[A – Anticipatory] Taking a ‘CALM’ approach to scenario planning

For those not yet familiar with the ‘CALM’ framework, it includes the practice of being:

  • C – Collaborative: engaging openly and transparently with other staff to plan and develop (internal or external) work products.
  • A – Anticipatory: planning effectively using agile methods, being aware of relevant data (through analysis and reporting) and building in a process for feedback.
  • L – Letting go of Command and Control Leadership and Embracing Collective Leadership: locating and enabling leaders at all levels whilst developing a shared sense of decision-making and accountability – demonstrating leaderful actions.
  • M – Mindful: making time and space to reflect on information and decisions.

The ‘CALM’ framework may be adapted to many business challenges. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many museums struggled to think and plan strategically. Since the crisis we have seen a disruption of pre-existing plans and increased attention paid to previously under-prioritized areas, most notably in the realm of digital engagement. It is time we took a ‘CALM’ approach to scenario planning and embed this process into our organization. 

In the recording below from the ‘One by One’ Digital Forum workshop held virtually on June 10, 2020, the ‘One by One’ research team shared the scenario planning process to help museum professionals contemplate and create their own plausible, possible, and probable ‘museum of the future’ narratives and potential actions. During the workshop we demonstrated how, in a time of crisis, museums might identify the drivers, uncertainties, trends, cycles, and the multiple choices for their potential future so as to plan the best next actions to aid their growth and development. By undertaking an exercise in scenario planning, we can begin to learn from the past in order to better inform the present and plan for a more resilient future. This session specifically explored the ‘A’ of the ‘CALM’ approach by sharing how museums might use the road-tested business tool of scenario planning to unlock elements of anticipatory practices.

How might we apply the ‘CALM’ framework to scenario planning?

BE COLLABORATIVE: Practice outside-in thinking and listening

Our fates are connected – the pandemic and race relations conversation have made this clear. We can no longer stand alone as individuals and organizations. Rather, we must learn more about who we share our space with – in our organizations, networks, sector, and society. In the book, The Art of the Long View, author Peter Schwartz warns people about ‘the Official Future’ – “the set of implicit assumptions behind most institutional policies; that things will work out okay tomorrow once the proper people get into power and can put their policies into effect” (203). This ‘Official Future’ may be decided and defined at the top without input from others and shared without context about how the future will come about or specifically how individuals and functions align to this future. The practice of scenario planning allows us to dig deep and do the work to better understand how people relate to their environment and each other. This practice means we have to look beyond the most vocal or included voices and seek out people who have been marginalized. Surveys and interviews only get us so far – we have to do more than have one-off conversation or communication. We have to build relationships inside and outside of our organizations and then systematically share and embed these insights into our daily actions.

BE ANTICIPATORY: Monitor or scan your environment for signals

Scenarios are developed from “outer space,” meaning they incorporate information external of the company, such as business cycle information, technology trends, demand and supply pricing, and more quantitative variables (Wack, 1985). This type of data crowds the pages of forecast planning, yet does not address the “inner space” or the mind and personal factors managers use to judge these scenarios for potential business strategy and outcomes (Wack, 1985). Scenario planning bridges the inner and outer spaces to surface the unknown and challenge assumptions required to address and influence actions of decision makers.

Wack emphasizes the required philosophy embracing scenario planning is understanding the power of responsibility and ripples of impact at all levels and various timelines. Wack states (1985), “…power comes with an understanding of the forces behind the outcomes. Scenarios must help decision makers develop their own feel for the nature of the system, the forces at work within it, the uncertainties that underlie the alternative scenarios, and the concepts useful for interpreting key data.” It is useful to understand what resources the organisation has at any given time and the extent to which those capabilities may be affected. The digital maturity model (such as, the Digital Culture Compass) serves as the business object to understand the current state, but the value is only reaped when this understanding is paired with the drivers, interdependencies, and trends of possible futures impacting the tasks and timeline an organisation may or should take to optimize assets. 

BE LEADERFUL: Invite a range of internal and external stakeholders to be part of the process

According to Schwartz (1991, p. 4), who participated in and authored the framework employed by Royal Dutch/Shell so other organisations could plan and learn from this process rather than be side-lined by poor planning misfortune, he defined scenarios as:

Scenarios are stories about the way the world might turn out tomorrow, stories that can help us recognize and adapt to changing aspects of our present environment. They form a method for articulating the different pathways that might exist for you tomorrow, and finding your appropriate movements down each of these possible paths. Scenario planning is about making choices today with an understanding of how they might turn out.

If we apply Schwartz’s logic, scenarios go beyond the “what if/then” stories to construct narratives that have come to pass and how organisations would address these new realities and challenges. Such construction challenges the mental models of participants and surfaces biases, assumptions, and desires that may have gone unnoticed or untapped in any other assessment process. Scenarios are to extract and blend such information into narratives that are then part of the everyday DNA of the organisation. Being comfortable with uncomfortable is the hallmark of scenario planning change management.

BE MINDFUL: Embed scenario planning into the practice of all staff

Scenario planning requires preparation and interdepartmental cooperation. As the futurists’ method began to solidify and gain traction, Peter Schwartz documented the steps towards successful planning for the future in The Art of the Long View published in 1991. Schwartz outlines eight steps or building blocks necessary to create powerful narratives meant to deconstruct a manager’s reality and reperceive an uncertain world with confidence. The first step in Schwartz’s (1991) process is to identify a focal issue or decision that is specific to the company constructing the scenarios. Schwartz (1991, p. 241) councils to begin “from the inside out” versus “from the outside in thinking,” but human-centred design thinking has gained momentum since this initial scenario planning documentation, and aligns well with the process, allowing a blend of both worlds of thinking to be considered and weighed. Homing in on a specific issue may be obtained by understanding the needs, challenges, and desires of the organisation executives, staff, and stakeholders. Ask what keeps them up at night?

