Making sustainable futures - An introduction to futures studies and scenario techniques
Futures studies is an interdisciplinary field of study. Central to the field is the development and critical assessment of scenarios of plausible, probable, and desirable futures. In this introductory course we will focus on futures studies addressing the broad field of sustainable development.
Plausible futures are used to make society or a sector ‘future proofed’. This is done through identifying key uncertainties and their possible consequences, and then using this to inform planning and decision-making processes. Desirable futures develop visions of sustainable -futures for a specific community, city or sector. Working with desirable futures also includes identifying the incremental steps needed to achieve this vision, so called backcasting.
Throughout the course we will connect the futures studies methods to different sustainability challenges. We will use both established frameworks such as the planetary boundaries or the sustainable development goals (SDG:s), and open up for discussions on the normative and contested character of sustainability.
Information from the course leader
Due to the pandemic, the course will be held entirely online this semester (autumn 2021).
The course evaluation is now closed
Once the evaluation is closed, the course coordinator and student representative have 1 month to draft their comments. The comments will be published in the evaluation report.
Additional course evaluations for MX0150
Academic year 2022/2023
2022-08-29 - 2022-10-31
Academic year 2020/2021
2020-08-31 - 2020-11-01
Syllabus and other information
MX0150 Making sustainable futures - An introduction to futures studies and scenario techniques, 7.5 CreditsAtt skapa hållbara framtider - en introduktion till framtidsstudier och scenariometoder
Education cycleMaster’s level
|Seminar & PM||2.0||0102|
Advanced study in the main fieldSecond cycle, has only first-cycle course/s as entry requirements
Master’s level (A1N)
The grade requirements within the course grading system are set out in specific criteria. These criteria must be available by the course start at the latest.
Prior knowledgeKnowledge equivalent to 120 credits, basic level, and English 6 (Swedish educational system).
Futures studies is an interdisciplinary field of study which include studies of probable, possible and preferable futures. Futures studies for sustainable development focuses on developing, exploring and evaluating scenarios in which one or more sustainability challenges stand in focus, and to, based on this, formulate policy recommendations or other knowledge of societal relevance.
The course serves two main aims: 1) To introduce students to futures studies, with emphasis on theoretical points of departure and methods to develop, explore and evaluate scenarios; 2) to provide students with a possibility to apply this knowledge and skills in practice, in an interdisciplinary project work, and to learn from this in a structured way.
After finalizing the course, the student will be able to:
Describe basic theoretical and methodological concepts from the field of futures studies, and apply a relevant selection of these in a sustainability-driven project work;
Design and delimit a project work, establish a work and time plan for this, and continuously report on progress in a structured manner;
Reflect on how the choice of theoretical concepts, scenario technique and project design impacted the project results;
Reflect on possibilities and challenges with working in inter- and transdisciplinary project teams.
Reflect on possible relevant applications of futures studies in relation to sustainability challenges.
The course comprises three parts. The first part of the course consists of lectures, literature studies and literature seminars. These aim to introduce futures studies as a field of research and practice, and its basic theories, methods and concepts. Shorter preparatory assignments are to be handed in before lectures and literature seminars, this to support active learning.
The second part of the course is a project work. Here focus is on applying futures studies theory and scenario methods. Depending on the aim and objectives of the project work also other theories and methods might become relevant. The aim and objectives of the project work is open for definition by the students themselves together with their supervisor – and within the frames provided by the intended learning outcomes. The project work takes place in interdisciplinary groups of 3-5 students. The project work also entails project planning and reporting, and to constructively discuss the work of other project groups.
The third part of the course is an individual essay. In the essay the student is asked to critically reflect on their own project work, as well as the work of other project groups. The student is also asked to formulate an independent idea on how futures studies could be used to deal with one or more sustainability challenges.
