Scenarios - Four NZ Futures

Four New Zealand scenarios are presented which range from an increasingly insular society that finds little benefit in diversity other than separating ‘winners and losers’ to one where multi-cultural aspects are heralded as a cornerstone of the nation’s identity.

Within these future possibilities our relationship with the natural environment and its resources, on which so much of our current economy depends, can be seen as available for short-term exploitation, at one extreme, or for stewardship and longer-term conservation.

Similarly our approach to being a future ‘maker’ or ‘taker’  of new technology (such as genetic engineering, biotechnology and information/communication technology) and also the models of governance that we choose will markedly influence which, if any, of these future directions we migrate towards by 2055.

Various possibilities for the evolution of the economy are explored. These New Zealand scenarios suggest that from 2007 looking forward, we could move in a few decades towards any of:

A - an economy with unevenly distributed benefits (80% to minority elite: 20% to the rest), or

B - an economy with equity and very different ‘genuine progress’ indicators taking the place of GDP growth targets

C - we might stay globalised and ‘hit the wall’ of resource and ecosystem limitations (after several decades), resulting in economic crash and social conflict

D - avoid the social conflict ‘at the last minute’ by creating a localised, inward-looking lifestyle on a depleted resource base.


Use of these scenarios

Scenario uses will depend on the needs of organisations and the time available. Here are four potential ones:

  1. A vehicle for Personal Reflection: At the simplest level, the scenarios provide each reader with a stimulus to thoughts about how different or similar the future may be from today, and how decisions being taken today will influence directions or trends in society, the economy and environment.
  2. A group activity within an organisation or business:  As future preparedness or to build resilience: The scenarios provide scope for participation by groups of workmates, board members, managers or professional teams – wherever there is a need to think  strategically and consider implications of future change for your organisation.
  3. A conceptual framework for sectoral or issue-based quantitative research: If your particular interest is just one part of the economy/society/environment, or perhaps a particular  economy/society/environment, or perhaps a particular geographic region, you  may already have access to considerable quantitative data about trends that could provide a platform for looking at and ‘modelling’ different futures. The qualitative picture in these scenarios, and understanding of their different drivers, can provide a logical framework for such quantitative detailed models (such as in Section 4) to help you explore potentially measurable impacts of future trends. Such work generates indicators that you can then use to monitor real change over time, in comparison to the model.
  4. Evaluation of “future visions” or existing long term policy goals: A robust policy-making process requires, ideally, a comprehensive input from all who can usefully inform and be affected by it – so in practice it will be incomplete. These scenarios can be used for dialogue that tests the plausibility of envisioned futures, or of distant policy goals including Long Term Council Community Plans and 50-year development strategies.


Associated Models

Scenario Planning

Scenario planning or thinking has an established and successful heritage, with deep roots in the development of decision-making.


Work in progress: four future scenarios for New Zealand.  Developed by the Landcare Research Scenarios Working Group; documented

with additional commentary by Rhys Taylor, Bob Frame, Kate Delaney and Melissa Brignall-Theyer. 2nd ed. –  Lincoln, N.Z.: Published by Manaaki Whenua Press, 2007.