Scenario planning enables professionals, and the public, to respond dynamically to an unknown future. It assists them with thinking, in advance, about the many ways the future may unfold and how they can be responsive, resilient, and effective, as the future becomes reality.
Scenario planning is a process to support decision-making that helps urban and rural planners navigate the uncertainty of the future in the short and long term. A scenario planning process begins by scanning the current reality, projected forecasts, and influential internal and external factors to produce a set of plausible potential futures (i.e., scenarios). It then develops a series of initiatives, projects, and policies (i.e., tactics) that may help support a preferred scenario, a component of a scenario, multiple scenarios, or all scenarios. Indicators that a scenario component is likely to occur (i.e., tipping points or triggers) may be established to alert planners that the likelihood of a scenario becoming a reality is higher, prompting them to take action on appropriate tactics such as allocating funding and moving into implementation.
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How to Design Your Scenario Planning Process
This edition of PAS Memo offers a step-by-step primer on designing a scenario planning process, and it includes a scenario planning process design workbook.
Robust Plans and Contingent Plans: Scenario Planning for an Uncertain World
This JAPA article discusses how planners can integrate uncertainty into scenario planning.
Getting Scenario-Building Right
Scenario Planning for Urban Planners: Toward a Practitioners Guide
This JAPA article presents a typology of scenario planning practices.
Exploratory Scenario Planning
This Commissioner article defines the concept of exploratory scenario planning and highlights two examples of exploratory scenario planning initiatives.
Land Use‚ Transportation Scenarios and Future Vehicle Travel and Land Consumption: A Meta-Analysis
This JAPA article examines compact growth scenarios in existing scenario plans to estimate likely vehicle miles traveled reductions.
Scenario Planning 101
This APA Learn course is an introduction to the concept of scenario planning and focuses on how to create dynamically responsive plans that can best react to unexpected challenges.
Scenario Planning in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
This APA Learn course discusses the many potential futures of Guantanamo Bay and how scenario planning can prepare the community for resiliency.
Innovations in Community Resilience for Planners and the Public
This blog post discusses how scenario planning technology helped planners and residents in Downers Grove, Illinois understand flood risk and mitigation solutions.
Best-Case Scenario Planning
This Planning article describes the benefits of scenario planning as a way to incorporate uncertainty into plans.
viewpoint: Brave New World of Scenario Planning
This Planning article argues that a new planning paradigm is necessary for coping with the uncertainty of our modern world.
The Impossible Task of Mapping the Future
This Planning article looks at how the Regional Plan Association used scenario planning to inform their recommendations in the Fourth Regional Plan.
Out of the Box, Into the Scenario
This Planning article explains how transportation planners are using scenario planning to plan domestic and international freight travel.
Tools for Building Scenarios
This Planning article provides an in-depth discussion of the goals and use of scenario planning.
Bridging to Public Health
This Planning article shares how scenario planning can be used to empirically evaluate the health impacts of alternative recommendations.
Scenario Planning as Complementary to Planning Frameworks
Scenario planning is often used in conjunction within larger decision-making and planning frameworks such as strategic planning, project prioritization, and comprehensive plans. Depending on how it is used, scenario planning can be useful to these projects in different ways, such as improving the analysis of key uncertainties, re-framing problems, or incorporating considerations of emerging trends.
Types of Scenario Planning
Terms commonly associated with scenario planning include “normative” scenarios, which describe a preferred, and achievable, end state as well as “exploratory” scenarios, which describe an unknowable, but comprehensible, array of future end states that may occur. While the former often structures tactics to support the preferred scenario, the latter often deploys “contingent” tactics as the future unfolds in real time. In some cases, a scenario planning exercise may include elements of both.
Potential Outcomes of Scenario Planning
Depending on how scenario planning is approached, it can help achieve a number of outcomes. If a systems approach is leveraged, it can guide an awareness of interconnectivity, unintended consequences, and silo reduction. If used to illustrate tradeoffs related to a complex issue, it can help produce public feedback with more realistic expectations. If a strong public involvement component is included, it can shift a scenario planning exercise from an internal orientation to an external orientation. If quality of life outcomes such as equity and health factors are at the core of scenario development, then it can also help inform appropriate tactics.
Scenario Planning with Software and Data
Once the process is clear, data and software tools can be leveraged to keep track of large amounts of information, incorporate key data, and quantify specific elements. Whereas some scenario planning exercises use little or no software or data, other scenario planning exercises have a strong software and data focus. Generally, software helps quantify relationships between factors such as land, environment, and transportation through the use of algorithms, which can enable a scenario planning exercise to have a more refined situational understanding and become more specific in its tactics. Scenario planning projects can involve various algorithms, computer models, and analysis tools, which are often tailored in order to answer particular questions.