ParEvo: A web-assisted process enabling the participatory exploration of alternative futures

ParEvo is a method of developing alternative past histories or future scenarios using a participatory evolutionary process (hence ParEvo).

This involves the re-iteration of variation, selection and reproduction, i.e. the evolutionary algorithm (Campbell, 1960; Dennett, 1996:48-60). The process is designed to be used by multiple people to produce a collective good – a set of storylines. In addition, the process generates data on the structure of participation – how people have collaborated to produce those storylines.

When used to look forward, ParEvo can be seen as a form of participatory exploration of alternate futures. When used to look back, it can be seen as a form of participatory public history. Most of its use to date has been future-oriented.

Network diagram with several red nodes connected by green arrows leading there are many branches all leading back to a single node

For participants, the ParEvo app can be used to achieve two related kinds of purposes. The first is cognitive: to enable participants to think about alternative futures creatively and how they do that thinking (meta-cognition). The second is more behavioral: to prompt consideration of ways of responding to possible futures, in anticipation and/or after the event, and to exploit and/or mitigate the consequences. This is done through the participatory identification of alternative storylines/scenarios about what might happen in the future, and the evaluation of those storylines, and the analysis of the implications of those storylines. For more detail on how this can be done see the Ten Stages Of A ParEvo Exercisepage.

Another higher-order purpose for the Facilitators of ParEvo exercises and the Administrator is to learn how to design a ParEvo exercise optimally. ParEvo has been made available on a platform where people can experiment with different ways of running participatory explorations of alternative futures. All the data from ParEvo exercises can be retained and made available for comparison and analysis (subject to the consent of the Facilitators of those exercises).

ParEvo is different from many scenario planning approaches in the very structured nature of people's participation, the anonymity of their participation, and the ability to evaluate and analyse participation data and its relationship to the types of scenarios that are developed. One important source of theory and research findings used to inform this kind of analysis is the field of collective intelligence (whereby groups can be more productive and creative than their best individual members). For more information on ways of analysing the content and participation dimensions of a ParEvo exercise, go to the Content Analysis and Participation Analysis pages of the ParEvo website.


Davies, R. (2023). ParEvo.