Generating the scenarios: first iteration

We’re now getting local people to generate, recognise and have conversations about possible futures for Birmingham, so for a population and a place they know well — and thereby contribute to informing socio-political decision-makers to make the world a better place in the face of the considerable challenges we’re all facing.

So far, we’ve identified a series of variables that are likely to have a big impact, one way or the other, on what we’ll be eating in Birmingham 2050. We’ve plotted two of them against each other in four different ways.

What we’re doing now is finding out how productive it is to populate these ’empty’ scenarios with stories — about you! — set in each future.

If you want to have a go, please do and let us know about it. Before you start, though, please look at these slides to give you a feel for the sheer scale of what’s needed to feed Birmingham.

And now here are the ’empty’ scenarios, notes about them below:

  • The Green Scenarios plot national economic growth/decline against low/high global food prices.
    The Green Scenarios pdf is here; the Word version here.
  • The Yellow Scenarios plot low/high global food prices against low/high national obesity levels.
    The Yellow Scenarios pdf is here; the Word version here.
  • The Red Scenarios plot national economic growth/decline with low/high levels of local energy generation. 
    The Red Scenarios pdf is here; the Word version here.
  • The Blue Scenarios plot low/high levels of obesity with in/efficient public transport.
    The Blue Scenarios pdf is here; the Word version here.


a note about the Green Scenarios: Arguably, these two variables are too closely related. We have, however, discussed the potential scenarios with several policy makers in the city, and thereby generated interesting, illuminating conversations. So we reckon it’s worth giving them a wider audience.

a note about the Yellow Scenarios: Don’t assume that national levels will be the same as local levels. What is interesting to explore here is how this city with its currently high obesity rates could fly in the face (or not!) of a national culture.

a note about the Red Scenarios: Birmingham has a potential opportunity, through EBRI-type technologies, to have a significant amount of its energy requirement generated locally, using “waste” to fuel community bio-energy reactors. The purpose of the Red Scenarios is to explore what that might mean for the city.
And yes, we’ve bent our own rules a lot to include it here as an external factor; nonetheless, if such technologies are widely adopted, it will need radical changes in infrastructure, along with radical external changes in practice on matters ranging from sewage disposal to ownership of new infrastructure.

notes about the Blue Scenarios:
For background info about current obesity levels, please see dietician Linda Hindle’s slides here; and on food deserts, video of Prof Jim Parle here along with 21 responses to it.

Plus the baby-boomers were the first generation to have mass customisation of transport; i.e. most of this generation have cars to go where they like . Since the late 90s, there’s also cheap air travel. In London, where the public transport infrastructure is much better than in other cities, transport poverty isn’t a big deal. It is here in Birmingham, already. So the purpose of these scenarios is to explore the complex relationships between access to transport and access to food.

plus
As you’ll see when you look at any of the scenarios, we’ve also introduced the notion of ‘wildcard‘ events or situations. We live in turbulent times, and flinging wildcards into already-worked scenarios seemed a neat way of exploring yet more possibilities.

This approach
My thanks are to the Change Leaders network who, meeting at Said Business School in September 2012, had a first shot at an earlier version of these scenarios. I’ve taken on board some of what they said, but also ignored a fair bit too.

And thereby aspects of these ’empty’ scenarios fly in the face of robust scenario planning practice. Notably, I’ve bent of the ‘rules’  a tad in having axes representing, well, internal-ish factors. Plus I could be accused of putting one or more outcomes (e.g. obesity levels) as a driver for reasons that might not stand up well.

In mitigation . . . the New Optimists Forum isn’t in the business of producing robust scenarios as an exercise in itself. As said at the start of this page, we’re getting people, who haven’t been involved in the process so far to generate, recognise and have conversations about possible futures for a population and a place they know well — and thereby contribute to informing socio-political decision-makers to make the world a better place in the face of the considerable challenges we’re all facing.

Doing things this way might well be A Really Big Mistake. But hey! then we’ll just abandon this approach and go about it differently, informed by what we’ll have learned.

note: As for the global context, two TED talks by Hans Rosling are instructive as well as entertaining. The first is Religions and Babies, the second The Magic Washing Machine.

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