Scenario methodology is a powerful tool for thinking through the implications of strategic choices. Rather than tying the organization to a set "official future," scenarios offer a range of possible outcomes used less as predictions and more as "wind tunnels" for plans. (How would our strategy work in this future? How about if things turn out this way?) We talk about scenarios with some frequency here, and several of us have worked (and continue to work) professionally in the discipline.
With its genealogy reaching back to Cold War think tanks and global oil multinationals, however, scenario planning tends to be primarily a tool for corporate and government planning; few non-profit groups or NGOs, let alone smaller communities, have the resources to assemble useful scenario projects or (more importantly) follow the results of the scenarios through the organization. Scenario planning pioneer Global Business Network has made a real effort to bring the scenario methodology to non-profits (disclosure: I worked at GBN and continue to do occasional projects for them), but we could take the process further: we can create open source scenarios. I don't just mean free or public scenarios; I mean opening up the whole process.
Let's see what this would entail.
Imagine a database of thousands of items all related to understanding how the future could turn out. This database would include narrow concerns and large-scale driving forces alike, would have links to relevant external materials, and would have space for the discussion of and elaboration on the entries. The items in the database would link to scenario documents showing how various forces and changes could combine to produce different possible outcomes. Best of all, the entire construction would be open access, free for the use.
As a result, people around the world could start playing with these scenario elements, re-mixing them in new ways, looking for heretofore unseen connections and surprising combinatorial results. Sharp eyes could seek out and correct underlying problems of logic or fact. Organizations with limited resources and few connections to big thinkers would be able to craft scenario narratives of their own with a planet's worth of ideas at their fingertips.
This is what a world of open source scenario planning might look like.
In software, the difference between "freeware" and "free/open source software (F/OSS)" is whether you can get access to the underlying instruction code for the application, which would then allow you go in and make modifications. With freeware, what you download is what you get; you're welcome to use the tool, but can't change it to fit your own needs, and you'd better hope that the programmer will fix any bugs you find. With F/OSS, conversely, if you have the necessary skills, you can read the program code in order to find ways to improve it for your particular needs, or to fix problems that might crop up. Although most folks will go ahead and use the code as-is, availability of source code means that, with enough interest, the software can be made more robust and useful over time.
Most readers probably understand all of that already, and can see how the model can be applied to similarly code-based processes like biotechnology and fabrication/design. But scenarios are qualitative exercises, not quantitative; scenarios often read like stories, or at least fictional encyclopedia entries, and the explanatory material that usually surrounds them shows how those stories fit with the plans laid out by the particular organization. There's no unique "DNA" or "source code" for scenarios, right?
Now it's true that there's no quantitative, logical process behind scenario creation -- no combination of factors that always leads to a particular scenario result, no matter the author -- but there is still a methodology that can be opened up. The pieces that go into the creation of the scenarios, even the pieces that don't end up in the final narratives, can be valuable in their own right. By making these pieces "free" (as in speech, not beer), the overall capacity of scenario-builders to come up with plausible and powerful outcomes can be improved.
[For this to make real sense, it's important to have a basic understanding of how the scenario process works. Martin Börjesson, in his terrific set of resources about scenarios, describes it this way:
Scenario planning is a method for learning about the future by understanding the nature and impact of the most uncertain and important driving forces affecting our future. It is a group process which encourages knowledge exchange and development of mutual deeper understanding of central issues important to the future of your business. The goal is to craft a number of diverging stories by extrapolating uncertain and heavily influencing driving forces. The stories together with the work getting there has the dual purpose of increasing the knowledge of the business environment and widen both the receiver's and participant's perception of possible future events.
In addition, Katherine Fulton wrote a book on scenario planning specifically for non-profit organizations; GBN has made that book, What If?, available for free download.]
Collections of scenarios from massive corporations and tiny communities alike are easy to find online; what's more difficult to uncover are the lists and discussions of driving forces, critical uncertainties, and the various events and processes that could shape how the future unfolds. These are the scenario planning equivalent of source code, and can be far more useful to groups crafting their own sets of scenarios than the final narratives.
In any scenario planning exercise, participants will spend time early on generating long lists of potential issues and events related to the project's underlying question. These suggestions can be as broad as "global warming" or as narrowly focused as "next version of Windows delayed again." They can, unfortunately, also be quite silly; nearly every scenario brainstorming exercise ends up including at least one reference to whichever science fiction movie is currently popular -- or, at the very least, something from Star Trek. Nonetheless, the list of brainstorming suggestions represents a snapshot of the concerns of the group at that moment in time.
