Enhancing Scenario Planning With AI

Enhancing Scenario Planning with AI

The disruptive potential of artificial intelligence (AI) has been on the minds of many professionals since the public launch of ChatGPT in late 2022. Just as previous technological revolutions deeply affected certain industries or types of work, AI is seen as a possible major disruptor in areas such as law, science, research, education, and training—and in decision making at the middle to upper levels of organizations.

This article explores how AI tools may threaten or provide new opportunities for people like me: consultants or facilitators in the area of strategic planning. More specifically, it explores how ChatGPT might affect the challenges faced by strategists in leading management teams through a key part of strategic planning exercises: scenario planning.

Scenario planning is an essential part of any strategic planning exercise. After all, most strategic plans aim to position us—and give us a roadmap forward—for success in three to five years’ time. To do this task effectively, surely it is more important to “paint pictures” and gain a good sense of what those potential, plausible futures might look like, rather than analyze current or historical data.

Nevertheless, for many, scenario planning is seen as a linear, quantifiable exercise aimed at trying to predict what the future will look like. When done well, it can be much more than that; it can grant the possibility to “learn from the future,” to use our imaginations, to tap into our felt sense and intuition, and to allow new strategies, visions, and paths forward to emerge from a generative, collective space—a space that is the strategic planning facilitator’s challenge to create, hold, and manage.

Imagining, however, does not come naturally to leadership teams who are used to either (a) believing they know what the future will look like or (b) believing the answer they seek can somehow be miraculously discovered by deeper analysis of available data. Many management teams or leaders are also not as open as they think to having their assumptions, ideas, and worldview challenged—particularly around the “big” potentially divisive and decisive strategic questions they face.

Generally, CEOs do not need much convincing to undertake a SWOT analysis as part of their strategic planning exercise; however, the answer of “I can’t know until we’ve done it” is not the most convincing answer to the question, “What will we get out of doing scenario planning?”—which is frequently asked by CEOs. The significant time needed to invest in scenario planning can also function as a barrier for the sceptics resistant to committing to the process.

So, how can ChatGPT add value to the scenario planning process?

As a “case study,” I decided to use ChatGPT to help me travel quickly though the scenario planning process in order to explore how environmental issues affecting the Canadian mining industry might change in the next few years. My experiment focuses on mining operations in Canada as opposed to Canadian companies operating in other parts of the world, although many of the lessons apply to them too. I chose this sector because of my education and early work experience in the sector and also because some of the current archaic paradigms, managerial decisions, and actions in the industry—including resistance to paying remediation costs, exploitation of worker rights, and divide-and-conquer strategies used vis-à-vis Indigenous groups—continue to boggle my mind.

Although the case is centred on the Canadian mining industry, the learnings are universal and applicable to all resource-based industries in all countries. (Note: Throughout this article, ChatGPT’s contributions are in italics.)


I started by asking ChatGPT to identify the 20 forces that it considered would shape the environmental issues of the mining industry in Canada in the next three to five years. It answered in less than 20 seconds:

  1. Climate change
  2. Water scarcity
  3. Biodiversity loss
  4. Resource depletion
  5. Air pollution
  6. Waste management
  7. Energy consumption and efficiency
  8. Carbon emissions and mitigation
  9. Land use and land management
  10. Renewable energy and energy storage
  11. Sustainability reporting and transparency
  12. Environmental regulations and compliance
  13. Social license to operate
  14. Indigenous rights and reconciliation
  15. Stakeholder engagement and communication
  16. Health and safety of workers and communities
  17. Emerging technologies and innovation
  18. Circular economy and responsible sourcing
  19. Responsible investment and financing
  20. Supply chain management and logistics

These items would work as part of a checklist to ask, “How are we doing in each of these areas?” or “Which areas are we prioritizing or ignoring (group by green, yellow, or red)?” and would be a great opening icebreaker for a spirited dialogue among a management team.

In a real-life working session, the subsequent process of whittling down this list of factors to only two (to serve as axes for a Scenario Cross (the most simple and effective methodology for developing scenarios) could easily take an hour or more. With ChatGPT, it takes a few seconds. This is obviously very efficient; however, the rich debate required among a team to choose two forces from 20 is one of the major benefits of doing scenario planning. It forces participants to be open, to listen to and appreciate the views of others, and to access a different type of knowledge or wisdom—one that spending more time working on an Excel spreadsheet will not give them. Such a discussion advances a move towards a shared understanding and consensus and to building a unified team. It is lost if you allow ChatGPT to do the task.

