March 2012 research Library issues: a QuarterLy report froM arL, cNi, aNd sparc
RLI 278 9
ScEnArIo PLAnnIng
At its core, scenario planning is designed to help connect the dots between future possibilities and
present action.
Scenario planning is a structured, disciplined technique for identifying key driving
forces in the environment that have an impact on the organization and then using that
information to design a series of scenarios or stories that describe possible futures. Using
these stories, managers can design strategies that will help the organization reach its
goal under a variety of circumstances. The stories help managers identify their own
assumptions about the future and test those assumptions as they review and renew the
Unlike traditional strategic planning, with its focus on a single anticipated future, scenario planning
provides alternative versions of that future, to be used as lenses for viewing and focusing different
organizational possibilities. As a result, scenario planning is not about forecasting or making the right
prediction. Instead, it is a tool to help organizations make better decisions in the face of many important
uncertainties. For the ARL project, four scenarios were designed.
The ARL 2030 Scenarios are rich descriptions of four possible futures. Each presents a
particular exploration of many critical uncertainties in a way that considers the dynamics
that might unfold over a twenty-year time frame, as well as synergies and interactions
between uncertainties. As a set, the four scenarios are designed to tell widely divergent
stories to explore a broad range of possible developments over time.6
The four scenarios offer similarities and differences represented by their position along two axes:
the state of the research enterprise and the environment in which individual researchers operate. No
one scenario represents a complete picture of the future and none of the scenarios specifically mention
libraries. (See Figure 1.)
Research Entrepreneurs—Research is shaped by the rise of entrepreneurial research; individual
researchers are the stars of the story.
Reuse and Recycle—Recycling and reuse predominate in research activities. Disinvestment in the
research enterprise has cut across society and government’s ability to fund research and research-
intensive education has become limited to non-existent.
Disciplines in Charge—Computational approaches to data analysis dominate the research
enterprise. Scholars, whether humanists or scientists align themselves around data stores and
computational capacity that address grand challenges and large-scale research questions, often
operating at a disciplinary and sub-discipline level.
Global Followers—The locus of the funding that drives the research enterprise migrates from
North America and developed Western nations to nations in the Middle East and Asia. These
Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, which are able to build technical infrastructures that catalyze
breakthrough research and attract top talent, can organize the activity into projects of relevance to
their societies.
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