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Deliberating the future: Co-production and boundary work in participative scenario development

Anja Bauer
Austrian Academy of Sciences
Anja Bauer
Austrian Academy of Sciences
Open Panel

Abstract

The paper deals with processes of co-production and boundary work in scenario development. Scenarios are a technique for the envisioning and deliberation of the future and as a tool to support strategic policy-making. The future in this context is a political resource, a discourse area that can be written on, that is negotiated, that raises expectations and hopes, but also fears that can persuade to follow certain actions and others not. Scenarios in this respect can be understood as areas of co-production and boundary objects that link different worldviews and states of knowledge of various participants and provide a formal structure and procedure for the simultaneous production of knowledge and social order. Within this paper I illustrate processes of boundary work and co-production involved with scenario development on the basis of case studies of technology assessment, foresight and strategic environmental assessment. In particular, co-production of knowledge and societal order can be traced in the joint deliberation of experts, stakeholders, and laypersons. Co-production is also observable in the managing and addressing of the normative and extrapolative dimensions in future thinking. When dealing with the largely unknown future, the areas of possible trends and desired visions are constantly crossed; boundaries between factual knowledge, interests and values are highly ambiguous, inconsistent and dynamic. The paper especially focuses on boundary conflicts in scenario development that arise when the spheres of the normative and extrapolative are violated, e.g. when laypersons question assumingly factual expert knowledge. These boundary conflicts further manifest in the struggles over ‘realistic’ scenarios that are pursued by the project teams. The paper concludes with a critical discussion of forms of inclusion and exclusion, allocations of power and authority, making of credibility and legitimacy as well as manifestations of rationality and technocracy that are inscribed in the conceptions and practices of scenarios.