When asked for the two most important forces, ChatGPT said:

Climate Change: This force could have significant implications for the mining industry, especially in Canada, where melting permafrost and changing precipitation patterns could increase the risk of landslides, floods, and other natural disasters. Additionally, stricter carbon emission regulations and policies may increase the cost of operations and affect the social license to operate.

Social License to Operate: This force is crucial for the mining industry in Canada, where Indigenous peoples and local communities play a vital role in decision-making processes. Maintaining a social license to operate requires engaging with stakeholders and addressing their concerns, which can be challenging and costly for the industry. Failure to obtain or maintain social license to operate can result in project delays, lawsuits, and reputational damage.

ChatGPT ended this section with:

It is important to note that the mining industry’s impact on the environment is complex and multi-faceted, and addressing environmental issues will require a comprehensive and collaborative approach from all stakeholders involved.

Although all mining companies pay lip service to adopting a “comprehensive and collaborative approach with all stakeholders involved” in dealing with their environmental impacts, it is rarely sincere. The truth is that many make weak attempts at “greenwashing.” It is interesting to consider whether such a call for the industry to take a radically different approach from a third-party “bot” may have more impact than the same message from a well-meaning consultant or facilitator such as myself.

I then asked ChatGPT to give me what it thought would be the maximum and minimum impacts of climate change on the environmental issues facing the mining industry in Canada over the next three to five years. It responded:

The minimum impact that climate change might have on the mining industry in Canada in the next 3-5 years could be limited to incremental changes in regulatory requirements, higher operating costs, and increased scrutiny from stakeholders, including investors, customers, and the public. This could result in increased pressure on mining companies to adopt more sustainable practices and technologies, such as energy efficiency measures, renewable energy sources, and water conservation strategies. Companies that are proactive in addressing climate change risks and opportunities may have a competitive advantage in the market and benefit from positive reputation and brand image.

On the other hand, the maximum impact that climate change might have on the mining industry in Canada in the next 3-5 years could be much more severe, especially if extreme weather events, such as floods, wildfires, and droughts, become more frequent and intense. These events could disrupt mining operations, damage infrastructure, and cause supply chain disruptions. Additionally, stricter carbon regulations and policies could increase the cost of production and limit access to financing and investment. Social license to operate could also be affected, as communities and stakeholders may become more vocal and organized in their demands for climate action and sustainability.

When asked the same question about the “social license to operate,” it generated this answer:

The minimum impact that social license to operate might have on the mining industry in Canada in the next 3-5 years could be limited to incremental changes in stakeholder engagement practices and increased reporting requirements. Companies may need to improve their communication and consultation with Indigenous communities, local residents, NGOs, and other stakeholders to address concerns related to environmental and social impacts, land rights, and resource sharing. This could result in some delays and additional costs, but it may also improve relations with stakeholders and enhance the company’s reputation and brand image.

On the other hand, the maximum impact that social license to operate might have on the mining industry in Canada in the next 3-5 years could be much more significant, especially if there is widespread opposition to mining projects, blockades, and legal challenges. Indigenous communities, in particular, may demand more control and ownership over resource development, and may be more assertive in their opposition to mining projects that do not align with their values and priorities. This could lead to project delays, cancellations, and reputational damage for mining companies, as well as broader social and political conflicts.

In summary, the potential impact of social license to operate on the mining industry in Canada in the next 3-5 years could vary widely depending on the effectiveness of stakeholder engagement practices, the level of trust and mutual understanding between mining companies and communities, and the broader political and social context in which mining takes place. Companies that are proactive in addressing social and environmental concerns, and that prioritize community engagement and consultation, may have a competitive advantage in obtaining and maintaining social license to operate.

I find that the final summary paragraph sends a powerful message to the industry. Again, the question can be asked as to whether ChatGPT is a better channel for this message than I can be.

I then asked ChatGPT to generate four scenarios for the future of the mining industry in Canada using these two forces. In less than half a minute, it came back with:

