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Scenario Lab: the art and science of scenario thinking - towards antifragility?


Admission requirements

This course is only available for participants of the Honours College Expertise in Practice


For all kinds of ‘wicked problems’ in society, scientific knowledge may help in addressing them and in producing innovative solutions. This course delves into the world of scenario thinking. Participants learn about the theoretical background and different techniques of scenario thinking and apply these to formulate their own extreme, but plausible scenarios. Central concepts and different methods and ‘schools’ of scenario thinking will be explained, based on a rich collection of authors that have applied scenario thinking and wrote about it in scientific publications. At the same time, critical perspectives about the use, necessity and methods of scenario thinking are not neglected. Based on some work by Mintzberg, but mostly guided by the work of Taleb, we critically examine the way we tend to think about strategic planning, risk, uncertainty, and the future. In some thought-provoking publications, amongst which the book Anti-fragile (2012), Taleb articulates a radically different perspective on how to deal with the future. In his book he develops the concept of antifragility which is fundamentally different from concepts such as robustness, resilience and agility. These criticisms and new concepts have important implications for the way how we perceive scenario planning, and for the way in which we apply it to cope with dilemmas of strategic public management. This course is about exploring those implications.

The course builds on the knowledge and skills that students have acquired in previous courses of the Honours program. It provides an integrated use of theory and practice based on the fundamental idea that each influences the other. This is reflected in two ways in this module: during this course, students will be working on a real-life issue that is provided by the municipality of The Hague. Based on the theoretical knowledge from the literature and seminars about scenario thinking, they are expected transfer and apply this knowledge, build future scenarios based, and –last but not least–provide practical, ‘hands-on’ advice to the municipality. So, quite literally, this is what one would refer to as ‘expertise in practice’.
In addition, the seminars are structured in such a way as to further optimize the interaction between theory and practice. Interactive seminars provide students with the necessary theoretical background and these are complemented by hands-on work labs and a nexus meeting with expert practitioners. In the work labs students will walk through an entire ‘cycle’ of scenario thinking. During these labs they develop their own original ideas about the long-term future of the city of The Hague and translate those ideas into well-crafted future scenarios. Based on these scenarios they formulate their advice about what actions should be undertaken now in order to cope with future challenges. What would be ‘future proof’ regulation, for example? What are the most important future developments? How can we attain an anti-fragile future for the city of The Hague? These, and other related questions will be topic of discussion in the work labs. In the nexus meeting students have a critical dialogue with a panel of experts, who are dealing with ‘wicked problems’ in their daily work as professionals and have different perspectives on and experiences with scenarios and scenario thinking.

Learning aims

When students have successfully participated in this module, they:

  • Have knowledge and understanding of the theoretical background of scenario thinking, as well as practical experience with developing plausible future scenarios and narratives;

  • Are able to critically reflect on the merits and benefits, but also the potential problems and pitfalls associated with scenario thinking;

  • Are able to design and execute a small scale study to collect and analyze data that provides the building blocks for the future scenarios;

  • Are able to provide strategic advice (both in written and oral form) to practitioners in collaboration with other students


You can find the timetable for this course by clicking here

Mode of instruction

The course is taught in seminar format (see the course schedule below for more specifics). Attendance in class is compulsory.

Course Load

Total study load is 140 hours, of which contact hours: 3 hrs. per week x 8 weeks = 24 hrs. Self-study hours: 116 preparing for lectures and work labs, studying literature, completing assignments, preparing presentations etc.

Assessment method

Individual paper (30%) and group assignment (70%)
NB. The final grade is the weighted average of the assignment and paper. Important: in order to receive a final grade, students must have earned a minimum grade of 5.50 for both the assignment and the paper.


Students are expected to enroll in the Blackboard environment of this course. Information and announcements will be published on Blackboard and/or sent by U-mail.

Reading list

Required readings

Taleb, N. (2012) Antifragile. How to live in a world we don’t understand, London: Allen Lane (paperback).

In addition to the book, various articles about different aspects of scenario thinking (both from proponents as well as critics) are also required readings. These articles are either available through the online catalogue of Leiden University, or will be made available through Blackboard.

Optional readings

  • Bryson (2011) Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations: A Guide to Strengthening and Sustaining Organizational Achievement, San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

  • Kahn and Wiener (1967) The year 2000: a framework for speculation on the next thirtythree years, New York: Macmillan.

  • Mintzberg (1994) The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, New York: Free Press and Prentice Hall International.

  • Schwartz (1996) The Art of the Long View: Planning For the Future in an Uncertain World, New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell.

  • Taleb, N. (2010) The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, London: Allan Lane.

  • Van der Heijden (2005) Scenarios: the art of strategic conversation, 2nd edition, New York: Wiley.

Other course material

Will be made available through Blackboard.


No registration is required for lectures and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs



Mark Reijnders, MSc MA , Institute of Public Administration, Leiden University


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