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Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty (DMDU)

December 13, 2017

The 2017 DMDU Workshop was held in Oxford from 13-15 November, at the Oxford Martin School. This is a grand building in the centre of Oxford which used to be the Indian Institute! About 100 people gathered for the three days, of which the first was a Training Day.

The Training Day introduced a generalised framework for DMDU methods, discussing the contents of a DMDU analyst’s toolkit.

I was delighted to hear Claire Craig talk in depth and breadth about “Informing Policy Decisions with foresight methodologies”. Her experience in the Foresight Unit before going to the Royal Society as Director of Science Policy gives her insights into how the foresight – or DMDU – community can most effectively provide inputs to policy makers.

Other great perspectives on “the real world” were provided by

  • Julie Rozenberg of the World Bank, talking about trying to help small nations get ahead of the curve of destruction caused by climate change, using Fiji as an example.
  • Leena Ilmola Sheppard of IASA in Austria, talking about using system maps to help Finnish politicians develop a shared language and so deal better with adapting to immigration in Finland, a country and society which traditionally has not seen this phenomenon.

Many of the sessions were organised to try and bridge the gap between tool sets and decision makers, in defence and security, in crisis management, in water systems, etc. Tool sets included

  • Robust Decision Making, out of Rand, and the open version MORDM
  • Value Focused Thinking, from MIT
  • Agent based modelling from Harvard

And it was good to catch up with old friends. The programme for all three days can be found at

However an unexpected plus was picking up a copy of the Oxford Martin Commission Report for Future Generations – it was published in 2013 but I had not flagged it at the time, it can be found on . While its list of megatrends has worn well, the framework for the section on challenges is of course pre-Trump and BREXIT. The sections on Lessons from the Past focuses on the importance of international collaboration and networks: and the need for these to be brought to bear on issues such as antibiotic resistance, fossil fuel usage and fishing practice – yes.

In Part C: Practical Futures, the report highlights some of the topics we in SAMI have explored:

  • Creative coalitions, as in our report “In Safe Hands” services.html which explored a future in which the world is organised around city states which cooperate to solve common problems
  • Transparent taxation, and the problems from mobility for a tax system based on land and nation states
  • Focus on the long term – clearly the core of SAMI’s “strategy with a view of the future” mission and related to the McKinsey Global Institute Report “Companies with a long term view outperform their peers”,

Reading the report did highlight for me how many of the assumptions of 2013 on the future of global society are being challenged today.

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at


Memories of Watts Wacker

December 6, 2017

I heard recently that futurist Watts Wacker has died. He was a leading thinker from the 1980’s onwards, using a variety of styles and images to help people and organisations think about the future.

One of his books, The 500 Year Delta, published in 1997, (ISBN 978-0887308383) was much more approachable than the title suggested, as it explored 5, 50 and 500 year futures and provided tested strategies to help companies and individuals reset their course to accommodate the increasing chaos of everyday life as seen from the 1990’s. It became a world-wide bestseller.

Watts Wacker book

  • His later books included The Visionary’s Handbook (2000, ISBN 978-0066619873) , and What’s Your Story – Storytelling to Move Markets, Audiences, People and Brands (2012, ISBN 978-0132312011). His body of published work has lasted well, but it was as a speaker that he came into his own – he was brilliant at challenging an audience to think about the ways in which our assumptions about the world might not hold in the future.

Watts and I worked together at ICL in the 1990’s with the then CEO, Keith Todd, to formulate ICL’s strategy as part of the Information Society, and with European Commissioner for Industry Dr Martin Bangemann on how to implement his 1994 report on Europe and the global information society. The report represented the findings of a group of senior business people and community leaders, including the then-chairman of ICL, Sir Peter Bonfield, and formed the basis of much of the European Commission’s programme in strategic planning for the Information Society. It also influenced the subsequent G7 Global Information Society conference held in Brussels in 1995.

One of the steps ICL took was to host a seminar in July 1996 to examine:

  • issues of regulation in the light of new technological advances;
  • issues arising from the implementation of the information Society in Europe such as public awareness/education, skills training
  • the most appropriate regulatory/institutional environment to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.

Participants in the seminar included Dr Bangemann, Keith Todd, ICL’s Chief Executive Officer, and twenty participants from the media and the Open University, public administration, telecoms and computing, and entrepreneurs, from 13 countries.

