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Scenarios Methodology to understand Potential Futures after Welfare Quality®

Scenario planning is a strategic management tool that organizations use to create a better understanding of potential ‘futures’. The focus is not on making precise predictions, but on better understanding future uncertainties in order to prepare. The most important lesson learnt from the scenario building exercise in Sub Project 4 is that a positive outcome for the assessment systems developed within Welfare Quality® cannot be taken for granted, but that it is possible to influence it. Whether the project will eventually have a positive impact on animal welfare will depend on the outcome of a number of uncertainties. One thing that seems to be very important to maximise the likelihood for a positive future outcome is the existence of some kind of body to manage the assessment system.

Compared to the Delphi-method, scenario development is better equipped to identify strategic issues and to deal with broad problems. The more complex the issue, the more useful the method.

It is usual to follow a rather standardised series of steps when developing scenarios. Among the first of these step in our task was to identify stakeholders who might have an interest in the assessment systems. Here both those who might be affected by the WQ systems as well as those who could influence it were listed. Next current trends or predetermined elements that might affect the assessment systems were identified. As part of this we briefly explained each trend including how and why it might be expected to exert an influence on the future use of the WQ assessment system. In another step uncertainties were listed, as well as reviewing why they matter, how they relate to each other and in what way their resolution (or not) will affect the future of the assessment systems. The lists of stakeholder, trends and uncertainties identified are given in the table.

Table: Stakeholders, predetermined elements and uncertainties in the scenarios
Stakeholders
Trends
Uncertainties
Farmers
Quality assessment/ transparency
Who will pay and gain
Consumers
Ethical food products
WTO
Retailers
Product differentiation
Dominant leader
Other chain actors
Globalization
Scandals or scares
Governments
Animal-based measures
Existing schemes
Special interest groups
Awareness on societal issues
Economic climate
Certification bodies
Efficiency of assessment
Emphasis in societal concern
 
Level playing field
Political agreement
 

In subsequent steps, two so-called forced scenarios were developed and then their internal consistency and plausibility was discussed both internally and externally to the WQ project. One scenario was forced to the extreme ‘all negative’ pattern of events and the other to the extreme ‘all positive’. The aim being to maximise the difference between the scenarios, so making the broadest picture of possible futures for the WQ assessment systems. When discussing these scenarios with stakeholders it became apparent that the negative future sounded rather plausible. When this was discussed further, it became clear that the uncertainty regarding the implementation of the WQ system was attributable mainly to uncertainty about the management and control of the assessment systems. A second round of scenario development was therefore carried out that focussed on different roles that a potential future body surrounding the WQ assessment system could fulfil, rather than the environmental uncertainties that were the basis of the forced scenarios.

This set of so-called learning scenarios showed that not all events are completely beyond control and that things surrounding the WQ assessment system, can be influenced. For example we learnt that a body which can support and manage the development of an assessment system appears to be important in reducing the probability of the negative scenario outcome. Overall the aims of such a body would perhaps be best described as identifying and seizing the opportunities available to improve animal welfare on the basis of the existing systems and players in animal-based production chains across Europe. More specifically, some potential roles for this body were identified. One of these was of course the supporting and management role mentioned earlier, but others included; a scientific role - updating the system with the latest scientific insights, and facilitating research on the animal welfare database; a level-setting role - turning the system into a measuring scheme against which farms, farming systems and perhaps brands and products can be benchmarked ; and a legitimizing role - both in ensuring that the system has a solid acceptance basis among stakeholders in society, both within animal interest groups and beyond, and with the wider group of stakeholders concerned with sustainable development.

Of course there still remain several vital questions. Probably the most basic one is how much would a body to implement the WQ assessment system cost? This question can’t however be answered without answering many other questions. But the scenario exercise was very useful in helping understand possible futures for the assessment systems developed within Welfare Quality® and what options are available for maximising a positive outcome.

Linda Keeling, Linda.keeling@hmh.slu.se, Paul Ingenbleek, Paul.Ingenbleek@wur.nl, Andy Butterworth, andy.butterworth@bristol.ac.uk, Harry Blokhuis, harry.blokhuis@hmh.slu.se