Potential surprise theory as a theoretical foundation for scenario planning (2016)

Derbyshire, J. (2016) Potential surprise theory as a theoretical foundation for scenario planning, Technological Forecasting & Social Change (in press), June 2016, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040162516300671

Despite some recent progress, scenario planning’s development as an academic discipline remains constrained by the perception it is solely a practical tool for thinking about the future, with limited theoretical foundations. The paper addresses this issue by showing that G. L. S. Shackle’s ‘Potential Surprise Theory’ (PST) contains much that can lend theoretical support to scenario planning – especially its use of plausibility rather than probability, and its focus on potential extreme outcomes. Moreover, PST and scenario planning share the same ontology, viewing the future as constructed by the imagination of individuals. Yet, under PST, while the future is imagined and, therefore, subjective, individuals nevertheless seek to identify the ‘best’ option through a deductive process of elimination. PST therefore assists in overcoming the divide between the constructivist and deductivist perspectives in scenario planning as it employs both. Finally, the paper shows that theoretically underpinning scenario planning with PST would place it at the heart of contemporary debates on decision making under uncertainty taking place in economics and other fields, enhancing its status and profile as a discipline.

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