  • “Green Mining”: This scenario involves mining companies that have obtained a strong social license to operate and are leaders in addressing climate change risks and opportunities. These companies have implemented sustainability practices and technologies, such as renewable energy sources and carbon capture, to reduce their environmental impact and enhance their reputation. They have also engaged with stakeholders, including Indigenous communities, to ensure their projects are aligned with local values and priorities. This scenario is characterized by low regulatory risk and strong investment potential.
  • “Social Unrest”: This scenario involves mining companies that have neglected to engage with stakeholders and address their concerns, leading to social unrest and opposition. This may be exacerbated by climate change impacts, such as extreme weather events, that affect local communities and create a sense of urgency around sustainability issues. This scenario is characterized by high regulatory risk, increased operating costs, and reputational damage for mining companies that fail to build trust with stakeholders.
  • “Compliance Only”: This scenario involves mining companies that have obtained a social license to operate through compliance with regulatory requirements, but have not taken proactive measures to address climate change risks and opportunities. These companies may face pressure from investors, customers, and the public to adopt more sustainable practices, but may lack the resources or expertise to do so. This scenario is characterized by moderate regulatory risk and a mixed investment outlook.
  • “Climate Shutdown”: This scenario involves mining companies that are forced to shut down operations due to the impacts of climate change, such as extreme weather events or regulatory action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These companies may have neglected to address climate change risks or have been unable to adapt to changing environmental conditions. This scenario is characterized by high regulatory risk and reputational damage.

“ChatGPT partially fell into the trap that many humans do when creating scenarios: it focused on company behaviour more than market dynamics.”

In the past, large consulting companies have answered requests for proposals from industry associations or government agencies to generate similar “generic” industry scenarios and have been generously compensated for it. This represents the worst of both worlds, as there is no real dialogue and it is a lengthy and expensive exercise. Hopefully, the emergence of AI will put an end to this practice.

Interestingly enough, ChatGPT partially fell into the trap that many humans do when creating scenarios: it focused on company behaviour more than market dynamics. However, I do believe the use of these four scenarios could enable a management team to have some incredibly rich, generative dialogue that they would not have if they did not undertake scenario planning. The question as to whether it is more valuable to discuss the scenarios quickly generated by ChatGPT rather than have the conversation a team would in generating their own scenarios is a tough call to make. The jury is still out, I believe.

I then asked ChatGPT to generate the “No Regrets” actions (i.e., those actions where companies cannot lose by doing them) emerging from this exercise:

It came back with:

Improve Energy Efficiency: Mining companies can invest in energy-efficient technologies and processes to reduce their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. This can help reduce operating costs and improve the company’s environmental performance, while also enhancing its reputation with stakeholders.

Adopt Renewable Energy: Mining companies can explore the use of renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and hydro power, to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and lower their carbon footprint. This can help mitigate climate change risks and reduce operating costs in the long term.

Engage with Stakeholders: Mining companies can engage with stakeholders, including Indigenous communities, local residents, and environmental groups, to understand their concerns and incorporate their feedback into project planning and execution. This can help build trust and maintain a social license to operate, even in the face of changing social and environmental conditions.

Invest in Innovation: Mining companies can invest in research and development to improve their environmental performance and develop new technologies and products that meet changing market demands. This can help position the company for long-term success and reduce its exposure to environmental and social risks.

Enhance Reporting and Transparency: Mining companies can improve their reporting and disclosure practices to provide stakeholders with more information about their environmental and social performance. This can help build trust and improve the company’s reputation, even in the face of changing social and environmental conditions.

I will let you decide which of the above are currently being pursued as strategic priorities across Canada’s mining industry. We could all probably agree that if they’re not all being practised, they should be.

I proceeded to ask ChatGPT to suggest what all mining companies should definitely stop doing or not do in Canada in the next three years, given climate change and changes in “social license to operate” conditions.

It gave me:

They should stop:

Ignoring Climate Change Risks: Mining companies should avoid ignoring the risks associated with climate change, such as extreme weather events, water scarcity, and increased regulatory scrutiny. Failing to address these risks could lead to reputational damage, regulatory fines, and operational disruptions.

Disregarding Stakeholder Concerns: Mining companies should avoid disregarding the concerns of stakeholders, including Indigenous communities, local residents, and environmental groups. Failure to engage with stakeholders and address their concerns could lead to social unrest, regulatory delays, and reputational damage.

Neglecting Environmental Impacts: Mining companies should avoid neglecting their environmental impacts, such as air and water pollution, land degradation, and biodiversity loss. Failing to address these impacts could lead to environmental fines, reputational damage, and legal liabilities.

Avoiding Transparency: Mining companies should avoid avoiding transparency with their environmental and social performance. Lack of transparency can erode trust with stakeholders and lead to reputational damage.

Focusing Only on Short-Term Gains: Mining companies should avoid focusing only on short-term financial gains at the expense of long-term environmental and social sustainability. This could lead to reputational damage and financial risks in the long run.

For me, these messages were the “golden nuggets” from this exercise—and certainly recommendations that should or could be enacted across the entire natural resource sector in Canada or anywhere else. Holding tough conversations about how a company is doing in these five areas would more than justify an entire scenario planning exercise.

