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The impact of HIV/AIDS on Southern Africa's Children

3. The approach in this paper
Scenario building is widely used in business. In the 1980s, the large multinational Anglo-American projected possible futures for South Africa. The outcomes were presented to many thousands of people and played an important part in setting the scene for the negotiations that brought an end to the apartheid regime (Sunter, 1987).

Scenario planning works as illustrated in Figure 4 below. This shows a “Cone of Uncertainty” opening up into the future. For example, if we asked what the oil price would be in a week’s time, we would get answers covering a range of a few cents. If we asked what it would be in ten years the range might be in the tens of dollars. This is true of any parameter: the further you look into the future, the less certainty there is.

Figure 4: The Universe of possibilities

(Source: Sunter, 1987)

The scenario planner aims to reduce the number of reasonable possibilities; hence the inner cone becomes what is most likely to happen.

With regard to AIDS impact, we start by looking at what we know now. For example we can predict the numbers who will fall ill and die with some certainty over the next 10 years. The next step is to look at “key uncertainties” within the reduced cone. These are factors that are important for the future, but whose movement cannot possibly be predicted, for example a very cheap and effective treatment becoming available.

Finally the scenario planner examines the interplay between “key uncertainties” and writes the plausible scenarios. These are simple and consistent stories about the future which illustrate possible outcomes and challenges. Such hypothecations are more effective than single-line forecasts which offer no understanding of the interplay of forces within systems. Most important they are able to take into account the complex interactions of multiple long wave events. This is something which should be applied to AIDS impact, but which has not been done.

Three other points made by the Anglo team are important. These are:
  • Scenario plans seldom come true. For example in the 1950s no one would have predicted that the Asian economies would take off and Africa’s stagnate.
  • It is difficult to communicate bad news in a forecast. Indeed one rarely sees business predicting declining profits. People do not like being told that something bad is going to happen. It is preferable to put forward the possibility of bad news and offer a way out.
  • Forecasts may be received as though they imply that the future is decided irrespective of any effort on the listeners’ or readers’ part. But as Anglo noted, there are two kinds of future: the “active future” which you make happen, and the “passive futures” which you let happen to you. With regard to AIDS impact, few if any governments have begun to consider their “active futures”.
More recently Clem Sunter and Chantell Ilbury have written a “how to” manual of Scenario planning [Sunter and Ilbury, 2001]. In 2001 the author of this paper, Alan Whiteside, was involved in a team working for Shell South Africa which asked “What will be the impact of AIDS on Shell’s markets in Southern Africa during the next twenty years? All this has been used to build the SCF scenarios for Southern Africa.

Key point: This paper has two very important constraints:
  1. to get maximum benefit from scenario planning SCF staff and outsiders should be involved—this will enable the crucial brainstorming element.
  2. the time frame should be longer than 5 years.

The poverty of planning is that governments and donors have failed to get to grips with HIV/AIDS and its consequences. The reasons for this are examined, exhaustively, in Barnett and Whiteside (2002). In essence the argument is that HIV/AIDS changes the rules of the game and the result is that people are simply not able, conceptually or in reality, to plan for something they have no experience with and cannot grasp.

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