Change is difficult for a company of any size in any industry. True transformation occurs when actions and mind-sets align towards mutual positive outcomes. Wack (1985) termed this behaviour modification as “reperceiving” or to sync one’s reality with reality as it is perceived or may become in time. The end result is not to prescribe exact outlooks, but begin emotional and actionable tangible preparations for addressing any significant potential future. Early futurists pioneered the blend of art and science that would become the art of the long view Schwartz and the next generation of futurists would document and explore.

A strategic planning academic journal article cautions, “Without transparency, forthcoming results will be unadaptable and will not enable implication of the actors (the public) with whom we wish to involve through the scenarios (Godet and Roubelat, 1996).” Cultural institutions may benefit from heeding this advice to secure the monetary and emotional support of the immediate and regional communities. And this is an important point – this work, these discussions, take an emotional toll on participants. Beware of how much you are asking of people and the environment in which these conversations take place.

The outcome of scenario planning may lead to or be part of a vision-led organisation, and as author, Jim Collins (2001), wrote in his book, Good to Great, such organisations have proven to be more profitable than those without such a beacon. Creating such a vision and developing the buy-in needed to prepare for any proposed scenario requires a collaborative and participative approach versus top-down management. A considerable portion of Schwartz’s formal scenario planning documentation outlines the ingredients required of such an approach to hold a strategic conversation. Museums have been struggling with this line of inclusiveness since their inception. Where businesses may be able to share planning formulas that could sustain the growth and prosperity of cultural institutions, perhaps museums can take the lead on sharing lessons learned about the conversations needed to gather information essential for scenario planning execution.

Activities to build your own scenario planning practice

  • [7 minutes] Complete the OF/BY/FOR ALL self-assessment to discover how you and your organization is OF, BY, and FOR your community.
  • [15 minutes] Monitor / scan for patterns of change for key topics/forces impacting your organization strategy – here are some places to start seeking relevant information:
  • [15 minutes] Discuss patterns of change in weekly staff meetings or during your agile planning or retrospective meetings – amplify and open these discussions to broader groups through digital communication (Intranet, Slack, TEAMS, etc.).
  • [30 minutes – 1 hour] Schedule coffee or lunch each week with a different member of a local community of practice, interest, or activism.
  • [1 hour] Organize a work-out-loud circle to delve deeper into one of the five forces of change (STEEP – social, technology, economic, environment, and politics].
  • [1 hour] Read and discuss one of the chapters of the book: Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future edited by Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer OR one of the scenarios in the American Alliance of Museums Center for the Future of Museums TrendsWatch Scenarios Edition– how would your organization exist in one of the many futures outlined in this book or TrendsWatch scenarios?
  • [1 hour] Discuss and score one area of the Digital Culture Compass to determine the needs, skills, and resources required if one or more of your scenario narratives or futures becomes reality. An organization needs to factor in the drivers, uncertainties, trends, cycles, and choices of many potential futures to plan best next actions aiding in the growth and development of the organisation within each category and capability (of the digital maturity self-assessment).
  • [1 hour each month] Review and discuss scenario implications and how patterns of change align with your scenario narratives and adjust your strategic plan and/or daily actions accordingly.

Plan your own scenario planning workshop

  • Choose workshop design and duration.
  • Identify a workshop or practice facilitator.
  • Create a participant communication plan.
  • Build the core team of internal / external stakeholders who will be part of the process.
  • Identify the focus or strategic question / decision the participants will explore and envision.
  • Select the factors and driving forces relevant to your strategic question / decision.
  • Use this scenario planning canvas (with discussion prompts) we have developed to help you craft your scenario narratives.

Scenario planning resources

We highly recommend you invite a critical friend to help you or your organization conduct a scenario planning workshop and/or embed scenario planning processes within your strategic planning and daily practice. Why? Scenario planning surfaces a range of emotions and tensions and a critical friend may help facilitate healthy dialogue and challenge assumptions (in environments where people may not feel comfortable in sharing their perspective). 

To help prepare you to conduct your own scenario planning workshop and practice, we have compiled a list of resources to make you more aware of what scenario planning is and is not.


  • *HIGHLY RECOMMENDED* Schwartz, P. (1991) The Art of the Long View. New York: Doubleday Currency.
  • *HIGHLY RECOMMENDED* Webb, A. (2016) The Signals are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe is Tomorrow’s Mainstream. New York: PublicAffairs.
  • *HIGHLY RECOMMENDED* Johnson, M.W. and Suskewicz, J. (2020) Lead From the Future: How to Turn Visionary Thinking Into Breakthrough Growth. Harvard Business Review Press.
  • *HIGHLY RECOMMENDED* Finn, E. and Cramer, K. (ed.) (2014) Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future. New York: William Morrow.
  • Brinker, S. (2016) Hacking Marketing: Agile Practices to Make Marketing Smarter, Faster, and More Innovative. Hoboken: Wiley.
  • Chermack, T.J. (2011) Scenario Planning in Organisations: How to Create, Use, and Assess Scenarios. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
  • Senge, P.M. (2006) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation. New York/London: Currency Doubleday.
  • Van Der Heijden, K. (1996) Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation. Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons.

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