Using visual tools to promote creative thinking and the develop shared plans.

Transformative scenario planning with CORDIO and World Wildlife Fund.

The Challenge  

In 2017 CORDIO and WWF brought together a  group of over 100 stakeholders: decision makers, business leaders and civil society to consider the future of the Northern Mozambique Channel and Western Indian Ocean. They asked how could Indian Ocean countries achieve successful economic growth and build social welfare while maintaining the health of ocean ecosystems?  Through considering possible scenarios for the next 30 years, the exercise aimed to enable participants, from very different sectors,  to develop a common language and understanding about the possible consequences of their choices and actions.  The facilitators, Reos Partners, wanted to promote creative, ‘out of the box’ thinking to find a way forward for stakeholders on entrenched and conflicting paths. They also wanted to ensure that, once written, the scenario stories could be shared widely to extend thinking and discussion beyond the workshop.

Visual Tool selected

The team decided to create a visual metaphor for the scenarios, and to use this to create short whiteboard animations to to summarise the scenarios and share them. 


In the last of three scenario planning workshops, I joined a session with participants to select a visual metaphor for the scenarios they were developing.  Participants brainstormed and sketched a number of options and then voted on the one that best captured the feel of the scenarios – an ocean going dhow, iconic symbol of Indian Ocean voyages.  After the workshop, I worked with the core team to create short whiteboard animations for each of the four scenarios.   A local performance poet narrated the voiceover, and local musicians produced background music with a Swahili feel.  The scenarios were shared as single animations, each about 3 minutes long, and compiled into a 15 minute video with an introduction and conclusion.  The animations were translated into Portuguese by the project team to enable them to be shared with Mozambican stakeholders.  The software I use is user-friendly which meant that the project team were easily able to edit the text and insert a Portugeuse voiceover.  Since then we have also produced a Kiswahili version.

The scenarios were launched in July 2018 at the Science-Policy forum of the Nairobi Convention for Protection, Management and Development of the Coastal and Marine Environment of the Western Indian Ocean. They  have been shared at other workshops including beach clean ups with local groups.  The facilitators found them useful and impactful encouraging quite diverse participants to think ‘outside the box’.  

The wiofutures team plan to continue to use the animations in the coming years to guide the implementation of multi-stakeholder platforms and planning activities.

You can see one of whiteboard animations below.  Visit to read more about the project and see how the images have been used in other communication materials.


Participants found the  process of developing a visual metaphor for the scenarios fun and energizing.  As people proposed different images they discovered new connections and insights about the scenarios.  The final animations make the implications of different pathways powerfully clear.

I have also used visual tools and metaphors  in group meetings with UN Environment for a visioning exercise (the team used a jazz band as their metaphor!), and to create a shared visual theory of change for Climate Change Adaptation.

Metaphor for 'Transformation' in the Climate Change adaptation workshop.