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Scenario Lab: the art and science of scenario thinking



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 and addresses the question how it has been developed and applied to help determine strategic action for various societal issues. Participants learn about the theoretical background and different techniques of scenario thinking. Its central concepts and the various different methods (or different ‘schools’) will be explained and illustrated based on a selection of both professional and scientific publications. Special attention is paid to the differences and similarities between trend analysis and scenario thinking. However, critical perspectives about the use, methods, relevance and necessity of scenario thinking are not neglected. ¬_Au contraire_, in this course participants are encouraged to critically reflect on the development and use of future scenarios and about the method of scenario planning.

Though scenario thinking is widely applied and comes in all shapes and sizes, is this indeed a viable instrument that can be applied for strategic management? If so, how and to what extent? And if not, why not? What is the role and value of scientific knowledge in developing future scenarios? Or to put it more broadly: What is the art and science of scenario thinking? These questions will not only be discussed in a theoretical or abstract way, but they are also addressed during a series of ‘hands-on’ work labs throughout the course. In these work labs participants learn to develop future scenarios and apply the method of scenario planning themselves. This way, they can also critically reflect on it from their own concrete experience. In other words: this course is all about the theoretical as well as the practical side, the pros and cons, the pitfalls and the promises of scenario thinking.

Course objectives

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;

  • 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 providing the building blocks for the future scenarios;

  • are able to provide strategic advice on societal challenges (both in written and oral form) to practitioners in collaboration with other students.

Mode of instruction

The course is taught in seminar format. Each seminar is a combination of an interactive lecture and a ‘hands-on’ work lab session. One of the eight seminars is devoted to the so-called the nexus meeting. 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. Attendance in the seminars 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 hrs. preparing for lectures and work labs, studying literature, completing assignments, preparing presentations, etc.

Assessment method

Individual paper and group assignment (final report + presentation).

NB. The final grade is the weighted average of the individual paper and group assignment. 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. The Blackboard environment will be open for enrollment at least two weeks before the start of the course. Information and announcements about the course will be published on Blackboard and/or sent by U-mail.

Reading list

Various publications about different aspects of scenario thinking (both from proponents as well as critics) are required readings. These articles are available via the online catalogue of Leiden University.


The Honours coordinator takes care of registration in Usis.


Teacher: Mark Reijnders

Honours Programme coordinator: Annette Righolt