“The problem with the future is that it is different. If you are unable to think differently, the future will always arrive as a surprise.” Professor Gary Hamel

Scenarios are envisions of possible, thinkable futures and can be used effectively to ask better questions in a strategic planning context: …not whether, but WHAT IF…?

“Scenarios are thus the most powerful vehicles I know for challenging our ‘mental models’ about the world and lifting the ‘blinders’ that limit our creativity and resourcefulness” Peter Scwartz, The Art of the Long View…

Scenario thinking or scenario planning can be particularly effective during times of accelerated change, greater complexity and genuine uncertainty, all characteristics of working in Local Authorities today.

“… cuts continue, reductions in budgets will be harder to identify and the impact on front-line services will increase. With efficiency savings already made, councils must now make difficult decisions on which services to keep and which to lose. On top of funding reductions, uncertainty and risk are also increasing…” CIPFA, 28th March 2013

Scenario thinking can help shape, influence and check strategies, but perhaps more importantly, can be used as a means of dealing with and facing calmly the turbulence in the system. By using the conceptual future as a safe space to explore and better understand a ‘messy’ and complex situation, it is possible to find means of framing it with a shared language and in a way that a group can take strategic action together.


Scenario thinking has been a key feature of the leadership development programmes for senior leaders in children’s services for a number of years and we have recently begun using this tool to work with wider groups of leaders from local authorities.  Scenario thinking is a group activity which encourages knowledge exchange and development of mutual deeper understanding of central issues important to the future of your organisation and specifically in our case, the public sector; using experienced facilitators from the Staff College, the goal is to produce scenarios that are not only different from ‘business as usual’ and, therefore, thought-provoking, but highly relevant to your strategic thinking.

It can be an effective tool to help you and your team to make sense of an increasingly complex and ambiguous world that often has contradictory forces at play. Use of scenario planning certainly won’t dispel all uncertainty, but it will help you to be better prepared to face an uncertain future that does not comply with the outcomes of conventional forecasting.


Children in England – what does the future hold and where do we go from here?

The Staff College is delighted to announce a major new year-long study to critically and creatively explore the proposition of re-imagining children’s services in England.

The scenario planning project aims to set out a range of divergent futures set in 2035, looking specifically at the shape and nature of Children Services. The project seeks to stimulate debate at a time of great uncertainty and also offer practical hope and ideas to those looking to put relationships at the centre of the care system.


Project steps over the coming six months

Phase one (research) – listening to the what communities are saying about services and their aspirations for the future, horizon scanning and desk research

Phase two (drivers-of-change) – a series of events and workshops to determine what people believe is driving change in their area and what the impacts may be

Phase three (scenarios) – produce a series of engaging, plausible and accessible scenarios set in 2035

Phase four (launch) – publish a range of resources aimed at those involved in Children Services, to use the scenarios to reappraise their strategic plans, workforce plans, leadership roles, and service improvement plans.


Get involved in shaping the future

This is an open project and we are looking for as many people as possible to give views, experience and expertise.


Join us. Join in

If you would like more information or would like to join the project community please register at

Publication date: July 2019




The Staff College is able to offer a design and delivery service for bespoke planning workshops for individual teams, services, LAs and/or groups of LAs or regions.

For further information please contact the team at

What people have said:

Real opportunity to think about the shape of the future and my place in it.
Very valuable space to step back and consider the bigger picture.
I find the facilitation really helpful and safe which enabled me to be honest and clear in a held environment. I thank you.
Very effective. Covered a significant amount of ground and dealt with some tough issues. Very productive.
Very open participation and all aspects related to the ‘job’. There were also real actions so can now get on and do.
Expectations exceeded. Reinforced that we want to all get to a better place and there are many green shoots. Welcomed the actions too – will move forward on audit tool and our public value.
Individual aspects of the learning; compounded by the emotional content and the skill in engagement by Anton and Alix, were just what is needed. Next steps are appropriate and the team have engaged with it and own it.
Timely & focused.
Thought provoking, helped to identify wider factors that will influence the future.

Below you will find an example of a previous Scenario Planning Workshop Outcome:

Staff College Scenario Planning (2017)

For further information, please contact The Staff College team via: or telephone 0161 826 9450.

This programme remains subject to the Staff College cancellation policy which can be found here