These long lists then get consolidated first by consolidating similar items into meta-categories, setting aside those suggestions that are either too trivial, too unrelated, or too silly to be part of the ensuing discussion. They aren't tossed out completely, however; even the silly items can shape and inspire the ongoing idea generation, and can lead to insights that wouldn't be obvious from the final set of issues.
Traditionally, through some combination of voting and discussion, the list of meta-categories gets narrowed to two key issues that are simultaneously highly important to the question under debate and highly uncertain as to their outcome. They should also be fairly distinct, so that the outcome of one issue doesn't unduly influence the outcome of the other. These two key drivers are crossed to produce four divergent scenaric worlds. The other big drivers remain important, and usually (but not always) get introduced into the resulting scenario narratives.
What starts as dozens and potentially hundreds of issues of varying complexity and relevance gets narrowed first to a smaller set of big issues, then to two key important and uncertain drivers. In most cases, the documentation and explanation surrounding the scenarios includes some discussion of the two key drivers, but little reference to the other issues that the group considered important. The problem is, these other elements often helped shape how the scenario team came to understand the key issues.
An "open source" scenario process, conversely, would retain all of these earlier elements, not as explicit parts of the final narratives, but as a separate "source code" document. Ideally, the long list of issues would include brief explanations and indications of who offered the idea (think of it as "documenting your code"), but even without these additional notes, the content would be useful. Readers could go through the scenarios as before, or could seek out a better understanding of how the scenarios came about by digging through this source material.
As a first pass, simply by publishing online this "source code" alongside organizational scenarios could be enough to allow the development of this open source scenario future. Ultimately, though, there would need to be some way of looking at the various drivers and issues from various sources side-by-side. The Scenario Thinking Wiki looked like a decent start, but it remains a limited and infrequently-maintained effort. The biggest problem is that a wiki requires active effort to keep going. If a similar project managed to develop a following that echoes that of Wikipedia, it would be quite useful; without that collection of devotees, however, the likely result is a slow death.
Instead, an open source scenario database might work better as something more like Technorati, searching for relevant linked and tagged documents to compile into a database. This would still require some active effort on the part of scenario authors, but it would be limited to simply putting the source material up online and adding specific keywords to alert "Scenariorati" that it should include the document.
Most plausibly, however, an open source scenario system could arise through the efforts of a limited number of people, perhaps within a single organization or small collection of organizations, consciously deciding to share their "scenario source code" to help each other out. Ultimately, as a result, all of their scenario exercises would be stronger because of it.
If the open source software mantra is "many eyes make all bugs shallow," perhaps the open source scenario mantra could be "many minds make all futures visible."
This, Jamais, is one of the more exciting ideas I've seen in some time. Let's do it!
Mind you, it does remind me of the joke about the scientists who successfully modelled society. They start the model running and are astonished to see that the tiny people in the glass jar begin to design and build a working model of society in a glass jar. Then, one of the scientists looks over his shoulder...
"There's no unique "DNA"... but there is still a methodology that can be opened up.
This is very much part of my thinking wrt kirkyans.
Great idea Jamais! One suggestion: a graphical interface that allows users to "sketch" feedback loops. One purpose for scenarios is to reveal and explore underlying mental models. We often don't make our mental models explicit, and when we do, we often assume that causal relationships - the "drivers" - are linear. Usually, they're not - they're feedback loops. A lot of counterintuitive systems behavior stems from our failure to recognize feedback loops and model them explicitly. I think that providing a tool to sketch feedback loops, and encouraging its use, would add value to your excellent proposal.
Check out the BBC's
UK energy futures simulator.
This is a fantastic idea- count me in too. It's almost like articulating an aspect of the collective consciousness. Have you ever read any Daniel Johnson and The Creative Imperative? Might have some path crossing implications.
Perhaps your next blog could include some concrete steps we could take, how we might be able to contribute. Or even if you started an email group with all the respondents here...Another idea- this project could be financially self-sustaining: As it will have a search function of some kind, could be linked to Google ads matching the words, or something like that.
I came across something that might be of interest:
"Morgan reports that there has been interest from the civil engineering world in one of Softimages products, Behavior, which is a development-centric tool to give large crowds intelligence so each individual acts realistically. The National Transportation Safety Board, for example, uses Behavior for projects such as forecasting evacuation patterns."
