I have been messing around with and shared some actual work on using scenario archetypes. Let me begin with proper credit to Professor Jim Dator for the concept [Jim Dator, Alternative Futures at the Manoa School, Journal of Futures Studies, November 2009, 14(2): 1 – 18. ] and Wendy Schultz’s scenario archetype elaborations and former futurist colleague at the former Social Technologies and [not surprisingly a Hawaii program grad] Mark Justman as my key influences, and probably others that I’ve forgotten.
With this post, I will lay out some basic background and note some key similarities and differences.
A brief summary Dator’s archetypes
- Continued growth is the “official” view of the future of all modern governments, educational systems, and organizations. The purpose of government, education, and all aspects of life in the present and recent past, is to build a vibrant economy, and to develop the people, institutions, and technologies to keep the economy growing and changing, forever.
- Collapse: The economy cannot–possibly should not–keep growing in our finite world (and especially not on a set of finite and fragile islands), they maintain. It should be emphasized here that the “collapse” future is not and should not be portrayed as a “worse case scenario”.
- Discipline: or a “Disciplined Society” often arises when people feel that “continued economic growth” is either undesirable or unsustainable. In response to this challenge, people may also say that we should orient our lives around a set of fundamental values – natural, spiritual, religious, political, or cultural – and find a deeper purpose in life than the pursuit of endless wealth and consumerism. Life should be “disciplined” around these fundamental values.
- Transformation focuses on the powerfully transforming power of technology – especially robotics and artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, teleportation, space settlement, and the emergence of a “dream society” as the successor to the “information society”. It anticipates and welcomes the transformation of all life, including humanity from its present form into a new “posthuman” form, on an entirely artificial Earth, as part of the extension of intelligent life from Earth into the solar system and eventually beyond.
Perhaps influenced by taking and later teaching a systems course, I emphasize that the archetypes are applied to the description of the potential future behaviors of that topic as a system, defining system broadly as “the way things are done.” I am using the generic patterns and applying them to different systems/problems.
- Continuation – present trends within the system without any major disturbances, what we call the baseline future in the Houston Foresight program, with the joke being that it’s the most unlikely future in suggesting no major surprises. The current system continues to grow in the sense that its present trends continue.
- Collapse – a key point is that this doesn’t not suggest the apocalypse (as Jim suggests) but the system regresses or dips into a level of dysfunction, e.g., economic stagnation or recession as the norm
- New Equilibrium – This is the principal difference. I try to incorporate here the notion of challenge and response. The system is challenged and responds in a way to save itself. It’s based on the notion that systems are stable and will tend to — and want to — return to base after being disturbed. They will actively seek this return to stability and be willing to make some compromises in order to preserve the essence of the system, e.g., bailing out the banks at the onset of the Great Recession. Dator’s “Discipline” archetype fits here in that it is a response to a challenge. In my view, his description sounds more like a transformation than a new equilibrium. That said, one could come up with a version of “Discipline” that responds in a new equilibrium fashion that preserves the essence of the system under consideration.
- Transformation – This archetype entails fundamental change to the system. Dator expresses it in terms of technologically-driven transformation. I have genericized it to say that transformation could be driven by any number of factors. For instance, the discipline archetype of values-driven change could drive a transformative future.
So, three of the four major archetypes or patterns of change maintain at least the essence of the current system, and one fundamentally changes it.
I’ll post more on related topics, such as different types of new equilibrium responses, whether there are any patterns within the archetypes, examples in public scenarios, and other writings on archetypal approaches, such as Clem Bezold’s “Aspirational Futures.” Andy Hines