As part of the discussions, the group developed two visions for Europe; a leading and a trailing scenario. The leading scenario described a society with an improved quality of life. Contributing to that would be choice: opportunities for employment rather than jobs as such, opportunities for education, choices over lifestyle, health and medical care, and choice to use information technology or not – based on there being no barriers to access.

The group concluded that to achieve the leading scenario three elements had to be in place:

  • The capacity of Europe to improve the relationship between entrepreneurship, education and the financial system;
  • Education, helped by IT, needs to become a critical factor in growth in Europe. Overall, the whole attitude toward risk-taking and management had to change;
  • A new approach to regulation and deregulation in the light of technological developments. For example, while getting rid of monopolies is important, the completely deregulated model might not always be appropriate.

The Report from the Workshop was called the Hedsor Memorandum. The recommendations focused on areas for action which would use the infrastructure of communications, and which could be carried out over the next two years to take effect over the next decade. It focused on the need to shift attention to spreading awareness of the impact of the Information Society from large organizations and towards

  • individuals, so they would understand the potential to increase their skills,
  • small and medium-sized enterprises which will play a critical role in advancing the Information Society by extending their global reach through technology,
  • local governments as catalysts and providers of local networks with a bridge to global resources.

However we were concerned that the workshop participants might have a systematically different view of life from the next generation, who would be living in the Information Society. So we invited a group of seventeen young graduates from throughout ICL, from a wide range of backgrounds and nationalities, and with differing knowledge, skills, attitudes and experience, to attend a “Future Scope” workshop to consider Europe in 2006: what should we want and expect from the Information Society? After an initial brainstorming session to collect views about Europe and the Information Society in 2006, three main themes were extracted for break out groups to consider in more detail; work – smarter not longer, education, leisure and the family.

At the end of the workshop the Futurescope Group made a number of recommendations which were included in the Memorandum, particularly relating to ways of engaging individuals who were not part of the formal power structure in decision making.

Watts and I then had the task of taking these messages to audiences inside and outside ICL – he was more successful than me! – he will be missed by all those who knew him either in person or through his books.

There is a fuller discussion in Scenario Planning (ISBN 978-1-909300-54-5).

Whilst a stimulating thinker and presenter such as this will always be much missed, the futurist community continues to challenge current paradigms and to help people and organisations face the future by making #robustdecisions.

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

Sheffield Ambition

November 29, 2017

Grant Thornton hosted the second Sheffield Ambition event:  “A Vibrant Sheffield Embracing A Changing World” at the Adelphi Room in the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. This room is amazing – it is at the top of the Theatre looking out over the square containing the Winter Gardens and towards the Sheffield Hallam University campus. The assembled group was also amazing – 30 highly ambitious, enthusiastic and passionate people in the room ready to look at the future of the world and the opportunity Sheffield has to play a major part.

As Paul Houghton, Grant Thornton Partner leading the event, said in his invitation: the aim was to have an inspiring and thought provoking evening: so people came ready to collaborate, to be creative and to disrupt the status quo in our thinking. Some of us from SAMI – Dr Wendy Schultz, Huw Williams and Gill Ringland – helped to structure the discussion, using a staged approach to Three Horizons split over the several courses of an excellent dinner.

The discussion ranged widely but one theme emerged strongly as a basis for a potential new initiative – skills and an aspiration gap. One thought was that, as in other parts of the UK, in Sheffield, new jobs were going to incomers – sometimes graduates from the two Universities in Sheffield, or elsewhere.

The question was how to reach out to parents and children in Sheffield, to give them images of innovation, creativity, new jobs and new ways of working?

A role model which we discussed was the activity led by Ruth Amos of “Kids Invent Stuff” This a You Tube channel which sets monthly design challenges for kids (age 5-11) to submit their ideas for solving a problem or create a gadget or robot, and then making it on camera. They launch a new video every week and get video or picture submissions through

Kids Invent Stuff web page

One issue that concerns Ruth is getting girls to think about inventing stuff. She seems to have an approach that appeals to girls, who are ready to submit their ideas, often encouraged by their parents. As she says, she tries not to use the term engineer as it is not very inspiring – preferring to talk about inventor. And she emphasises the importance of parents’ support in getting girls to think about careers in Science, technology, engineering and manufacturing, which have historically been male dominated: and the increasing role of social media in breaking down stereotypes.