I've had some experience with this at the Univeristy of Houston-Clearlake's Studies of the Future master's program. (wow, that was a mouthful)
I dropped out of the program because I saw that a formal education in such a subject was only a waste of money.
I like this idea, obviously, and wish my own non-profit would consider a scenario project involving all the (interested) employees.
Good idea, except the problem with scenarios is that they often border on banality (e.g. Shell's scenarios are famous for their emptyness).
Scenarios are mostly the reflection of scenario-writers' highly subjective and highly culturally determined perceptions of the present, projected onto the future, with obvious anachronistic flaws. They suffer under the same interminable methodological quarrels as all the humanistic sciences do (we've all heard of the Methodenstreit in sociology, psychology, history, economy, etc...). The important thing to ask is: who is writing the future? Who's doing the scenario?
I honestly don't see how any open source strategy or the sharing of tools and methods by a large number of people would improve on this 'epistemic' problem - systematically. It would merely broaden the number of choices and perspectives one can take to write scenario's. It would make them more explicit and probably more diffuse. And it would make the writers more acutely aware of their own subjectivity as writers. Which is a good thing. (But hardly new; our ethnography professor always used to say that self-confession amongst alfa-scientists is the best epistemological strategy around, and the oldest one. "Always start your thesis with: "I'm a marxist historian, I will not write anything in an objective manner, please find the sources I refuse to use, in annex II", ect...).
To overcome this problem ('who writes the future'), I think an experiment would consist of launching a specific topic, with some voting system which will determine which elements become "drivers" and main categories for the scenario; and then do a meta-study to see who has contributed which elements, and made which decisions. You'd have to carry out a survey asking all participants for their political, cultural and academic background, etc...
That could be part of the idea: a continuous "feedback", showing who stresses which kind of methodology or element of it.
In any case, what scenarios need most is self-relativism and some kind of 'meta'-perspective. If the open source idea offers a methodology for this aspect of the scenario-writing business, it would vastly improve the trade.
This could be both fun and productive. There have been a number of other attempts to encourage forward thinking, but most were overly focused on a particular concept or on making money, which tends to be short-term. I've had the privilege of attending a scenario planning session at a Fortune 100 company facilitated by GBN; I have to say that I came away with concerns, not about the activity or GBN, but the capacity of the participants to think really BIG, again yielding short-term results that have been quickly overrun. Once upon a time in my work history I also dabbled with submissions to ideation groups at two different organizations; same thing happened, while the companies asked for long-range, they only acted on short-term stuff and eventually even closed shop on ideation at one of the two firms.
So what do we do from here? First, we should acknowledge there's need for both long and short-term thinking, that both will be encouraged. Secondly, we need to encourage the type of thinking in which no entity participating has a vested interest. Thirdly, we also need a tool that enables broad reach and a long time table for entries into the scenario (the other factors that may have led to short-term thinking were the inability of homogenous groups to see the benefit of a long-term concept because it was off their mental map). I'm sure there's more, will have to think on this overnight...
Where do we go from here, Jamais? I'd like to see a four-quadrant map in an open, collaborative environment, for starters, just to sketch out some preliminary ideas; something less linear, more graphical than a wiki, more map-like so that a greater range of folks can "see" where we're going with model(s).
Jamais, this fits perfectly with our work at The Natural Step. In the last 16 years we have developed a robust, science-based framework to make scenarios STRATEGIC: success is defined by robust principles, that translate into a relevant future for those who create it. The principles act as a common factor for all those who are involved in co-creating the future we want.
You may explore our websites at http://www.naturalstep.org or get in touch with our Stockholm office directly.
I'm really pleased at the generally positive and enthusiastic responses to this idea.
It seems to me that this can emerge incrementally.
The first -- and really the most important -- step would be for those of us who work in this industry professionally to convince clients to allow the "source" material to be posted along with any public presentation of the scenarios. That won't be easy, as the habit is to keep that material private. It's likely that the source content will be cleaned up of any internal/proprietary information; the intent isn't to learn the details of any particular set of scenarios so much as to look for scenario elements that can be applied to other projects, too.
At the same time, we'd want to work out a more-or-less standard format for tagging content to make later searches easier. At the very least, we'd want a standardized format for how source material is identified, so that eventual "Scenariorati" spiders know what to look for. This would also make it simpler to do google/yahoo/etc. searches by hand.
Perhaps one step along this path would be to start tagging relevant content with "scenario_source" on sites like del.icio.us.
