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Anticipating Implications and (Un)Intended Consequences

Submitted by Jack Byrd, Jr.

This activity offers discussion strategies for groups to use when discussing possible actions and they want to anticipate, assess, evaluate, and prepare for the possibility of unintended consequences.

average rating is 5 out of 5, based on 1 votes, rating(s)
Ripples in water

Learning Goals

  • Analyze actions being considered and identify possible consequences in advance of implementing the actions.

  • Develop plans for dealing with the possibility of unintended consequences.


Set Up: Prepare for the Activity

Select a scenario from the collection of What IF…Scenarios or create your own based on a topic that is relevant for your group.

Organize participants into small groups (4-6 ppl).

Begin by introducing the learning goals of this activity.

Step One: Generate Unintended Consequences (10 min)

In small groups, ask participants to read through the selected scenario such as the sample scenario below.

Sample Scenario: City of Greenmont

The City of Greenmont was devastated by a major flood. All of the riverfront was destroyed. The city leaders decided that the need to rebuild the riverfront was an opportunity to upgrade the appearance of the city. Building codes were upgraded. Design standards were created. The Building Commission added aesthetics to one of its decision criteria for approval of new construction or major renovations. A public/private partnership was created to rebuild the city’s riverfront. The project was a huge success and became a showcase for how the city could transform its appearance. This led to further changes in the city. Older buildings were condemned and replaced with structures that met the new codes, building standards, and aesthetics.

Ask each group to create a bulleted list of all the possible outcomes of the actions described in the scenario being implemented. Remind them to not critique or discuss the list. Instruct them to quickly generate a broad list of possible concerns that come to mind.

Step Two: Dive Deeper (10 min)

When the groups slow down, ask them to review their lists and combine any common themes.

Next, ask them to dive deeper by adding specific prompts to expand their thinking:

  • Level of analysis. What are the possible ramifications at the individual level? Local? Regional? National? Global?

  • Time. What are some short term consequences? Long term (50 years)? Multigenerational?

  • Stakeholders. Who or what is directly affected by this policy? Who is a non-obvious or less direct stakeholder? Who is an influencer? Decision-maker?

  • Environment. What are the environmental costs of this policy? What impact might it have on nature?

Step Three: Assess the Likelihood of Unintended Consequences (10 min)

Ask each individual in the small groups to silently assess the likelihood of each possibility. Use the following rating scale:

  • I believe this unanticipated consequence is very likely to occur (5 points)

  • I believe this unanticipated consequence could occur, but it’s not very likely that it will (3 points)

  • I don’t believe this unanticipated consequence will occur (0 point)

Once each possibility is scored, instruct each group to add up their individual totals to determine which consequences they think are most likely to occur.

Step Four: Develop Strategies to Prepare for Possible Consequences (20 min)

Ask each small group to select their top 3 possible consequences and generate a list of possible actions that could be taken to prevent or minimize the impact of the unfavorable consequences among their top 3.

Step Five: Debrief as a Full Group (10 min)

Invite each small group to share the top most probable consequences from their list and the strategies they developed to address the unfavorable ones. Discuss:

  • Where are there commonalities?

  • Which unintended consequences stand out?

  • When can we anticipate unintended consequences? When is it less likely?





Critical Collaboration

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average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:03:34 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:02:20 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 11, 2024 at 3:55:15 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

January 4, 2024 at 7:22:22 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

December 12, 2023 at 11:56:40 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

Lori Britt

October 3, 2023 at 5:00:05 PM

Have done this in the past, but today a group really blew me away. I did this as a Fishbowl with 7 students taking roles. Prior to the converstaion they could seek input from a few other students about what which decision they think the person in their role would support and why. I also asked them to come up with some things that were concerns for them. This 10 minute of prep time helped my role play participants really embody and feel confident in their roles. Great discussion about what deliberation looks like in practice and about how power can impact conversations and how a facilitator can try and minimize these power imbalances. I used the scenario above and assigned these roles (I was not sure my students woul be able to consider roles that would offer different perspectives): • Facilitator (non-voting) • Mayor • High school teacher • 17-year-old high school student • Transportation planner for the region • Local business owner • Economic development office for the region (your community and the surrounding communities served by the train) • 50-year-old who lost his job last year and who has been on unemployment

average rating is 4 out of 5


September 20, 2023 at 5:18:02 AM


average rating is 5 out of 5


September 20, 2023 at 5:17:25 AM

very good

average rating is 4 out of 5

September 16, 2023 at 2:25:09 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

September 11, 2023 at 9:02:29 AM

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