The train of ideas about Sheffield Ambition was – how could companies, schools and universities, local government, parents and children, build on what is already happening, to develop Sheffield’s ambition? The need is to think more broadly and taking into account some of the changes which will overtake us as technology continues to impact our lives: many of the people in the Adelphi Room had children or grand-children who will still be alive in 2100. What can we do to prepare them?

As Ambition Sheffield takes shape – watch this space!

#vibranteconomy  #vibrantSheffield

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

Three Horizon Mindsets

November 22, 2017

When a group of futurists gathered at the ProDev day organised by the Association of Professional Futurists, some of the learning most welcomed was around Three Horizons.

Many of us were familiar with the model and had used it successfully with clients. The model is often represented as here.


Horizon 1 takes into account the current working assumptions and systems. These are the global trends that we take for granted when we make decisions.

  • Example – demographics – society is beginning to see the need for major adjustments because of the ongoing trend in many global regions for decreasing family size and decreasing or stabilising populations, and the trend for people to live longer.

Horizon 3 is about changes emerging that are completely new paradigms and ways of understanding and undertaking various human activities. What are visionary leaders saying?

Horizon 2 is about immediate changes you see which represent a transition or accommodation for evolving tensions as current assumptions and work patterns obsolesce, and transformative changes erupt into possibility What opportunities do you see? What are entrepreneurs building?

  • Example – the CEO of GM, Mary Barra is saying “I believe we will see more change in our industry in the next five to ten years than we have in the last 50. I’m talking about huge improvements in vehicle electrification, connectivity, propulsion, safety, and even cars that drive themselves. We are at the start of a technological revolution that is going to change the way we drive and interact with our cars, trucks, and crossovers”

What was new in our discussions and caused a number of ‘Ahas’ was a role-play led by Bill Sharpe and Graham Leicester. Each syndicate chose a topic – in our case communication between governments and the public. Then we argued what to do about it. Some of us took the role of a manager (H1), others of an entrepreneur (H2) and others a visionary (H3). The insights came from the discussion as the participants – naturally many naturally H3 people – wrestled with taking a H1 or H2 position.

H1 people are worried about budgets, timescales and delivering with the staff they have been allocated – and are the de facto holders of power. So positive reactions to H2 proposals could include “This could help refresh our current position” or “This provides a source of ideas”. As a natural H2 entrepreneur, I might in the past have dismissed such signals of potential support, while recognising only too well “This diverts essential resources”, “this could have unintended consequences” and “This creates potential (internal) competition”.

In talking to people with H3 mindsets – the visionaries – H1 managers might react positively with comments like “This will be needed for our grandchildren” or “This may well be the future even though it appears remote”. Negative responses would be unambiguous, for instance, “this makes no sense to us”, This is irrelevant dreaming” or “This is dangerous and should be stopped”.

These helped the H2 and H3 role players frame their stance in order to avoid standoff, and bears study by anybody who is interested in helping more people and organisations think usefully about the future and how to prepare for it.

The event was called Tools for Hope and in addition to the session on Three Horizons had excellent sessions by SAMI Associates Patricia Lustig and Martin Hazell on Appreciative Inquiry, SAMI Principal Dr Wendy Schultz on tools for visioning, and Tanja Hichert on the Anthropocene Project.

The materials that were used on the day by the presenters can be found here. The links are lightly underlined, or highlighted when you run your cursor over them.

There are additional resources on the Books and Articles page.

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

What does the future hold for Generation Alpha?

November 15, 2017

Grant Thornton are running a series of breakfast talks on the Future, with speakers from Cranfield University. The first one recently was given by Joe Nellis, Professor of Global Economy on the future for Generation Alpha – ie the under 7’s and yet to be born, the next cohort following Generation Z, the 7 to 21 year olds.

Generation Z are facing a difficult financial situation, not of their making, with a concentration of wealth into the top 1% or fewer, increased parental dependency and increasingly likely to rent rather than buy their homes. They have less trust in institutions – politics, big business etc – and may be resentful of older generations for having left them in this position.

