Critical Uncertainties

This method helps us understand which of the uncertainties we’ve identified have the potential to be most impactful, or critical, to way the future may unfold. It also helps us think about which uncertainties we believe are more likely to take place. It enables us to determine which uncertainties are our ‘critical uncertainties.’

When to use it?
A great time to use this activity is once you have articulated a number of uncertainties about the future, but are still unsure of which ones have the potential to affect the outcome of the future state the most. It can also be a good way to prepare for the creation of foresight scenarios by determining which uncertainties it would make sense to focus on.

How to do it?

  1. Draw a matrix with four quadrants. Label the ‘y’ axis ‘Impact’ and the ‘x’ axis ‘Certainty.’

  2. Label the quadrants as shown in the diagram (Known knowns, Known unknowns, Unknown unknowns,

  3. Plot the uncertainties you have articulated in the different quadrants based on how likely you think it is that they will occur (certainty), and what you believe the level of impact would be if that uncertainty did take place (impact).

  4. The critical uncertainties will be those that are plotted in the ‘known unknown’ quadrant because we know these things may occur and would be highly impactful if they did, but we have low certainty about the likelihood of their occurrence.

People: 2-8

Time: Dependent on number of uncertainties being plotted. At least 30 minutes.

Pros and Cons

  • Helps identify which uncertainties are the most critical when it comes to imagining future scenarios and developing strategies.
  • Is a participatory approach that draws on the knowledge of a group.


  • Is subjective to the internal biases and perspectives of participants.
  • Can not determine what will actually happen, can only provide a sense of what we think the impact of different events might be.