The subject content of the course focuses on futures studies as theory, practice, methods and concepts. The first part of the course includes:
Futures studies today and historically;
Basic points of departure for futures studies, focusing on uncertainty, risk and possibility space;
The difference between different types of futures studies, focusing on probable, possible and preferable futures, and their areas of application;
An overview of different scenario methods, and their respective strengths and weaknesses;
Concrete examples of how futures studies are used in research and practice, by public and private actors alike.
In the second part of the course the knowledge on futures studies is deepened through a project work. The students are here provided with an opportunity to, in dialogue with their supervisor, decide by themselves what specific area or type of futures studies they want to develop.
The project work also provides training in designing, delimiting, performing and communicating a project. Moreover, the project work provides the student with training in how to constructively critique the work of others and to critically reflect on their own work. The course also provides experience in working in interdisciplinary groups.
Grading formThe grade requirements within the course grading system are set out in specific criteria. These criteria must be available by the course start at the latest.
Formats and requirements for examination
The first part of the course is examined through written assignments and active participation at literature seminars. The second part of the course is examined through active participation at seminars, supervision and presentations in relation to the project work, and through the project report. The third part of the course is examined through the individual essay.
Seminars, supervision and presentations are mandatory to attend. To pass the course it is also the following are required: approved written assignments, and active participation in the project work and in mandatory activities.
- If a student has failed an examination, the examiner has the right to issue supplementary assignments. This applies if it is possible and there are grounds to do so.
- The examiner can provide an adapted assessment to students entitled to study support for students with disabilities following a decision by the university. Examiners may also issue an adapted examination or provide an alternative way for the students to take the exam.
- If this syllabus is withdrawn, SLU may introduce transitional provisions for examining students admitted based on this syllabus and who have not yet passed the course.
- For the examination of a degree project (independent project), the examiner may also allow the student to add supplemental information after the deadline for submission. Read more in the Education Planning and Administration Handbook.
The right to participate in teaching and/or supervision only applies for the course instance the student was admitted to and registered on.
If there are special reasons, students are entitled to participate in components with compulsory attendance when the course is given again. Read more in the Education Planning and Administration Handbook.
Department of Urban and Rural Development
- Exploring Futures for Policymaking Författare: Van Asselt, M. B. A., Faas, A., Molen, van der F., & Veenman, S. A. (2010). [Exploring Futures for Policymaking] (https://english.wrr.nl/binaries/wrr-eng/documents/publications/2010/09/27/index/Exploring_Futures_for_Policymaking.pdf) Kommentar:
This report provides a brief introduction to futures studies, and it uses in and for policy-making. The report includes some basic concepts and definitions. It also discusses a few common issues with the way futures studies are used. We suggest you read this report first, and then go into the rest of the literature.
- Manoa: The future is not binary Författare: Schultz, W. (2015). Kommentar: This article introduces the Manoa approach to develop scenarios for exploring eventualities. The Manoa approach was developed by Wendy Schultz in an attempt to provide an alternative to the "two axes" scenario matrix approach, while still providing a structured approach to scenario development.
The article is provided via Canvas.
- Unmasking scenario planning: The colonization of the future in the ‘Local Governments of the Future’ program Författare: Ossewaarde, M. (2017) [Unmasking scenario planning: The colonization of the future in the ‘Local Governments of the Future’ program] (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2017.07.003) Kommentar: This article shows how also scenario processes intended to open up discussions can be framed by powerful actors, leading to a pre-empting of questions asked and answers arrived at and a maintained business-as-usual.
- Developing a theory of plausibility in scenario building: Designing plausible scenarios. Författare: Walton, S., O’Kane, P., & Ruwhiu, D. (2019) [Developing a theory of plausibility in scenario building: Designing plausible scenarios.] (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2019.03.002) Kommentar: This article discusses the difference between probability and plausibility, and suggests that plausibility is socially constructed. The article includes a case study in which the Delphi method is used.
