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Making sustainable futures - An introduction to futures studies and scenario techniques

This is a course for you who want to work both with plausible and desirable futures. You will work hands-on with a range of foresight techniques, including driver mapping, scenario matrices, vision narratives, and backcasting. In addition, you get a solid knowledge base about key theories and concepts in futures studies.

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.

Due to the pandemic, the course will be held entirely online this semester (autumn 2021).

The course evaluation is now closed

MX0150-10331 - Course evaluation report

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

MX0150 Making sustainable futures - An introduction to futures studies and scenario techniques, 7.5 Credits

Att skapa hållbara framtider - en introduktion till framtidsstudier och scenariometoder

Syllabus approved



Environmental science

Education cycle

Master’s level


Title Credits Code
Seminar & PM 2.00 1002
Project work 4.00 1003
Home exam 1.50 1004

Advanced study in the main field

Second cycle, only first-cycle courses as entry requirements(A1N)

Grading scale

Pass / Failed The requirements for attaining different grades are described in the course assessment criteria which are contained in a supplement to the course syllabus. Current information on assessment criteria shall be made available at the start of the course.



Prior knowledge

Knowledge 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.

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 the student fails a test, the examiner may give the student a supplementary assignment, provided this is possible and there is reason to do so.
  • If the student has been granted special educational support because of a disability, the examiner has the right to offer the student an adapted test, or provide an alternative assessment.
  • If changes are made to this course syllabus, or if the course is closed, SLU shall decide on transitional rules for examination of students admitted under this syllabus but 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 more information on this, please refer to the regulations for education at Bachelor's and Master's level.

Other information

  • The right to take part in teaching and/or supervision only applies to the course date to which the student has been admitted and registered on.
  • If there are special reasons, the student may take part in course components that require compulsory attendance at a later date. For more information on this, please refer to the regulations for education at Bachelor's and Master's level.

Responsible department

Department of Urban and Rural Development

Further information

Determined by: Programnämnden för utbildning inom naturresurser och jordbruk (PN - NJ)
There are no Grading criteria posted for this course
1) Exploring Futures for Policymaking
Author: Van Asselt, M. B. A., Faas, A., Molen, van der F., & Veenman, S. A. (2010).
Comments: 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.
2) Futures Beyond GDP Growth: Final report from the research program “Beyond GDP Growth: Scenarios for sustainable building and planning.”
Author: Hagbert, P., Finnveden, G., Fuehrer, P., Svenfelt, Å., Alfredsson, E., Aretun, Å., … Öhlund, E. (2019)
Comments: 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.
4) Wild cards, weak signals and organisational improvisation
Author: Mendonça, S., Cunha, M. P., Kaivo-oja, J., & Ruff, F. (2004)
5) The Futures Toolkit: Tools for strategic futures for policy-makers and analysts
Author: UK Government Offices of Science (2017)
Comments: 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.
6) Foresight Manual: Empowered Futures
Author: UNDP GCPSE (2018)
Comments: 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.
7) Strategic foresight primer
Author: Wilkinson / EPSC (2017)
Comments: This report includes an overview of futures studies tools and techniques, with some comparisons across them.
8) Carbon ruins: Engaging with post-fossil transitions through participatory world-building
Author: Stripple, J., Nikoleris, A., & Hildingsson, R. (2021)
Comments: 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.
9) Manoa: The future is not binary
Author: Schultz, W. (2015).
Comments: 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.
10) Unmasking scenario planning: The colonization of the future in the ‘Local Governments of the Future’ program
Author: Ossewaarde, M. (2017)
Comments: 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.
11) Developing a theory of plausibility in scenario building: Designing plausible scenarios.
Author: Walton, S., O’Kane, P., & Ruwhiu, D. (2019)
Comments: 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.
12) Mapping diverse visions of energy transitions: co-producing sociotechnical imaginaries.
Author: Longhurst, N., & Chilvers, J. (2019)
Comments: 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.
13) Utopianism and the cultivation of possibilities: grassroots movements of hope
Author: Fournier, V. (2002)
Comments: 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.
14) Alternative futures for global biological invasions
Author: Roura-Pascual, N., Leung, B., Rabitsch, W., Rutting, L., Vervoort, J., Bacher, S., … Essl, F. (2021)
Comments: This article uses a "two axes" scenario approach to explore potential drivers of biological invasion futures.

Course facts

The course is offered as an independent course: Yes Tuition fee: Tuition fee only for non-EU/EEA/Switzerland citizens: 19027 SEK Cycle: Master’s level
Subject: Environmental science
Course code: MX0150 Application code: SLU-10331 Location: Uppsala Distance course: No Language: English Responsible department: Department of Urban and Rural Development Pace: 50%