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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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
This Planning article introduces the concept of scenario-building in the context of local and regional planning.
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.
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.
Scenario Planning Fundamentals
This book presents a collection of essays on scenario planning and other deliberative planning tools.
This article defines the concept of exploratory scenario planning and highlights two examples of exploratory scenario planning initiatives.
This article introduces the concept of scenario-building in the context of local and regional planning.
This briefing paper reviews how various organizations have used scenario planning and shares lessons learned from international practice.
This article discusses how planners can integrate uncertainty into scenario planning.
This article presents a typology of scenario planning practices.
Transportation and Land-Use Scenario Planning
This report explores how regional planning agencies use scenario planning.
This report summarizes a daylong workshop in Binghamton, New York, on tools and effective practices for scenario planning.
This report summarizes a scenario planning peer workshop hosted by the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham.
This report summarizes a daylong workshop in Burlington, Vermont, on tools and effective practices for scenario planning.
This report summarizes a daylong workshop in Champaign, Illinois, on tools and effective practices for scenario planning.
This report summarizes a daylong workshop in Chico, California, on tools and effective practices for scenario planning.
Scenario Planning for Sustainability and Climate Change
This report discusses scenario planning and other tools and data currently available to cities for climate change decision support.
This self-paced online course introduces decision makers to scenario planning and other tools for climate adaptation planning.
This article explains how scenario planning can be used in collaborative decision-making processes to mitigate climate change.
This article introduces the concept of using scenario planning to enhance sustainability.
This article discusses scenario planning and other tools designed to help communities plan and prepare for climate change.
Integrating Scenario Planning into Existing Frameworks
This report introduces the concept of exploratory scenario planning and explains how Sahuarita, Arizona, used scenario planning in its comprehensive plan update process.
This article discusses how communities are integrating scenario planning into comprehensive planning processes.
Developing Scenario Planning Exercises
This guide is designed to help planners develop and implement scenario planning exercises for small areas.
This recorded webinar discusses how to identify and understand community values in scenario planning exercises.
This article introduces the concept of scenario building to corporate managers.
This article offers a primer on writing scenarios for scenario planning exercises.
This recorded webinar discusses the technical aspects of scenario building.
This recorded webinar discusses data gathering, mapping, visualizations, and other techniques used to develop a compelling baseline scenario.
Scenario Planning and Public Participation
This article assesses the success of scenario planning exercises as a participatory planning tool.
This book provides in-depth guidance on using digital visualization tools to engage planning process participants.
Scenario Planning within Other Disciplines
This report discusses scenario planning for natural resource conservation.
This report provides extensive background on and analysis of scenario planning to protect ecosystem services.
This report discusses new methods for generating a large number of scenarios for geopolitical scenario planning.
This clearinghouse website provides information about scenario planning for businesses.
This article offers advice for corporate scenario planning.
This article discusses how to overcome common pitfalls in organizational scenario planning.
Scenario Planning Project Examples
This staff report summarizes a proposal for a scenario planning process to inform an update of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s regional comprehensive plan.
This report describes a preferred regional scenario for Greater Chicago based on a scenario planning exercise for a regional comprehensive plan.
This briefing paper summarizes key factors to incorporate in exploratory scenario planning efforts for the Intermountain West.
This article profiles a scenario planning effort in southwestern Colorado focusing on varying drought conditions.
This web page describes Envision Utah’s scenario planning process for the Wasatch Front.
This report presents five possible future scenarios for Greater Philadelphia.
The Future of Scenario Planning
This report explores how regional planning agencies use scenario planning.
This report proposes an evaluation framework for urban scenario planning.
This report explores the state of the art in scenario planning and discusses a opportunities to expand scenario planning efforts.
This book discusses the potential of computer-based tools to enhance the effectiveness of planning and the associated challenges of applying them.
This report discusses the state of the practice of scenario/sketch planning tools.
This collection catalogs resources that provide background, procedural guidance, case studies, and examples of local documents that illustrate various aspects of the community visioning process.
This collection catalogs resources that provide background information, comprehensive plan development guidance, and examples of potentially noteworthy plans from various types of communities across the country.
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