- Intersections of strategic planning and futures studies: methodological complementarities Författare: Roney, C. W. (2010) [ Intersections of strategic planning and futures studies: methodological complementarities] (https://jfsdigital.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/152-A05.pdf)1) Wild cards, weak signals and organisational improvisation Författare: Mendonça, S., Cunha, M. P., Kaivo-oja, J., & Ruff, F. (2004) [Wild cards, weak signals and organisational improvisation] (https://doi.org/10.1016/S0016-3287(03)00148-4)1) The Futures Toolkit: Tools for strategic futures for policy-makers and analysts Författare: UK Government Offices of Science (2017) [The Futures Toolkit: Tools for strategic futures for policy-makers and analysts] (<https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/674209/futures-toolkit-edition-1.pdf >) Kommentar: This report comprises an overview of futures techniques and tools. The toolkit also includes quite detailed instructions on how to use some of the techniques.
- Foresight Manual: Empowered Futures Författare: UNDP GCPSE (2018) [Foresight Manual: Empowered Futures] (https://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/capacity-development/English/Singapore%20Centre/UNDP_ForesightManual_2018.pdf) Kommentar: This report provides an overview of futures studies tools and techniques. This report is an update to the 2015 Foresight Manual, putting tools and techniques into the context of the sustainable development goals and public service.
- Strategic foresight primer Författare: Wilkinson / EPSC (2017) [Strategic foresight primer] (https://cor.europa.eu/Documents/Migrated/Events/EPSC_strategic_foresight_primer.pdf) Kommentar: This report includes an overview of futures studies tools and techniques, with some comparisons across them.
- Futures Beyond GDP Growth: Final report from the research program “Beyond GDP Growth: Scenarios for sustainable building and planning.” Författare: Hagbert, P., Finnveden, G., Fuehrer, P., Svenfelt, Å., Alfredsson, E., Aretun, Å., … Öhlund, E. (2019) [Futures Beyond GDP Growth: Final report from the research program “Beyond GDP Growth: Scenarios for sustainable building and planning.”] (<https://www.bortombnptillvaxt.se/download/18.14d7b12e16e3c5c3627a0c/1574265077015/Final%20report%20Beyond%20GDP%20growth.pdf >) Kommentar: This report presents the main parts of the research program “Beyond GDP Growth: Scenarios for sustainable building and planning”.
Read "Summary" and Chapters 1–3. Skim the rest of the report.
- Carbon ruins: Engaging with post-fossil transitions through participatory world-building Författare: Stripple, J., Nikoleris, A., & Hildingsson, R. (2021) [Carbon ruins: Engaging with post-fossil transitions through participatory world-building] (https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v9i2.3816) Kommentar: This article presents the Carbon Ruins project. The Carbon Ruins is a fictitious exhibition, set in a medium-range future (2053) which displays objects that was part of the fossil fuel era, but that are no longer in production or use. The article is particularly interesting, I think, in providing an exemple of how one can use everyday objects to make scenarios more tangible and comprehensible, as well as making the process of futuring a bit more inclusive.
- Mapping diverse visions of energy transitions: co-producing sociotechnical imaginaries. Författare: Longhurst, N., & Chilvers, J. (2019) [Mapping diverse visions of energy transitions: co-producing sociotechnical imaginaries.] (https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-019-00702-y) Kommentar: This article provides an example on how one might engage in a critical examination of visions. In the article, a number of visions of energy transitions are examined using four dimensions of sociotechnical transformation: meanings, knowings, doings, and organisings.
- Utopianism and the cultivation of possibilities: grassroots movements of hope Författare: Fournier, V. (2002) [Utopianism and the cultivation of possibilities: grassroots movements of hope] (https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-954X.2002.tb03585.x) Kommentar: This article introduces and discusses utopianism as an approach to foster hope and (grassroot) action in the present to the benefit of more sustainable and just futures.
- Alternative futures for global biological invasions Författare: Roura-Pascual, N., Leung, B., Rabitsch, W., Rutting, L., Vervoort, J., Bacher, S., … Essl, F. (2021) [Alternative futures for global biological invasions] (https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-021-00963-6) Kommentar: This article uses a "two axes" scenario approach to explore potential drivers of biological invasion futures.