For years governments and businesses have used scenario planning as an aid to policy making in an ever more unpredictable and complicated world.
The scenarios are fictional but based on painstaking research
Now the BBC is doing the same with its new series IF. Editor Peter Barron explains why he is mixing fact and fiction.
First it was the millennium, then 11 September, and suddenly
everyone was thinking about the future.
We seem to have two choices. If unexpected and tumultuous events lie ahead we can stick our heads in the sand and hope for the best, or we can try to work out what might be round the next corner and aim to do something about it.
It's called scenario planning and, of course, the big organisations have been doing it for years.
Now we all want do it.
IF is a series of hour-long drama-documentary films which aims to
analyse the biggest issues which will face us in the years
ahead by exploring future scenarios.
We're not trying to predict the future, we're war gaming the future, working out what - based on current trends, technological developments and the decisions of today's politicians - our world might be like in five, 10 or 20 years time.
In our first series we look at energy policy, growing inequality, the ageing population, the obesity epidemic and the role of women.
Our scenarios are fictional, but they are based on painstaking research and interviews with the players and experts in the subject areas we are tackling.
Of course the experts don't agree precisely on how events will
unfold in the years ahead, but there is a broad consensus on what the
key issues and challenges will be.
As our fictional scenarios develop, the people who really know are interviewed to give their expert view on what will happen next.
So you don't have to just take our word for it.
Are we guilty of scare-mongering?
Not any more so than the Emergency planners, BT or the CIA when they create their future scenarios.
Only a hopeless optimist would make a plan based on the best case
On IF we tackle the difficult and uncomfortable issues head on. That way, if there are problems ahead perhaps we stand a better chance of preventing them or at least getting out of their way.
But not all our scenarios are by any means bleak.
We conclude for example that the future for women over the next 20 years is rosy. It's the men you've got to worry about.
And, of course, one person's nightmare scenario is another person's dream. Higher taxes: fair or foul? You choose.
We have dramatised our future scenarios using actors and dialogue.
We have done that to demonstrate that the actions or inaction of our politicians in apparently abstract debates today will have real impact on real lives tomorrow.
We set ourselves the challenge of making a gripping drama about pensions and a funny film about tax - I hope you found them compelling and entertaining.
Also check out the website to read comments on the issues raised or read background information so you can find out more about what the future may hold.
And maybe even change it.
This five-part series was broadcast weekly on BBC Two from 10 March to 7 April, 2004.