Rayne, I'd be interested in hearing more about what you're imagining as a model for moving forward.
Don't forget the futures wiki! http://future.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page
And the TaoRiver one that came before it: http://futures.wiki.taoriver.net/moin.fcg/FrontPage
In fact, there's a whole wiki nodes network around it: http://futures.wiki.taoriver.net/moin.fcg/WikiNode
Jamais, I'm picturing an actual four-quadrant map not at all unlike the one a group might produce during the course of a GBN-facilitated scenario mapping process. An AJAX/Web 2.0 whiteboard for each of a meta-question, where users could post a "sticky note" in the quadrant they felt fit best. Each "sticky note" is a tagged object/container; it may contain linkbacks to validating information, or explanatory text. Each object is tagged so that they can be sorted outside the context of a particular scenario.
Each of the scenarios and the sticky notes should have a wiki-like multiple tab feature, allowing for a conversation about a particular meta-question or scenario, or about a particular sticky note entry. Edits to either by contributors/editors should also be tracked, just as in Wikipedia.
Each quadrant's data should be mappable by relationship, allowing a pictorial representation of nodes and the relative strength of attraction of each node. (Strength may identify a key issue or tipping point in a scenario quadrant.
I can give you a little more insight on my experience with a GBN-facilitated session; it's one that could serve as a starting point, but it would require a corporation's consent to release what was gathered during the scenario planning process. Nothing proprietary if memory serves, but the participants were...
Oh, one more thing I forgot: to assemble a new scenario or a new "sticky note" object, I envision an interactive questionnaire that forces the user to make an assessment of the scenario/object, along with forcing the input of tagging and relationship information. Forcing sounds harsh; I mean to say that a scenario/object cannot be built without a minimum benchmark of information. This would prevent folks from simply tacking anything up as a scenario or as an object inside a quadrant. I'd also see both objects and scenarios as having a tenuous status until validated or reviewed by other participants; there will always be a Cassandra in a crowd, but this unreviewed-unvetted status would discourage users from casually flinging material up and expecting it to be set in stone.
'Open Futures' event - 'many minds make all futures visible'
7th April 02006, URBIS, Manchester
North Country Futures
Looking at short,medium, long term futures of North of England...
Sustainable North Country 'collective'
Forcing sounds harsh; I mean to say that a scenario/object cannot be built without a minimum benchmark of information. This would prevent folks from simply tacking anything up as a scenario or as an object inside a quadrant. I'd also see both objects and scenarios as having a tenuous status until validated or reviewed by other participants.
So in fact a kind of voting system would be put in place to determine what the democratic majority working on the project decides to be a valid object?
It's an interesting approach but it remains a problematic one. Can you imagine people writing historical narratives by sheer democratic consent? I can't. But on the other hand, writing the future isn't as sensitive as writing the past, so maybe there's fewer objections to that method, here.
I remember a piece here on worldchanging (in the context of 'smart mobs' or something) about collective decision making, which, when applied to simple problems, achieves results as good as the decisions made by knowledgeable 'experts'. Obviously, scenarios are quite complex, so I don't know whether collective decision making and validation still works in such a case. Still, it's worth a try.
Hmm. Lorenzo, I can see where it might look like voting, but is that what happens with submissions on Wikipedia? Are historic observations only permitted by consensus, or are they simply vetted for legitimacy (i.e., was the submitter at the event in question, do they have expertise in that area, do they have credibility borne out over a body of submissions, etc.)? In a scenario, I would expect a similar veting process, where the submitter is encouraged not to hazard a slap-dash guess, but to reach deeply for rationale to support their submission. It's the same thing that actually happens in a face-to-face scenario planning process; a submission is made and others are free to question it, to see if it makes sense. The object might ultimately remain on the scenario, but in my experience the one with the least amount of buy-in was the item that was either furthest out in terms of time from submission to event horizon, or the one that would not come to pass. Perhaps the vetting process would not negate the submission, but change its status; perhaps the vetting process acts as a tool that identifies barriers to realization.
Let's take an example of an item I could have submitted in the past to an ideation dept.: AIDS/HIV drug therapy delivered by patch. Prompt: Clinical trials for Segeline. Problem: AIDS/HIV therapies are complex and require continuous treatment, challenging many patients. Challenge: development of a patch delivery system that 1) administers multiple drugs on a continuous basis, 2) notifies patient when to take it, 3) allows for change in different drug "cocktails" as necessary by addition/removal of patch.