Joe warned us that nobody knows what the future will hold, but he identified a number of trends he saw continuing. Globally, Generation Alpha will be a smaller cohort because of falling birth rates, though increasing population will continue to put pressure on natural resources and raise issues of sustainability. So-called “Frontier economies”, a wave following today’s “developing economies” will emerge to become significant, and migration will continue to be a major pressure, with increased tensions in international relations. Urbanisation will also continue, with over half the world’s population living in cities.

Globally, Joe thought Generation Alpha would be richer than the previous generation as increased wealth was shared amongst a smaller cohort, but he had concerns about wealth inequality, as the owners of AI/robots took an increasing share. They will also be better educated, staying in education longer (Masters degrees as standard), becoming ever more specialist.  SAMI’s view had been of increasing wealth inequality within countries, but decreasing inequality between countries. This brings with it shifts in global power.

On the technology front, Joe expected to see virtually complete global connectivity (SAMI’s analysis challenges this idea because of the need for universal power supplies, which is a major issue), and continued development of AI and robotics into the 4th Industrial Revolution.

The word “digital”, as in “digital camera” will become redundant, as Alphas will never have known analogue technology. They will have short, 10-second, attention spans (“the age of impatience”), expect all services to be personalised, and challenge brands (and politics) to be more ethical.

In the world of work, they will be less loyal to one organisation, expecting work to be project based, more complex and with more choice. They will be more entrepreneurial and expect to make an impact. But they may also have to work longer, with more caring responsibilities as populations age.

Contrasted with Baby Boomers, Alphas will be visual rather than verbal; experiential in learning style rather than sitting and listening; operate collaboratively rather than in a command and control system; and value job flexibility over job security.

Responding to questions, Joe thought that Alphas would be less susceptible to fake news, as they would have the skills to challenge it better, and generally be more cynical about sources. There could be tensions between the hollowing out of work by AI, and demands for fairness and ethical behaviour. AI would also create new jobs – look at job ads today and you’ll many for “app developers” – a job that didn’t exist ten years ago.

And the basis of economic models could change, as GDP was no longer seen as a useful measure of society’s success –   Grant Thornton were already leading the way with the Vibrant Economy index, #vibranteconomy.

Joe’s slides are available on the Grant Thornton website.

It was interesting to compare Joe’s talk with the exercises SAMI has been doing with Grant Thornton, presenting drivers of change to various groups around the country as part of their Vibrant Economy programme.

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Principal.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

Ethical Reading

November 9, 2017

No, this is not about reading books on ethics but about an event hosted by an interesting new social enterprise based in Reading, Berkshire: the event was on 31st October.

Its roots can be traced back to Grant Thornton’s Future Perspectives project which SAMI Consulting helped them with. This led to the new CEO, Sacha Romanovitch, developing the Vibrant Economy England initiative. One of the local meetings Live Labs held to support this by bringing together local leaders was in Reading, and Jim Bignal took up the challenge to action, founding Ethical Reading.

The purpose of Ethical Reading is to help and encourage organisations and individuals to become more ethical in their behaviour with respect to society, organisations and the wider common good. In short, to make Reading a better place to live and work by encouraging this positive change.  The challenges of Reading – in terms of creating a diverse community with ethics spanning cultures – are a microcosm of the world today.

There are three core aims of Ethical Reading – to Inspire, Educate and Collaborate. To educate, we are working with universities, to collaborate we are working with local business. The event on 31st October is part of the Inspire stream – to provide a meet-up for people who believe that ethics is a key Factor in enabling 10bn of us to live on one planet.

I decided to accept Jim’s invitation to become a Director of Ethical Reading after working with Professor Paul Moxey – a SAMI Fellow – on the future of governance. As it became clear that culture was more important than regulation in creating an ethical working environment, and meeting the needs of real people, a forum for developing these ideas and facilitating their spread is clearly timely. In the longer term, we can envision an ecosystem of Ethical Cities globally.

