Creating scenarios or creating and sustaining social worlds? Towards new sociological understandings of the use and impacts of scenario planning

Stephen McGrail, Chris Riedy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Many management scholars and some practitioners argue that scenario planning remains under-theorised, that it has a weak evidence base, and that, in practice, it is often too reactive. Responding to these critiques, we contribute to the development of sociologically informed scenario practices, which are more proactive (or 'transformative'). The paper is grounded in an examination of scenario practices at CSIRO (Australia's national science organisation), focussed on the Future Fuels Forum, and a theory of social fields. The case illustrates that both convening a scenario exercise and the construction and/or use of scenarios can be forms of context-specific strategic action, often aimed at inducing cooperation as part of a skilled social action. It also illustrates that the impacts of scenario exercises are influenced by the fluidity of the situation and associated field-level processes; the social skill of actors and their ability to construct and use scenarios in ways that help to solve related problems; and the outcomes of political processes. We also identify key implications for practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-125
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Foresight and Innovation Policy
Issue number2-4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Participatory processes
  • Scenario planning
  • Social fields
  • Strategic action

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