Critical uncertainties in time: an experiment in method

Allan W. Shearer (Based at The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA)


ISSN: 1463-6689

Publication date: 19 April 2013



The purpose of this paper is to describe an experiment that asked what kinds of scenarios are perceived as more informative to managers in light of current decisions: scenarios that describe how critical uncertainties might develop; or, scenarios that describe what might happen if the critical uncertainties did, indeed, develop.


Using a commonly identified set of opinions (pending decisions, actors of influence, persistent trends, a surprise‐free scenario, and two critical uncertainties), participants were divided into two sub‐groups, each of which developed a set of scenarios. Sub‐group A articulated futures that described how the critical uncertainties might emerge. Sub‐group B articulated futures that described what might follow if the same critical uncertainties developed.


Sub‐group A believed their individual scenarios were slightly more logically comprehensible and that their set of scenarios better captured the range of concerns relevant to their pending decisions. Additionally, Sub‐group B scored the jointly created surprise‐free scenario to be less logically comprehensible than Sub‐group A.

Practical implications

This article suggests that some managers may find it challenging to see the relevance in temporally distant and uncertain futures into their decision‐making activities. Therefore, those involved in strategic planning may find it productive to connect these uncertain futures to the present.


This experiment contributes empirical support to the importance of connecting future events to the present day for engaging scenario users.



Shearer, A. (2013), "Critical uncertainties in time: an experiment in method", Foresight, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 89-105.

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