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Research Rationale, Objectives and Methods

Categories: General, Project Overviews, Scenario Planning as a Discipline, Support Material, Theories and Modes of Narrative
Date: 11 May 2007

Mission of Project: To develop a strategic set of conversations around the future of television.

Key Concepts and Points of Difference for OTB

Project Rationale

For the industry partners the project gives insights into the workings of television, present and future, but most importantly it prompts an ability to be narrating possibilities all the time, to be speculating strategically and inventively about possible developments in the industry and therefore to be habitually ‘nimble’, responsive and protected from being ‘blind sided’ by some unanticipated catastrophe or missed opportunity.

For the academics, the project gives information about how industry is thinking as it goes through the present changes. The approach gives the academics a test-domain in which to speculate about the future of television and to develop new theories about the workings and possibilities of narrative in dynamic work environments.

The industry partners can be seen as ‘insider-experts’ with regard to the television industry. The academics are ‘outsider-experts’. Each placement has strengths and weaknesses. Combining the two stances makes the project particularly strong. The academics can propose scenarios and analyses narratives that get generated out of the scenarios, The insider-experts are the ones who should tell the stories. Each expert informs the other.

Throughout the project, we should keep in view two carefully differentiated notions: (a) scenarios and (b) narratives. Scenarios are complex settings, or sets of drivers out of which a large number of narrative lines can be drawn. Ie a scenario implies and gives rise to many narratives; a scenario is not the same as a narrative. The first thing we have to do is establish valid and provocative scenarios. This is a good task for the informed outsider. Then the expert insiders should tell narratives out of those scenarios. I.e. the narrating needs to comes from intimate knowledge deployed in response to the provocations of the scenarios. This narrating should happen quickly, profusely, without any ‘agonising’. Such a process will be revelatory. (Note: the insiders must tell stories, not just offer opinions. It’s the storytelling that reveals so much about the system being evoked in the narrative.)

In other words, there are ‘morphological’ tasks (ie listing the drivers in a provocative array) and there are ‘narratological’ tasks (ie delineating stories out of the morphological array.) Cf de Certeau’s distinction between the map and the tour, or Saussure’s distinction between langue and parole.

A scenario is really a list or a field of key influences. A scenario is usually a mix of characters, contextual tendencies or plot actions already at play, moods, tones of address. Out of the listed or arrays influences or drivers, a narrative line can be told.

NOTE: the narrative does not encompass everything in the scenario. The narrative comes out of the scenario. And there are likely to be dozens of narratives possible from any one scenario.

Think of THEATRESPORTS: the scenario is proposed, then each team runs several different improvised narratives out of the scenario, and then there is review (eg, applause or not from the audience; eg, critique by the players or the producers). After the review process, the producers generate the next scenario so that the process starts again, spiraling repeatedly in a 3-part circuit: 1) Scenario Generation 2) Narration 3) Discursive Reflection leading to more scenario formation. Out of this process, the actors become more adept at reacting to the complexities in the scene; the producers understand better how the scene can be shaped.

One of the things that already makes OTB distinctive is the mind-map. It is a mega scenario that’s too big to be narratively useful, but it is morphologically very rich. So, from the mind-map we can develop develop several clusters or practicable scenarios. Out of these clustered scenarios, narrative can be delineated. The OTB team’s role is to develop the overall mindmap and then to develop provocative clusters as scenarios. Then we take these scenarios to the industry experts and prompt them to narrate. NB it is important that we don’t step in and narrate for the industry participants. This has to be an active, venturesome exercise by the industry folks, otherwise they have no chance of developing the nimbleness and fitness that should come from the project. (NB we can also take the scenarios to a different set of ‘experts’ — writing students at UTS and UNSW. ) Once the narratives have been generated, the OTB team must review what was produced and then the cycle starts again with other scenarios.


To summarise, the OTB team does the scenario-formation work and the the discursive review, but not the narrative work. The narrative work is the speciality of the industry experts, the insiders.

Because the television scene is presently so complex and changeful, it’s important that we concentrate on formulating multiple scenarios first and then we should prompt and record many quick narratives. We are delving into a complex situation rather than a complicated one. Therefore we need insider apprehension as well as outsider (or critically distanced) apprehension. The industry experts need to be constantly spinning narratives that are formed out of their insider familiarity with the industry; the outsider experts need to be offering the insiders a set of provocative scenarios that are derived from the right amount of research and critical distance. It’s important to develop the ability to see many scenarios out of which a great many quick narratives will emerge. We have an advantage already here, with the mindmap that has already been developed during the pilot phase of the project. Moreover, the interactive website that’s being developed will deepen this sense of a widespread understanding of the drivers that can be clustered together to form scenarios.

Schedule of Project