On 31st October, Ethica hosted the first of a series of meet-ups, providing a forum for discussing current ethical issues and for people to find those of like mind at the Great Expectations Hotel in Reading from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. The topic was “Are CEOs paid too much” in conjunction with the Living Wage Foundation. Ethical Reading’s web site is at

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Emeritus Fellow.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

“Britain in 2030: four post-Brexit scenarios”: conclusions and questions

November 1, 2017

Our publication of “Britain in 2030: four post-Brexit scenarios” came as the UK was well into its negotiations with the UK about the shape of the terms of disengagement. The Brexit process remains in as much flux today as it has done since its beginning. Two entirely different negotiating tactics, the Europeans approaching with clearly laid out, published and agreed positions shared amongst the 27 member states, and the UK with a more flexible yet secretive approach, have often led to public confusion at the direction of the talks. The marginal success of the Leave side has encouraged, rather than quashed, internal debate within the UK, and within its political parties. This debate continues, and the negotiations remain opaque to outsiders.

Our concern, however, is not with the terms of the final deal; it is with what the world will look like for the UK long after the disengagement has happened.

Our model opposed globalisation with localisation, and an economic focus with social cohesion, to produce a scenario set for modelling the future. In this piece, we review the implications of those scenarios for the UK itself.

SAMI Futures model

SAMI futures model

We offer no political opinions in this paper, nor do we attempt to predict a single outcome. What we have done is project a set of scenarios which encompasses the broad range of potential outcomes, and their implications. They will neither be as bad, nor as good, as their various supporters and opponents wish or expect. This is intentional – we are, as it were, operating at the centre of the Bell curve, not at its tails.Our UK-specific conclusions were as follows:

Global common approach

In this model, the UK would play an important part, since its constants of the English language, a trusted rules-based system, and an open, external focus would enable it to trade widely and smoothly. Negotiations with the EU would have resulted in a replicable model of frictionless trade, coupled with a movement of people almost identical to that prevailing before Brexit.

Pressure points would include aging populations in the west, encouraging immigration; the continuing rise in cyber crime as the world becomes more connected; and an increased focus on governance which may look like overheavy control on free enterprise.

Global competition

For the UK, being outside the EU forces it to engage, rapidly, with bilateral deals to maintain access to markets – and, importantly, access into the UK of the imports it needs to maintain the local standard of living. This world looks more ‘capitalist’, but for Britain, it should contain opportunities – though they will have to be fought for.


The UK’s decision to leave the EU is less relevant than it at first appeared – the country becomes one amongst many, suffering as the EU’s cohesion diminishes but benefitting in its ability to be part of the prevalent bilateral agreement model. There is a distinct possibility that the Union will break down as the various constituent parts choose to go their own way.

Fragmentation and competition

For the UK, pinned between fortress Europe and an inward looking US, competing as a global player is difficult except in very specific areas – education, financial services, aviation and some specific high technology applications becomes key to the economy. Tourism is no longer about ‘cool Britannia’, but about the very thing Britain has in large quantities – history and tradition. Benefitting also from its language and still respected legal system, the “British model” of tight industrial focus, low tax and regulation, and determined international trade negotiations, becomes one other smaller countries work hard to replicate.

We have deliberately not included some elements which readers may expect to see in mid-term scenarios. The most obvious is climate change, and the associated impact of food and water insecurity, with their potential for migration and conflict. This is because it is not currently our view that climate change will have a magnitude-level impact within the period under discussion. Were we to extend the scenarios out to 2050, we would want to include it.

Our model worlds have many commonalities starting with a crisis which provokes significant change. We have not specified that crisis – it could be Brexit, it could equally well be a financial crash. The fact that it provokes change is what is important.

We do believe that developments in biotechnology and solar power fit within our end-date. The current development paths, especially in China and south-east Asia but also across the developed world, imply that there should be considerable impact from both.

Our divergences stem in the main from the axes we have chosen. These seem to us to be the most clear in the world as it is, and certainly those reflected most clearly in the political landscape within the UK and the world after the Brexit vote. Other oppositions would lead to other conclusions – there may be, particularly, value in this time span in considering international negotiation/militarism and wealth/poverty.

All four scenarios offer challenges. What the set shows, though, is that all routes also offer opportunities, even if some of them may seem to be somewhat disguised at present. We do not project likelihoods for any of the scenarios – they are tools for thinking and planning, rather than an attempt to confidently predict a specific future – and we encourage you to think about questions, and implications, for each one. We look forward to your views.

Written by Jonathan Blanchard Smith, SAMI Fellow.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

If you enjoyed this blog from SAMI Consulting, the home of scenario planning, please sign up for our monthly newsletter at and/or browse our website at

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