How Scenarios Lead to Better Research

Is there a better way to approach research in complex fields that study topics such as migration patterns, food insecurity, and climate change?
IS THERE A BETTER WAY to approach research in complex fields that study topics such as migration patterns, food insecurity, and climate change? Yes, according to academics from the University of Oxford in the U.K. They believe scenarios can help identify unmet research needs, broaden fields of inquiry, and make connections between different disciplines.

For their paper, the researchers define “scenarios” as narrative constructs that imagine equally plausible futures. Scenarios are more commonly used as planning tools to explore possible future contexts in different markets.

Incremental and discipline-bound research won’t produce the challenging questions needed to address “the complex and interlinked problems facing the world,” says Rafael Ramirez, a senior fellow in strategy at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. “Research on the future of international migration, for example, tends to rely on projections with today’s conditions as a starting point. Scholars never ask, ‘What effects might developing technology have on migration?’ or ‘Under what circumstances do people stop trying to adapt to environmental changes and decide to emigrate instead?’ Using scenarios can help researchers identify and consider these surprising and apparently unconnected influences.”

Ramirez worked with co-authors Malobi Mukherjee of the Oxford Institute of Retail Management at the Saïd School; Simona Vezzoli of the International Migration Institute in Oxford’s Department of International Development; and Arnoldo Matus Kramer, a member of the 100 Resilient Cities network and climate-change consulting group Ithaca Environmental. They discuss their findings in “Scenarios as a scholarly methodology to produce ‘interesting research,’” which appeared in the August 2015 issue of Futures.