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Writing effective scenarios quick start guide 3.0

This guide explains how to write an effective interactive scenario. It assumes the basis is a training exercise such as crisis simulation.
It's based on Conducttr but is applicable to any technology platform.

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Writing effective scenarios quick start guide 3.0

  1. 1. Europe: +44 207 193 4567 USA: +1 415 287 4150 Writing Effective Scenarios - Quick Start Guide 3.0
  2. 2. Writing Effective Scenarios - Quick Start Guide 3.0 Page 2 of 12 1 Scope The purpose of this document is to give advice about how to write effective scenarios. Although we give special consideration to our technology, Conducttr, the process is applicable whatever your method of deliverable. 1.1 BACKGROUND Many people tell us that they find the prospect or activity of writing scenarios daunting. This need not be so. The approach taken by this document does not rely on creativity or inspiration but instead on good research and procedure. The biggest problem that usually holds people back from writing a crisis scenario for a training exercise is not knowing where to start. So let’s start there! 2 How to get started At the end of this article I’ll present a structure that’s a good way to present your scenario to others. However, when you’re looking at a blank page, trying to design your scenario around a rigid a-to- b-to-c process doesn’t quite work - as you’ll know if you’ve ever tried it. Even if you don’t consider yourself a creative person in the sense of being a great writer, you need a design approach that allows you to be creative in the sense of seeing all the opportunities to join all the dots. So, let’s start by defining those dots that must be joined! Great scenarios do the following: Meet a training goal • there must be something you want to say with this exercise - a core belief or takeaway. This is what writers would call the premise. In a training exercise it’s the primary thing you want learners to understand or appreciate which is the umbrella for any technical or procedural details you have underneath. • there could be specific information or procedures you want trainees to use or remember which must be accomplished to a certain level of competency Are engaging • the scenario must be relevant to the trainees (timely, useful) and resonate (familiar and meaningful) • allow trainees to use the knowledge and skills they already have Emotion is important People learn best when information is combined with emotion because it’s how the brain works, and this creates a memorable experience. This is why Powerpoint presentations are the least effective way to deliver training. Yes, information is distilled to the essentials and can be quickly delivered by a speaker but the receiver – the trainee – is less likely to be engaging their brain. Further, the trainee is not putting into practice what they know and learn because they are not actively engaged in a realistic situation. Only interactive, emotional exercises that create memorable experiences are an effective means of delivering crisis scenarios because: • they use stories to convey meaning • they use emotion to commit the meaning to memory • they use decision-making under stress to ensure the trainee is practicing as they’re learning.
  3. 3. Writing Effective Scenarios - Quick Start Guide 3.0 Page 3 of 12 • demonstrate that decisions are meaningful (which means showing the consequences of their actions or inaction) • create emotion – which is the key to memorability. In crisis simulations you can provoke emotion with surprise and challenge. For example, working against a ticking clock is a sure- fire way to create stress which generates very powerful emotions. Take the minimum amount of time and cost to create • work with existing or freely available assets • reuse or adapt past scenarios • only last as long and go as deep as is necessary to accomplish the other objectives. Trying to accomplish all the above in one pass with a linear process is tough to say the least and that’s why we invented the crisis scenario canvas. 2.1 CRISIS SCENARIO CANVAS The crisis scenario canvas offers a bird’s eye view of your training exercise and allows you to iterate through ideas without feeling the pressure to start at any particular point. Of course, knowing the training objective and what you want to achieve is usually the starting point, but you may find yourself in possession of a great video clip and think “what can I do with this?” Figure 1 The crisis scenario canvas
  4. 4. Writing Effective Scenarios - Quick Start Guide 3.0 Page 4 of 12 2.2 DECISION-DRIVEN, ACTION-ORIENTED Try to think of your scenario as being “decision-driven, action-oriented”. That is, you want to identify meaningful choices that will indicate the trainees’ knowledge or intuition, and will experientially reveal your premise. The major decisions and the corresponding actions the training audience must take are the tent poles that hold up the scenario. It’s quite common for designs to take shape around the major events (also known as “serials”), and this is how your scenario will be presented, but be sure to base them on a player decision/action as shown in Figure 2. Figure 2 Structure of an event If you’re unfamiliar with the subject matter, this is where your questions to a subject matter expert should be focused: what are the key points someone should know if working in this role and what decisions or actions can I get them to take that will demonstrate that knowledge and ability? Figure 3 shows a variation on the popular OODA loop: Conducttr publishes content to create the world or simulate an event and then the training audience must decide what to do, and then do it. Ask yourself what information is needed to understand the situation, to make an informed decision and what information will be revealed because of that decision and action? When should that information be revealed and how much time should be allowed to make the decision and act? Don’t forget the minimum time and effort rule - what information sources are already available to me and what could I create cheaply? Use Conducttr’s content library at Time, Data and Stress Effective critical decision making requires good situational assessment of risk and an understanding of consequences of actions and inaction. Stress is generated from the limited time in which to decide and an uncertain or potentially ambiguous understanding of the crisis (i.e. lack of perfect situational awareness). Uncertainty comes from lack of information or untrustworthy or unverified information. Too much information also creates stress. When designing your decision points, you now have some guidelines about the type and frequency of content that needs to be published: • participants must make decisions that will have consequences • the information available to trainees on which to base their decision is imperfect • there should be limited time in which to assimilate the published content.
