Toolkit that community members could use to facilitate implications workshops in their neighbourhoods, and workplaces.

Key takeaways

Ever-changing world events have highlighted that we must expect the unexpected if we are to survive and succeed. Examining the implications of possible futures enables you to determine how to best address them.

Implications workshops, as part of the transformative scenario planning process, provide a practical way to inspire strategic action and mobilise diverse stakeholders behind a shared vision. Use them to apply potential scenarios to your strategic planning and drive relevant action.

If you’d like support, we’d love to help. Click here to contact us, and let’s see how we can help you transform the future.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Abraham Lincoln

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