What Scenarios Are You Missing? Poststructuralism for Deconstructing and Reconstructing Organizational Futures

  • Ricarda Scheele
  • Norman M. Kearney
  • Jude H. Kurniawan
  • Vanessa J. Schweizer


For organizations, the main rationale for exploring possible future developments is the imperative to sustain achievements and further progress towards organizational objectives. Deep uncertainty about the future, however, means that those hypothetical future developments are products of organizations’ sense-making processes. Much effort in organizational and methodological research is focused on questions that look into the future, to explore the possible future contextual environment for organizations (scenarios) and to draw out implications. However, less attention is often paid to how methodological choices for developing scenarios influence the way organizations make sense of their future.

This chapter presents a research methodology for critically examining organizations’ sense-making processes that also points to a more reflexive way of exploring organizations’ scenarios. Here, the responsibility of both researchers and practitioners is not only to ask how concrete future developments may affect an organization but also to inquire how the notion of a particular possible development made its way into an organizational scenario, how a set of alternative scenarios would look without it and what other possible developments have been excluded. Such critical reflections on the assumptions and practices that have shaped the development of alternative scenarios are common under poststructuralist thinking, which has often been derided as ‘impractical’ in that its critiques exclude actual scenario development processes. However, we argue that investigating organizational futures from a poststructural perspective is of practical relevance: the methodologies that an organization uses to make sense of the future ultimately shape the kinds of scenarios that an organization accepts as plausible and actively prepares for.

To bridge the gap between the worlds of scenario development and poststructural critique, we introduce Cross-Impact Balance Analysis (CIB), a method of inquiry that not only has the potential to operationalize critical, poststructuralist reflections, but is also capable of integrating those reflections back into organizations’ scenario development processes to improve how organizations address the deep uncertainty about their future.



The authors wish to thank one anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on an early draft of the chapter. RS and JHK first discussed collaborating on this topic at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Society for Risk Analysis, where JHK was supported by travel grants provided by the Society for Risk Analysis and University of Waterloo Graduate Studies Office. RS contribution to the chapter was made possible through the German Research Foundation (DFG) and its financial support within the Cluster of Excellence Simulation Technology (EXC 310/2) at the University of Stuttgart. NMK was supported by the Dean’s Doctoral Initiative within the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo. JHK was supported by an Energy Policy Research Fellowship awarded by the Energy Council of Canada and a University of Waterloo SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) Institutional Grant.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ricarda Scheele
    • 1
  • Norman M. Kearney
    • 2
  • Jude H. Kurniawan
    • 3
  • Vanessa J. Schweizer
    • 4
  1. 1.Stuttgart Research Center for Interdisciplinary Risk and Innovation Studies (ZIRIUS)University of StuttgartStuttgartGermany
  2. 2.School of Environment, Resources, and SustainabilityUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada
  3. 3.Department of Geography and Environmental ManagementUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada
  4. 4.University of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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