  5. 5. Writing Effective Scenarios - Quick Start Guide 3.0 Page 5 of 12 Figure 3 The decision cycle 2.3 EVENTS AND INCIDENTS If you’re dealing with a familiar type of scenario, you’ll already have a broad story arc for how things will play out. Hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics, shootings… they all have a familiar beginning, middle and end. But to deliver your training goals you might want to focus on a specific aspect or period or perspective. As the primary decisions start to take shape, you’ll begin to formulate an overarching narrative for the scenario and you’ll know what a good inciting event could be to kick off everything. Consider working backwards from the decisions and live role play sessions to determine what events and incidents you need. If you’ve used the canvas, you can now start to create a timeline and structure. 2.4 STAKEHOLDERS Set aside the world of crisis simulations for a moment and consider what makes for a gripping story. Great movies and novels are a web of secrets and conflict; they are about who has information and who doesn’t and who’s telling the truth to who and who’s lying. These are your stakeholders! Every crisis has a set of stakeholders that represent a range of interests and points of view around the crisis. The number and type of stakeholders is largely determined by the information you need to deliver and the way you need to deliver it. But you’re also likely to need characters to play the role of antagonist and mentor. The antagonist(s) is the character that works against the player. This could be a journalist, a hacker, a celebrity, a politician - anyone who makes the player’s life more complicated. If the trainee is trying to calm the situation then these characters are trying to stir it up. The mentor is a character that helps the player - usually with timely advice or information. It’s best if this character is “in world” meaning that it’s a stakeholder from the world of the scenario rather than an instructor or the facilitator which would be consider “out of world”.
  6. 6. Writing Effective Scenarios - Quick Start Guide 3.0 Page 6 of 12 3 Bringing it all together Now that you have your scenario sketched and have detailed the decisions, you can begin to structure everything into a design document. ISO 22398 identifies the following hierarchy for crisis exercises and these make for good document headings: • Objectives o Scenario background  Main events • Incidents (consequences) o Injects Because a scenario is a story, the main events or serials are the acts or chapters of the story that provide an arc from inciting event to the resolution. Each event has a series of consequences to which the trainees must react – they’re the decisions you’ve identified. For example, an inciting event might be the announcement of a hurricane warning which has the consequences of food stockpiling, petrol shortages, congested roads, influx of storm chasers and so on. Now turning to injects, it’s helpful to look to the Simulation Interoperability Standards Organization (SISO) document a Guideline on Scenario Development for Simulation Environments. Here the document identifies four types of inject (which they refer to as events): • Communication events – information given to trainees (e.g. news report, instructions, tweets) • Interaction events – in a simulation environment this could be any type of interaction between scenario entities but in the case of crisis management or business continuity training this might be better viewed as a direct provocation to trainees such as a decision point or live role play. • State change events – a scenario entity changes state (e.g. a road is re-opened, power is restored, a crowd riots) • Environmental events – this is a type of state change related to the environment (e.g. it starts to rain, heat increases, disturbance gets louder) What’s good about this breakdown is that it helps stimulate ideas that might make the scenario feel more realistic and engaging. If you’re still using PowerPoint and pieces of paper to deliver injects, it’s really time to upgrade your method and look at using some digital tools like Conducttr. I’ll resist the urge to go into a sales pitch but you should ask yourself if you’re really delivering engaging and effective crisis training by talking at people rather than having them react to a simulated crisis. If you are using Conducttr then you can start to structure your training exercise by: 1. Create a new serial for each event 2. Create the injects See Figure 4 for an example.
