Scenarios are important strategic tools that are applied in large firms to anticipate future societal, economic, or technological developments and their potential impacts. A large variety of scenarios have been developed and they vary for example in terms of starting point which can be either in the present (forecasting) or in the future (backcasting), in terms of time scale which distinguishes between long term (>25 years) and short term (3-10 years) scenarios but also in terms of content, complexity and the nature of the data (qualitative vs. quantitative) [1]. It is challenging to predict the development of new technologies, but scenarios can help to get a better understanding of which developments are important and have an influence on future innovations or are influenced by technological aspects.

Mostly, scenarios start with the present situation which is then extrapolated towards a constructed future. Therefore, current events, strategies, pattern or boundaries are taken into account such as for example the university structure and publication pressure in the present which determines the action of researchers in the future [2-4]. Obviously, the further we look into the future, the larger the range of possible outcomes and the larger the uncertainty. Still, signals of what is to come are visible in the present and can be translated into drivers, uncertainties and pre-determined elements of the future which are important building blocks of the scenarios. Scenarios often sketch various options of how possible futures could look like while the reality is likely to lie somewhere between these worlds [5]{World Energy Council, 2013 #27;Boenink, 2013 #28}.

Socio-technical scenarios sketch out technological and societal developments, for example how the action of industrial actors, regulatory agencies or the public acceptance can influence research and innovation practices or whether advances in the technological development lead to new regulations or changes in the society. Techno-ethical or techno-moral scenarios are, compared to socio-technical scenarios, mainly of normative nature and take into account the soft impacts of technological influences, such as relations, identities, norms, and values, that are less dominant in socio-technical scenarios [6-8]. In both, socio-technical and techno-moral scenario theory, the co-evolution of society or morality and technology plays an important role: both can influence each other.

Practical considerations and implementation


Suggested time: Long (weeks/month, including preparation)
Level of difficulty: Advanced
Materials needed: Pen/paper
People involved: Researcher, relevant actors for interviews


  • For the preparation of the scenarios, current agendas, initiatives and strategies of actors are taken into account, and the dependencies and interactions between multiple stakeholders are analyzed. The emerging dynamics, choices and dilemmas are taken as key points in the storyline of the socio-technical scenario [4]. You can get this information for example during interviews.
  • From your analysis, pick several dilemmas, dynamics or choices that seem relevant for future developments in the field and construct different scenarios around these aspects. An annotated scenario can help you during this process [3].
  • The scenarios are often discussed in multi-stakeholder workshops to confront the participants with the choices or dilemmas presented in the scenario, to stimulate public dialogue or to anticipate (soft) impacts of technological developments [9]. By discussing the emerging socio-technical challenges and risks from different stakeholder perspectives, the participants become aware of strategic decisions that could possibly influence or constrain technological, economic or societal developments.
  • Since the preparation of such a scenario is rather extensive, you can also choose an existing scenario that has been created for the application field you are working in. Try to imagine that your innovation would need to be embedded in the world that is sketched in this scenario. Does your innovation fit in such a world? Which conditions would need to be fulfilled in order to fit, and does the scenario offer such conditions? Which changes or events within the scenario would impact the development of your technology, and how? What does this mean for your future research? Which actions should be taken and by whom to support/accelerate development?


Socio-technical scenarios of nanotechnology in the food packaging sector

One example of a set of socio-technical scenarios has been described by Rip and te Kulve where they propose multiples futures for nanotechnology in the food packaging domain [9]. The elaborate and complex scenarios are visualized in the figure below in a compact and simplified form. Socio-technical scenarios of organic and large area electronics are presented in an article by Parandian and Rip where they also describe the scenario building process in detail [3].

Reinventing the Dodo – a techno-moral scenario

One example of a techno-moral scenario or vignette has been written by Tsjalling Swierstra (Maastricht University) and Marianne Boenink (University of Twente) and animated by Steven van Eekelen (Animono). The scenario describes the resurrection of extinct species by synthetic biology. In this example, possible consequences of the resurrection of the Dodo are suggested, which are not directly obvious. This techno-moral vignette aims at stimulating discussion about synthetic biology.

The movie of the complete vignette can be found at: More techno-moral scenarios from the field of synthetic biology are available at:


1. van Notten, P.W.F., et al., An updated scenario typology. Futures, 2003. 35(5): p. 423-443.

2. Konrad, K., Stegmaier, P., Rip, A. and Kuhlmann, S. Constructive Technology Assessment – Antizipation modulieren als Teil der Governance von Innovation. in Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie. 2012. Bochum/Dortmund.

3. Parandian, A., Constructive TA of Newly Emerging Technologies - Stimulating learning by anticipation through bridging events. 2012, University of Twente: Enschede.

4. Robinson, D.K.R., Co-evolutionary scenarios: An application to prospecting futures of the responsible development of nanotechnology. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 2009. 76(9): p. 1222-1239.

5. World Energy Council, World Energy Scenarios - Composing energy futures to 2050. 2013.

6. Boenink, M., T. Swierstra, and D. Stemerding, Anticipating the Interaction between Technology and Morality: A Scenario Study of Experimenting with Humans in Bionanotechnology, in Studies in Ethics, Law, and Technology. 2010.

7. Lucivero, F., T. Swierstra, and M. Boenink, Assessing Expectations: Towards a Toolbox for an Ethics of Emerging Technologies. Nanoethics, 2011. 5(2): p. 129-141.

8. Swierstra, T. and A. Rip, Nano-ethics as NEST-ethics: Patterns of Moral Argumentation About New and Emerging Science and Technology. NanoEthics, 2007. 1(1): p. 3-20.

9. Rip, A. and H. Kulve, Constructive Technology Assessment and Socio-Technical Scenarios, in Presenting Futures, E. Fisher, C. Selin, and J. Wetmore, Editors. 2008, Springer Netherlands. p. 49-70.

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