ParEvo: A free web-assisted participatory scenario planning process

April 14, 2022 rick.davies
August 30, 2021 rick.davies
May 31, 2020 rick.davies
May 29, 2020 rick.davies

ParEvo is a collaborative means of developing alternative past histories or futures. Storylines have a tree structure - some die out, some survive, some of those grow additional branches . Participation is structured but anonymous. Storyline content & participation data can be analysed

Problems and Purpose

Scenario planning is a process of identifying and analysing alternative futures, with the intention of being better prepared for them, if and when they happen.

Participatory approaches have been developed, but they can be both time consuming and lacking in transparency, meaning it is not possible to identify who contributed what. The ParEvo process design addresses both problems.

The ParEvo app has two broad purposes. The first is to enable participants to improve the design, monitoring, and evaluation of activities designed to bring about change. This is done through the participatory identification of alternative storylines/scenarios about what might happen in the future, and the evaluation of those storylines, and the analysis of the implications of those storylines. For more detail on how this can be done see the Ten Stages Of A ParEvo Exercise page

The second is to provide a platform where people can experiment with different ways of running participatory explorations of alternative futures. That is, a location where multiple ParEvo exercises will be carried out, and all the data from those exercises will be retained and available for comparison and analysis (subject to the consent of the Facilitators of those exercises).

ParEvo is different from many scenario planning approaches in the very structured nature of people’s participation, and the ability to analyse participation data and its relationship to the types of scenarios that are developed. One important source of theory and research findings to inform this kind of analysis is the field of collective intelligence (whereby groups can be more productive and creative than their best individual members). For more information on ways of analysing the content and participation dimensions of a ParEvo exercise go to the Content Analysis and Participation Analysis pages of the ParEvo website.

Origins and Development

The core concept was developed in the 1990s, during the development of Rick Davies’ PhD thesis on organisational learning in NGOs working in Bangladesh (available here). Its first trial implementation took place in a Welsh school classroom setting, before the widespread availability of the internet (documented here).

In 2019 a UK software company (Aptivate) was contracted to develop a web app to make this process available free and online to multiple parties. The new web-based version solicits, presents, and analyses the contents generated by participants on an automated, timely and error-free basis. It allows multiple groups to do so, via free accounts available on this dedicated ParEvo web site:

Further development is anticipated. This will include improvement of the user interface, more automated data analysis and visualisation, and options for significant scaling up of the numbers of participants. Suggestions are welcome.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

A ParEvo exercise involves people in four different roles, three of which are essential:

1.      Participants: People who actively participate in the generation of alternative storylines about possible future developments. The minimum should be 4 people, 10 to 12 people is desirable, larger numbers may be possible but have not yet been tested. Participants’ can represent views which are personal, or those which reflect their elected or employed role, or those of other stakeholders.

2.      Facilitator: A person who designs and manages a ParEvo exercise, including the selection and invitation of participants. Anyone can apply to be a Facilitator, via the ParEvo website:

3.      Administrator: A person who authorises people to act as a Facilitator, and who provides technical advice and support to Facilitators as needed. Rick Davies is the Administrator ([email protected]).

4.      Observers: People who are able to view a ParEvo exercise through a hypertext link provided to them by the Facilitator of that exercise. This role is optional, not a necessity. Observer access can be provided during and/or after the completion of a ParEvo exercise

How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision-Making

How a ParEvo exercise works is described in the How an Exercise Works page on the ParEvo website and in a twelve minute YouTube video. There are ten stages, three of which are reiterated:

1. Clarifying the aim of a ParEvo exercise

2. Identifying who will be involved

3. Describing the starting point of the process

4. Defining the endpoint

5. The facilitator provides guidance to participants

6. Participants make their contributions

7. Developing storylines are shared

8. Re-iteration of 5, 6, 7

9. Evaluation

10. Using the products of the ParEvo process

A ParEvo exercise begins with a seed paragraph, describing the beginning of a possible sequence of events. The exercise will then progress through a number of iterations, typically so far between six and twelve. In each iteration each participant will have the opportunity to add a paragraph of text which extends the seed paragraph, or after that, one of its developing storylines, in the direction of their choice. Storylines which are not extended become 'extinct"and not available for further development in later iterations. Other storylines may branch in different directions because multiple participants choose to add a contribution to it during the same iteration.

At the beginning of each iteration the Facilitator will update the guidance available to the participants at the head of the user interface where participants make their contributions. At the end of the chosen number of iterations the Facilitator will ask the participants to make some evaluation judgements of the surviving storylines. An aggregated view of these judgements is then made visible to the participants.

While the identity of participants in a ParEvo exercise may be known to all, the identity of individual contributions during the ParEvo exercise is intentionally not disclosed. This information is only available to the Facilitator.

Parameters are attributes of the ParEvo process that can be varied, to affect how storylines develop . They are of two types:

1.      Those participants can vary:

  • Which storyline they decide to add to, in any given iteration
  • The contents of the contributions they make

2.      Those the facilitator can vary:

  • The number of participants
  • In a given exercise, and
  • Within each iteration of a given exercise
  • The types of participants
  • The text of the guidance that is given to participants at the start of each iteration
  • The maximum length of the text that participants can submit in each iteration
  • The duration of each iteration
  • The number of iterations
  • The evaluation criteria used at the evaluation stage 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

A completed ParEvo exercise will provide participants with multiple detailed alternative views of the future, within the bounds defined at the beginning of the exercise. The storylines will have identifiable ownership. The probability and desirability of each storyline will also been identified by the participants, along any with other performance attributes selected by the Facilitator. In addition, as shown below, the Facilitator will have detailed data on how the storylines were constructed, which can be analysed and shared at their discretion.

The primary intended beneficiaries of this process would normally be participants themselves, and the Facilitator. However, important other stakeholders can be involved as Observers.

Please Note: There has not yet been any independent i.e. third-party evaluation, of the performance of ParEvo.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

DATA: Five types of data can be downloaded at the end of a ParEvo exercise:

  1. The full text of each storyline, showing which paragraph was contributed during which iteration.
  2. A list the names of all participants
  3. A matrix showing which participants contributed to which storyline. This is known as an “affiliation matrix”
  4. A matrix showing which participant contributed additional text to which participant's previous contributions. This is known as an “adjacency matrix”
  5. Matrices showing which storylines met which evaluation criteria, as judged by each participant. Plus, a summary matrix aggregating the judgements of all participants.

ANALYSIS: This data can be analysed in three ways:

  1. Content Analysis: Four methods are described in detail on the Content Analysis webpage
  2.  Participation Analysis: Four broad types of analysis are described on the participation analysis webpage
  3. Relating the Participation Analysis to the Content Analyised

The methods of analysis that have been documentso far have made use of two main areas of knowledge: social network analysis and studies of collective intelligence. See references below.

APPLICATIONS. Three kinds are anticipated, and described in detail here

  1. Programme planning
  2. Activity design
  3. Risk management
  4. Implementation monitoring and adaptation
  5. Evaluation of implementation and outcomes

See Also


External Links