What's the initial reaction to a submission like this? based on the reaction of reviewers, how would we post it to a 4-quadrant scenario on global healthcare?
In regards to the issue of "smart mobs" performance, I'll point to F/LOSS development where knowledgeable experts may dabble in their spare time, augmenting the less-than-expert mob; the less-than-expert mob may ask the "stupid question" that experts suppress consciously or unconsciously, encouraging the experts to reexamine from a new perspective (in this case, non-programming users are co-developers when they provide feedback ultimately resulting in patches). I'll also point to "Linus' Law": given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. Perhaps one of the obstacles we've faced has been that we simply rely too heavily on only the eyeballs of experts or only the eyeballs of a mob, and not a combination of the two -- more eyeballs.
Rayne (and others),
I'm not a scenario expert, so please forgive me if my comments seem stupid. I'll repeat and reinforce something I said above. I think that in addition to quadrants and other scenario-mapping techniques, this endeavor would greatly benefit from the ability to draw (that is, explicitly show):
This would help foster "wiki"-like verification, encouraging people to make their scenarios explicit and grounded in physical reality.
Having just today come out of a 3-day scenarios-based foresight workshop, I have some thoughts:
--Scenarios are the midpoint product of an intensive brainstorming process that generally starts with defining drivers, moves through scenario definition to back-casting exercises and (most significantly) ends by capturing recommendations. I'm a bit wary of your proposal because it sounds to me like you want to 'can' the first stage, the exploration of the drivers. You assert that the notes from this stage comprise a kind of source code to the process that "can be far more useful to groups crafting their own sets of scenarios than the final narratives." In scenario workshops I've been involved in, the drivers are determined in a live brainstorming session. It's the actual exploration and discovery of this material that makes it useful to the participants. To simply pull it down off a site would be to miss the point of the exercise, which is to collaboratively explore.
--The material from the driver-definition brainstorming sessions is generally captured, at least when I do it. I think the only reason that it isn't made generally available is that exposure to it is like drinking from a fire hose, and it is extremely--excruciatingly--difficult to document these chaotic, high-energy sessions. Much of such a session consists of preliminary ideas or directions that are later discarded; they're 'red herrings.' I applaud anyone who can take such chaos and turn into it neat bullet points on a website.
--Having these sessions preserved from a few workshops in a manner where people could use it to learn the process would be useful. However, I would be wary of actually using the material except as a learning tool. This process is all about invention, and both the drivers and the scenarios they can give rise to have to be utterly current or they're useless (excepting things like demographic shifts). The exploration period of scenario design involves as you said winnowing down an initial large list of drivers; much of this process is about finding relevance to the current moment. Getting that process right is more important than accumulating a library of starting material.
--You can find literally dozens of scenarios fully documented on the web, but any that are more than a couple of years old have an air of obsolescence to them. Canning scenarios therefore also misses the point of the exercise.
--I do agree that this process needs to be open-sourced; but you have identified the "DNA" of the process as lying in the most ephemeral and difficult-to-capture part of the process. I believe the DNA is in the overall methodology, much of which involves facilitation skills that are very hard to document. When I do this work through the Office of the National Science Advisor here in Canada, we record the plenary sessions, but the brainstorming or breakout sessions could also be recorded, and if that material were made into podcasts it could go a long way toward giving people an idea of what the methodology looks like when it's in play. The value would however lie in grokking the experience more than acquiring a library of source material.
I worked on one large global scenario effort, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, whose scenarios book is available online as pdf files at: http://www.maweb.org. The book includes a full description of drivers, models, methods and uncertainities. It is also published by island press.
These are also online in a summarized html form (http://www.greenfacts.org/ecosystems/millennium-assessment-3/5-ecosystem-scenarios.htm#0)
which describes a drivers and other aspects of the scenarios.
Another effort that might be of interest to scenario folks is the German syndrome approach to global change. IT aims to identify 'patterns' - different types of self-reinforcing system dynamics that are occuring as part of current global change See: http://www.wbgu.de/wbgu_syndromkonzept_en.html
David Foley -- yes, agreed entirely with your point(s). I don't know that every single item needs to be "firm" since they might become so over time, or essentially as the future moves to meet them, but a methodology for encouraging this aspect would have value.
Karl Schroeder -- I don't think we can hope to fully replicate what happens in a F2F scenario planning session; but just as the two models, Cathedral or Bazaar (http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/cathedral-bazaar/), are not at all similar but move towards similar outcome, a virtual open source scenario planning framework might create similar results as F2F.