Without the use of ChatGPT, leading a team to the point where you might put such topics on the table could take days of working sessions and individual coaching and possibly weeks of “deep dive” work. With ChatGPT, the entire exercise can be done in under five minutes, in real time, in front of them.

I then decided to “squeeze the lemon” one last time to see if I could extract some additional recommendations, ideas, and questions that would assist a mining company in addressing its environmental challenges.

It suggested that mining companies could:

Invest in New Technologies: Mining companies could invest heavily in developing and deploying new technologies to reduce their environmental impact, such as carbon capture and storage, advanced water treatment, and autonomous mining equipment. This could position them as leaders in sustainable mining practices and help mitigate risks associated with climate change and social license to operate conditions.

Adopt Circular Economy Models: Mining companies could shift towards circular economy models that prioritize resource efficiency, reuse, and recycling. This would involve developing new business models and collaborating with other stakeholders to create closed-loop systems that minimize waste and resource depletion. This could help reduce environmental impact, improve efficiency, and build trust with stakeholders.

Pursue Social Innovation: Mining companies could take risks by pursuing social innovation initiatives, such as partnering with Indigenous communities, creating social enterprises, or investing in education and training programs for local residents. This could help build stronger relationships with stakeholders and foster social and economic development in mining regions.

Embrace Transparency and Accountability: Mining companies could take a risk by embracing transparency and accountability, including reporting on their environmental and social performance, engaging with stakeholders, and being open about their governance structures and decision-making processes. This could help build trust with stakeholders and differentiate them from peers that are perceived as less transparent.

Diversify into New Commodities: Mining companies could diversify their operations and explore new commodities, such as lithium, cobalt, or rare earth elements, that are in high demand for renewable energy technologies. This could position them as leaders in the transition to a low-carbon economy and provide a new source of growth in the face of changing market conditions.

Adopt a “Zero Harm” Mindset: Mining companies can adopt a “Zero Harm” mindset that prioritizes safety, health, and environmental stewardship. This can help build trust with stakeholders and create a culture of continuous improvement that enables the company to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.

Focus on Resource Efficiency: Mining companies can focus on resource efficiency by implementing strategies to reduce water and energy use, optimize mineral recovery rates, and minimize waste. This can help improve the company’s bottom line and build resilience in the face of changing market conditions.

Embrace Digital Transformation: Mining companies can embrace digital transformation by investing in technologies such as automation, machine learning, and data analytics. This can help improve efficiency, reduce costs, and enable the company to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.

Strengthen Stakeholder Engagement: Mining companies can strengthen their stakeholder engagement practices by building strong relationships with local communities, Indigenous peoples, and other key stakeholders. This can help build trust and social license to operate, enabling the company to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.

Develop Talent and Skills: Mining companies can focus on developing the talent and skills of their employees, particularly in areas such as sustainability, innovation, and stakeholder engagement. This can help build a workforce that is equipped to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and contribute to the long-term success of the company.

In this mini case study of the mining industry, the ideas and recommendations generated by ChatGPT are much more a collection of environmental best practices for resource companies than an environmental strategy for any single mining company. Hence, for governments, industry associations, or companies seeking to improve their environmental business practices, the outcomes are a gold mine.

But as Michael Porter once said, “Benchmarking is not strategy.” The results suggest that ChatGPT will have its limitations in terms of developing unique, winning strategies for specific companies. Strategy is about being different and operating differently—and each company is unique. Similar advanced AI tools developed by companies for their own purposes may prove better at this, but based on my current assumptions, “the answers will always emerge in the room, not through the bot.” (Disclaimer: I believe that this is how it ought to be.)

Having completed the exercise, I realized that many of the “2023 Environmental Best Practices” that emerged for the mining industry would also be relevant in all sectors that exploit land—be they pulp and paper, forestry, agriculture, oil and gas companies or ministries of fisheries, transport, infrastructure development, energy, etc.—and that the outcomes are applicable in all countries. The exercise represents an impressive output with minimum investment.