  7. 7. Writing Effective Scenarios - Quick Start Guide 3.0 Page 7 of 12 Figure 4 Structuring your scenario in Conducttr
  8. 8. Writing Effective Scenarios - Quick Start Guide 3.0 Page 8 of 12 4 Quick Start The table below gives a summary of the steps to follow for documenting your scenario. Step Explanation 1. Decide on your training objectives and then identify the key player decisions and actions that will achieve those objectives. The training objective is what you want to achieve with the scenario. Decisions drive an interactive experience and they reveal the consequences of player action (or inaction) Assessing if players have the required knowledge for their role should also be determined through choices rather than questionnaires. Leadership development exercises demand the assessment of qualitative skills like verbal communications. These can be assessed by human observers but there should be decisions that drive the need to communicate (maybe under stress) so that these skills can surface. 2. Define the player roles Giving players different team roles creates opportunities for “information asymmetry” (players receive different information) which creates discussion – and conflict. It also allows testing for many types of cognitive bias that arise in teams. Keep roles to a minimum because each additional role adds complexity. A role should be determined by who has privileged access to information or has responsibility for a specialist task. 3. Create a hierarchy of events, incidents, injects and decisions Events are the major tentpoles of the scenario that provide the structure from start to finish. Incidents are the consequences of the events. For example, Event = HURRICANE WARNING; Incidents = traffic jams on major roads as people leave town; stockpiling of food etc. Injects are the content you will publish. This content informs the players how the world is changing. Decisions are those you identified in Step 1 and others which contribute to the tension and immersion but might not be crucial for assessment.
  9. 9. Writing Effective Scenarios - Quick Start Guide 3.0 Page 9 of 12 4. Identify the stakeholders and create personas Every crisis has stakeholders – internal to the organization and external. Stakeholders have a point of view and their own agendas. A stakeholder could be generic like “Minister for the Environment” or “The Unions” but you must then turn these stakeholders into specific personas like “John Steel, Secretary General of the ITM”. Personas have names, personalities and importantly new and old grudges to bare. An effective crisis simulation is one in which players need to decide whose side to take, making friends and enemies with their choices. This creates emotion and emotion will make the exercise memorable. Two key roles you’ll likely need in a simulated exercise is someone for players to report their decisions to (boss) and someone to guide them (mentor). 5. Create the content for the injects Content will be published by a persona on a channel to a role or group. The choice of channel should be determined by either what will be used in real life, what makes the exercise engaging or what response is required from the player. TV video news for example could go to a TV channel, or on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook… etc. Requests for qualitative answers are best handled by email. Phone calls are great for immediacy and emotional impact. 6. Check and revise the timing of the injects Players should have just enough time or slightly too little to assess (and discuss/share) all the information you provide. Keep content flowing like a ticking heartbeat so that the scenario feels alive and players always feel on the cusp of being overwhelmed. Any calm should be followed by a storm. This approach will maintain engagement and is most likely to reveal how the real person will react under pressure.
  10. 10. Writing Effective Scenarios - Quick Start Guide 3.0 Page 10 of 12 4.1 EXAMPLE – PANDEMIC IN THE CITY (WORK IN PROGRESS) 1. Training objective Illustrate how a professional services firm might be impacted by a pandemic 2. Define the player roles Role1: Executive responsible for business continuity Role2: Marketing Communications/PR exec 3. Events, incidents, injects and decisions A. EVENT: Increase from World Health Organisation (WHO) Phase 3 – animal to human transfer but limited - to WHO Phase 4 – community-level outbreaks (London) a. INCIDENT: Stockpiling food i. Data: BBC reports of stockpiling & panic buying ii. Decision: Install hand sanitiser (risk that it runs out when the pandemic really starts) – somebody didn’t seal the boxes correctly and it’s all gone hard. Only 3 weeks’ worth of supply. BBC says it could be several months before we know if it’s going to get worse or better iii. Decision: change air con schedule (risk becomes unpleasant at work leading to more stay at home) b. INCIDENT: Slight uptick in absenteeism among scared workers i. Data: Increase in excuses ii. Data: Tube, train and bus reduced service due to sickness iii. Data: Schools finding hard to keep classes running iv. Decision: implement teleworking (risk report typists & Partners in country/rural areas don’t have good internet access) v. Decision: restrict overseas travel (risk don’t get their BA Gold card) on advice of the Government to prevent the spread and also spread of disease to other offices vi. Decision: Discipline the reckless employee (is making money, one of few who are working) B. EVENT: HQ forced to close because of rioting C. EVENT: WHO Phase 5 – pandemic imminent
  11. 11. Writing Effective Scenarios - Quick Start Guide 3.0 Page 11 of 12 4. Identify the stakeholders and create personas Internal - Managing Partner to report to - Mentor - Caring/timid PA wants to stay at home - Ambitious Director wants to advance career (ignores advice) - Junior professional staff - Admin staff Government - London Mayor - Public Health Executive Travel companies - BA - London Transport (management and unions) News organizations - BBC
  12. 12. Writing Effective Scenarios - Quick Start Guide 3.0 Page 12 of 12 5 Creating your scenario in Conducttr STEP 1 Add the stakeholders. These are personas who will send content to your players. STEP 2 STEP 3 Add a Serial for each event. Use the text fields to explain what’s going to happen. STEP 4 Click to create a new inject. The inject will be added to the current serial. STEP 5 Create the content. The example below shows a news video that will pop-up at 10am Publish to your Space. Upload your exercise and it’s ready to run!