Futures Thinking Presentation

21 JULY 2021

Review into the Future for Local Government
Te Arotake i te Anamata mō Ngā Kaunihera

The purpose of the presentation was to contribute to a review of the future of local government. As background please find links to the following information:

  • An overview of the Future for Local Government Review here.
  • Beehive Press Release, Details of the Panel Members and Terms of reference can be found here.

PowerPoint slides

Download (PDF, 29.8 MB)

List of the publications referred to in Q&A.

Note: The references to slides are found on pages 36 and 37 of the Powerpoint (by slide number). Other material discussed or that may be of interest are listed below.






  • The Cone of Plausibility is the key tool most futurists use to start a dialogue about foresight. It illustrates probable, possible, and preferred futures. It is a useful tool as it frames a wide range of futurist concepts and insights. For example:
  • Foresight is about being curious, collaborative, observant, explorative and creative. In particular it is about seeking new insights from a diverse range of people and trying to understand second and third level effects. The goal is to shed light on what the future might look like, and could look like and how to backcast from a preferred future to today in order to identify key steps in the journey. It is more about ‘what’ (e.g. what the future might look like) than ‘how’ (e.g. how you might get from here to there).
  • Trends shape the cone (much like streams that over time become a river).
  • Wild cards are low probability high magnitude events that alter the shape the future slowly over time or act as a shock that leads to immediate change.
  • Scenarios are narratives that are used to explore possible futures. Much like new geographical terrain, we try to understand the landscape by exploring how changes in certain trends and wild cards might change the outcome. There are many types and purposes, but generally there are country or global scenarios or smaller or specific scenarios (what we call mini scenarios, such as New Zealand climate scenarios (2016) or Shells Sky Scenarios (2018)). We tend to name scenarios so it is easy to discuss and compare one scenario with another (e.g. Shell Global Scenarios 2012-2020, draw a distinction between their scenarios by calling one New Frontiers and another the Barricades – using a high level title to describe their findings). There are many different ways to develop scenarios but the most common is to use a matrix. Importantly, scenarios are not about prediction in the pure sense; success is not measured by how accurate they are (e.g. in 2020) – but how useful they were when they were made (e.g. in 2012).
  • The status quo is the strongest (the probable future) and is always hard to change. There are many forms of infrastructure and powerful vested interests that sit within a system that enable/support the status quo to return – getting long term durable change is difficult.
  • Some futurists refuse to discuss preferred futures as it makes their work biased.
  • Most tricky conversations happen when one person is trying to understand possible futures while another has a preferred future in mind.
  • Future studies is as much about art as science. It is still evolving and goes in and out of fashion. It becomes more useful and sought out in times of uncertainty. The aim is to help decision makers understand the future and ideally make better, more durable and flexible decisions.