Case Study

Rockefeller Foundation and Global Business Network (GBN) - Scenario for the Future of Technology and International Development




Project Overview

Implementing Team



The Rockefeller Foundation


The Rockefeller Foundation and Global Business Network

Additional Resources


In 2010, this Rockefeller Foundation and GBN explored the many ways in which technology and development can co-evolve in the future specifically addressing the question of: “How might technology affect barriers to building resilience and equitable growth in the developing world over the next 15-20 years?”. In this case, technology refers to a broad spectrum of tools and methods of organization. Within that scope, the themes touched upon dealt with scalability, adoption, and assessment of such technology in the developing world. Uncertainty was planned along two axes: global political/economic alignment, and the capacity to cope with change. Technology was chosen as a focal point due to its potentially transformative role, both positive and negative, in tackling a wide range of development issues.

For this particular project, the creative process identified forces of change (predetermined elements and critical uncertainties) in the world in order to combine them in different ways leading to the creation of four scenarios on how the future could evolve. These scenarios are meant to challenge people to think about the infinite opportunities and obstacles the future might hold. Therefore ,this set of scenarios captures a range of future possibilities (good, bad, expected, and surprising) but always feasible. These scenarios are meant to be thoughtful hypotheses, not predictions, that can help imagine the future, be prepared for it and have a better understanding on the ways we can influence it.

Methods in Action



Comprehensive research

The Rockefeller Foundation and GBN began the scenario process by surfacing a host of driving forces that would affect the future of technology and international development. These forces were generated through both

secondary research and in-depth interviews with Foundation staff, Foundation grantees, and external experts.

Exploratory workshop

Brainstorm the content of the identified forces in the first stage, which were divided into two categories: predetermined elements and critical uncertainties.

Scenario creation workshop

During this workshop, participants, who represented a range of regional and international perspectives, selected the two critical uncertainties that would form the basis of the scenario framework. These two uncertainties were political and economic alignment and adaptive capacity. They chose these two uncertainties from a list of potential uncertainties that might shape the broader contextual environment of the scenarios, including social, technology, economic, environmental, and political trends.

Scenario narratives

Each scenario told a story of how the world, and in particular the developing world, might progress over the next 15 to 20 years, with an emphasis on those elements relating to the use of different technologies and the interaction of these technologies with the lives of the poor and vulnerable. Accompanying each scenario the team included a range of elements that aspire to further illuminate life, technology, and philanthropy in that world. These include: a timeline with headlines with possible events unfolding during that scenario, “a day in the life” sketch of a person living and working in that world, short descriptions of what technologies and technology trends in that scenario and initial observations on the changing role of philanthropy in that world.

Four scenarios

“Lockstep”, a world with more authoritarian government, limited innovation, and citizen pushback.

“Clever together”, a world with highly coordinated strategies to address global issues.

“Hack attack”, a world with weak governments that is economically unstable and prone to shocks.

“Smart scramble”, a world in which economic depression leads communities to individually develop localized, makeshift solutions.