  1. ChatGPT can definitely contribute enhanced data and new ideas and can serve as a powerful reality check and challenge to prevailing groupthink. Most importantly, it can do a lot of “low-value,” time-consuming work in an incredibly short period of time, leaving more time for deeper, high-value, generative activities in the strategic planning process. This should change everything about how strategic planning facilitators approach their work.
  2. Similar to Zoom, Teams, Meet, or any software designed for creating the space for virtual meetings, ChatGPT can allow us to do things previously unthinkable, but it can also quickly become “the centre of gravity” as opposed to simply a powerful tool—with strengths and weaknesses—that we selectively use for specific activities.
  3. The value of having teams work together to generate scenarios in messy, sometimes tense conversations cannot be overstated. Strategic planning is really nothing but one extended conversational process about the big strategic issues and dilemmas that any company faces. For those simply seeking a “plan” (i.e., a document), using ChatGPT can eliminate the need to hold such conversations—but there is something incredibly valuable lost by doing so. However, sometimes a document is all that is sought or needed.Alternatively, with the judicious use of ChatGPT, it is possible to create an enhanced social field for even higher-quality interactions and conversations to take place during a strategic planning exercise. (Learning the “how/when” of that is probably the challenge I face in the coming months and years.)
  4. Using ChatGPT as a tool in “real time” in work sessions as a scenario generator and third-party “provocateur” offers enormous potential—as long as it can maintain a certain neutrality and objectivity and isn’t seen to favour a particular paradigm of business or behaviour. The ethics and objectivity of those controlling the data flowing into any specific AI tool will be critical. Asking the best, clearest, and most unbiased questions to the AI is also key.
  5. As a consultant who often works on projects alone, although the advent of Zoom and videoconferencing allows me to quickly collaborate with others on projects at short notice without leaving my office, having ChatGPT at my disposable gives me an incredible tool to make sure I continually challenge my own “background of shared obviousness”—and stay fresh and open to novelty and innovation. It’s worth asking: “Should ChatGPT be listed as a co-author or collaborator on this article?”
  6. During this experiment (and in other work with ChatGPT), I have not always agreed with everything it has generated in answer to questions I’ve posed. That’s a good thing. It has forced me to stay open to views dissimilar or even diametrically opposed to my own.
  7. As a strategic planning facilitator, you don’t need to be an industry expert to do a great job. However, some knowledge is very useful, and the use of ChatGPT to move up the learning or information curve when working in a new-to-you industry certainly offers the potential to add more value and be more efficient in this task and to save on our main resource: time.
  8. ChatGPT (and other AI tools) will cause the work of a strategic planning consultant or facilitator to change. It may well encourage a move from billing for “time” (which can be greatly reduced by using “bots”) to billing for “value.” That will require leveraging AI to create more value than ever—which is definitely possible if we’re willing to change and “be different.”


  1. With or without AI, the challenge of a strategic planning facilitator remains the same: to create the ideal space (or social field) where the best decisions possible can emerge with maximum buy-in from all stakeholders. This means ensuring that all types of consciousness and intelligence (i.e., intellectual, emotional, intuitive, bodily, collective, and global) are available and leveraged. AI offers the potential to enhance access to some of these—while also potentially distancing us from other forms of knowing.Earlier in this article, I mentioned that scenario planning can be either a mundane quantifiable exercise (horizontal knowledge) or a means to tap into our collective felt sense/intuition (vertical intelligence).AI is a great “horizontal” management tool; however, we already have a lot of those, and it is the facilitator’s creative use of it that determines if it can enhance “vertical leadership” wisdom and insight.
  2. Many years ago, Peter Drucker was quoted as saying, “The leader of the past was a person who knew how to tell. The leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask.” In retrospect, the easiest way to have written this article would have been to simply ask some good, clear questions to ChatGPT! Simply asking it, “How can ChatGPT add value to the strategic planning process?” or “What are the pros and cons of using AI to generate scenarios?” could have generated some great insights on how to ask questions—and, consequently, could have helped formulate better questions than those I asked.Perhaps the strategic planning process leaders (and, indeed, all the leaders of organizations) of the future won’t need to generate answers or questions but will simply serve to create, nurture, and shape the social field to explore possibilities, allow alternatives and decisions to emerge, and extract purpose and meaning. I certainly see my work trending in that direction.
  3. Finally, it is frightening to think that I could generate a complete “fit-for-purpose” strategic document for a company in one single day using ChatGPT that would fool many junior-level government or financial institution employees into believing that it was a well-conceived, realistic plan that had emerged from a thorough strategic planning exercise. Scary indeed!

By doing this exercise, I believe that ChatGPT (and I?) have created a blueprint of best practices or key success factors for what a successful and sustainable mining company should follow. If you follow the blueprint, your company won’t maximize short-term profitability but it will reduce its risk and enhance its sustainability (in all senses of the word). Hopefully, at least one or two mining firms will give ChatGPT’s blueprint for the sector a closer look. Feedback would be much appreciated.

Finally, thank you, ChatGPT. I could not have done it without you!

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