It would be nice to see a "demo" or model of a handful of scenarios as they are formulated. A new participant entering the system might "run" a scenario to see how one actually happened in real life, although the bulk of the modeling appears in forming the quadrants and filling them through an online representation versus a video of an F2F. The idea is to encourage use of the online system, not make the participant feel shortchanged by not having access to an F2F scenario planning session.
Perhaps part of our divergence in opinion is our different experiences; much of what I do is virtual, relies on team members to do what's needed without F2F. We can still create synergy, can still "catch fire"; I have absolute faith in this because I've used it and experienced it. Folks who've been involved in a blogswarm building up to, reaching a tipping point and spreading like viral wildfire grok this, a team comprised of whoever shows up, delivering whatever builds out of the cooperative work.
In some ways, the organic process that built ePluribus Media (http://www.epluribusmedia.org/) is exactly what a virtual open source scenario planning system needs. The community of citizen journalists began out of a single investigative challenge; readers moved of their own accord to become investigators, pooling their findings and formulating new answers and queries from the results. Eventually these readers/investigators formed a site where research is compiled, reviewed and vetted, coelesced into new stories on an "open source" basis by a loosely connected group of average Joes/Janes. I can see the parallel between this journalistic effort and a scenario planning concept.
We'll have to agree to disagree on the issue of "canning" a scenario; the last one I participated in a year ago is already out of date, but it serves as an excellent example in my mind. I can point to it now and see where we should have pressed harder, where blindspots arose out of homogeneity of the participants. The same scenario wouldn't need to be obsolete, either; if we had continued to build upon it, it could still be very current. A virtual system would have allowed us to do that.
Jamais -- I thought of the example after I dropped off line yesterday. In some ways, fleshing out the quandrants is like del.icio.us itself. Users find material of interest, add comments to their entries, file it to the del.icio.us system where it can be accessed by both the community and by the user under their own bookmarks. Users tag the bookmark so that they can find it under their personal folksonomy, but the bookmark is also accessible to others. In a scenario planning system, assuming I'm building out a scenario on global healthcare, I might search through all tags for content tagged by users as health, medicine, doctors, nursing, etc.; I'd pull the bookmarks I felt fit best in a particular quadrant, perhaps tag them as such and flesh out the tag with commentary. Other participants could then review/vet the bookmark, my tags and comments, leave their own. The same bookmarks would still be available for use in other scenarios -- let's say there's a scenario on pandemic response, or nanotechnology in medicine, where some of the links in global healthcare would also be pertinent. Layering the comments on the bookmarks might also help flesh out more than one scenario at a time; someone adding something to a bookmark in regards to nanotech medicine might well spur more discussion and content under global healthcare.
Maybe what I'm suggesting is a mashup, a whiteboard using del.icio.us bookmarks, along with a mineable database that adds content to bookmarks without actually adding them to del.icio.us itself, along with the superimposition of a relationship map that reflects node strength. (Hublog? http://hublog.hubmed.org/archives/001049.html)
Good response, and you've sold me more or less. I've only observed from outside the kind of extreme on-line brainstorming that, eg. helped Joi Ito refine his article on emergent democracy. Remembering the success of that has given me the "aha" moment I needed to come to agree with you.
At a foresight workshop several years ago I proposed that we create "SimCanada", a citizen-driven MMORPG designed to do look-ahead on the Canadian economy and political sphere. I think that the tools being discussed here could be an essential part of such a project.
Ah. A good example, "SimCanada". Let's say that users pool information from all over the world; folks from Canada could "vet" information culled from the database and weight it on its likelihood for Canada -- while persons from outside Canada could also provide perspective that a Canadian citizen might not otherwise have if they were to work exclusively with other Canadians (see my comment previously about homogeneity -- I've seen this in corporate cultures). This is a benefit that would come of an open, virtual system that might not be available on F2F scenario planning, since F2F has a tendency to be local versus global. As uncomfortable and awkward as it might be, having an American's perspective could be helpful since their viewpoint suggests influences on trade between Canada and U.S., as one example. Ditto for "SimAmerica" -- good gravy, if this isn't a model that desperately needs outside perspectives.
Which brings me to another challenge, like the John Sieggenthaler issue on Wikipedia: how do we keep folks from trolling the models? Or does a limited amount of trolling actually make sense?