The Cone of Uncertainty

I picked up on this concept recently through a Harvard Business Review online posting of an article by Paul Saffo—“Six Rules for Effective Forecasting.”

I began thinking about its application to what we do—designing sustainable structures based on current information for a client who will occupy a couple of years into the future and change as time goes on.

I have always practiced architectural programming with an eye to the future. I’ve challenged clients to consider scenario planning as a way to imagine what might be and have used these scenarios to develop concepts for flexibility, adaptability and convertibility of our buildings.

For a current project, I am thinking about developing a “Cone of Uncertainty” to embed in our program and use as a scenario development/strategy definition tool.

In this case, a county governmental entity is confronting a range of potential futures. The current real pressure is to try to perform its functions in the face of diminishing revenues and very real change in the demographics of both its constituency as well as its workforce. The local press is simultaneously speculating on the weakness of local municipal governments in the county, and proposing consideration of regionalism.

My mission, to program “transformational government,” has an unspoken agenda of reduction in the workforce based on the potential efficiencies of new technology, the assumed capabilities of an emerging technology-savvy workforce and constituency, and the conceptual effectiveness of a technology-enabled mode of service delivery.

I believe I am expected to deliver a smaller real estate demand (based on headcount) while satisfying a growing services demand.


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