Peer to peer scenario building

We received word of a very interesting project by John Cassel (reach him via john dot benjamin dot cassel at gmail), which involves participatory scenario building. This project requires all kinds of technical and other kinds of assistance, and we are therefore quoting the project description in full, based on a summary document provided to us by John Cassel.

Here it is:

ScenConnect is an implementation of a scenario connector. A scenario connector is a peer-to-peer software tool for communicating scenario information (such as plans, procedures, and predictions) in an easy-to-use and secure way.

How are scenario connectors different from other collaboration tools?

Scenario connectors represent scenario information in a unique way. Roughly speaking, a scenario is a story where the teller tries to communicate all of the possible endings. Scenarios attempt to discover all of the situations that might occur as events unfold. ScenConnect makes scenario creation simple by allowing situations and events to be described as combinations of tags, which are short text labels. Then, situations and events are joined together in networks that illustrate the possibility of events transforming one scenario into another. Scenarios can be quickly assembled from existing tag sets, from scenarios the user has previously created, from scenarios that other users have shared, and by tags provided by the system on installation.

What technologies drive scenario connectors? Scenario connectors open and distribute the scenario methodology. Originally developed by Shell in the 1970s, it helped them discover the possibility of an oil slowdown, which helped them dodge the 1970s recession. The scenario methodology is a technique for doing deep research on potential “black swans”: rare and unexpected events that are difficult to imagine, but have potentially high impact. Scenario connectors are a direct offshoot of the work of Jamais Cascio, who opens up scenarios and breaks them down into their component parts, allowing users to reassemble them for their own purposes. Scenario connectors achieve this remixing effect via a networked tagging system, and makes strategic openness a pragmatic possibility through limited-exposure public-key cryptography in the context of peer-to-peer file sharing systems. Complimentary technologies, such as voice over IP, webbrowser plug-ins, prediction markets, collaborative filtering, and chat rooms all add to a rich scenario-sharing experience. However, scenario connectors will truly come of age after the emergence of RFID, geotagging, mobile social planning, and other technologies that can annotate the real world. Users will then be able to search for scenarios related to their current surroundings.

Who Uses Scenario Connectors? Core users for scenario connectors include:

• Regional entrepreneurs who want to see business models that have worked in other similar regions and what factors may have prevented this business from working in their region.

• Professional commercial and government scenario builders who want to save time and money in compiling similar scenarios for different customers. This will also allow them to interact with others who can contribute to their work, such as domain experts, technologists, and science-fiction writers.

• Employee-owned businesses and volunteer organizations who need to negotiate the direction of their institution. Instead of time-wasting meetings, scenarios and positions can be fleshed out, scored, and discussed online, allowing meetings to be reduced to core issues.

How will ScenConnect be developed? ScenConnect will be developed as an open-source project in an academic context. The project will grow slowly, with content being added by carefully selected foresight professionals and others they would like to have on board. This will also give trust time to form between existing participants, creating a robust collaborative filtering network, and also allowing the software to be gracefully adapted to increasing scales of participation. Eventually, the project may support small companies focused around custom scenario creation, tailored software development, prediction market arbitration, and other services.

5 Comments Peer to peer scenario building

  1. Mark Whiting

    This is really interesting. It sounds a little like Compendium from the Compendium Institute and the discourse or issue mapping it is designed for.

    Is the method of scenario connecting very different from other kinds of mapping?

  2. John Cassel

    First, my thanks to Michel for presenting this project.

    Mark, your question is a good one. Compendium looks like a very capable tool, and it may have many of the advantages of the scenario connector technique.

    I cannot claim any specific expertise in issue mapping. My background is in developing learning, planning, and visualization tools for data streams of information. However, my understanding is that the central difference between scenario connecting and other mapping techniques is the focus on using implicit connectivity by aggressively formulating the system as bundles and connection of tags. By allowing a free composition of situations, events, tags, scores, markets, and communications, we can let machine learning algorithms allow for the quick creation by remixing existing tag sets and fast comparison by evaluating the differences between nested networks of tag sets. It also can capture some of the subtle nature of scoring: If you want to say “Bob has good opinions unless you ask him about the Israel-Palestine conflict”, then this is a matter of tagging the high score you usually give Bob with a ‘Israel-Palestine’ tag and then scoring that tag lower.

    As a result of this aggressive move towards tagging, scenario connector technology is directly aimed to be ready for developments in geotagging, RFID, and related ubiquitous computing technologies. By already having a network of tags accessible, this tool aims to be able to compare these tags to the surrounding environment, so that you can see how current decisions you might have to make map into the scenarios you’re interested in. While internet technologies have brought us “ambient findability”, I hope that tools like this will bring us “ambient situatedness”.

  3. Mark Whiting

    John, thanks for the quick response. I now see the difference between these two methods. It sounds like the scenario connector technique is in some respects a specialised development of mapping with some sort of back end management, which is use specific as opposed to unstructured like Compendium.

    It sounds like a tremendous tool for distributed decisions and narrative building, and the future developments seem quite interesting. Is there an alpha build of the underlying software available yet?

  4. John Cassel

    I’ve thought about it further, and one key difference about the scenario connector technology is that it is agnostic to any particular methodology. While I’m very intent about assuring good user interaction and take the call to a better human-futures interface very seriously, I don’t think even very careful designers can seriously anticipate the needs of all users who can profit from the juxtaposition a scenario connector can provide. Even stronger, I think that the power of juxtaposition comes from the emotional realization of the unexpected connection.

    Scenario connectors are a platform that sits on top of the more technical distributed overlay file-sharing platforms, providing both an end-user interface and a scenario/scoring resource. I’d love to see scenario connectors serving a peer role with other applications, supporting connectivity to-and-from web browsers via plug-ins, to-and-from editors such as Eclipse, to-and-from computer games (providing the scoring system, and seeing what paths people choose under those conditions).

    In other words, I want to keep the tool open to the opportunities that come from not being a specific methodology.

  5. John Cassel

    Mark:

    I would say that the scenario connector uses a specific, but very composable and extensible data model, to try to be a platform for other applications. If you can imagine importing a plug-in that says “if something is tagged like this, I will interpret the structures around it in a particular way”. So, while the Compendium aims to be extensible at the level of the tool, scenario connectors serve as a platform for other applications.

    Unfortunately there is no alpha build yet. I am still researching the libraries I’m going to use for the user-interface and the underlying peer-to-peer filesystem. However, the requirements document contains far more than just requirements, but instead is a largely comprehensive view of the current state of ScenConnect. If you want to know more, I recommend you check it out: (http://scen-connect.cvs.sourceforge.net/*checkout*/scen-connect/sc-documentation/sc-documentation/requirements/ScenConnectRequirements.pdf)

    Also, don’t hesitiate to email me personally.

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