Canaries in the Mind: Exploring How the Financial Crisis Impacts 21st Century Future-Mindfulness

01 March 2010

Angela Wilkinson & Rafael Ramirez

Journal of Futures Studies March 2010, 14(3): 45 - 60

View Journal Article / Working Paper

Futures practices have always sought to bridge longer term, context uncertainty and today's actions. Despite the emergence of diverse foresight lineages, methods and tools, the differences between 'better proactive foresight' and 'better reactive preparedness' remain unclear. This paper focuses on the 2007-2010 financial crisis in order to clarify misconceptions and confusions concerning 'scenario planning'. We assess why the crisis is not unique and propose how scenarios might be helpful in overcoming the difficulties of learning from crisis. We focus on how scenarios were used in the run up to this crisis to clarify the nature, role and effectiveness of scenario work. We highlight implications for scholarship and practice, including: overcoming simplistic distinctions of scenarios as products or processes; and as outputs or inputs. We assess the power of scenarios as frames and their role in re-framing strategic conversation; and contrast the misapplication of probability in systemic risk analysis with the co-production of plausibility, between builders and users of scenarios. Finally, we explore why the promises of deploying scenarios to address normal accidents and systemic risks are not yet fully realised.