Scenario planning … and then what?

By Joern Fischer

A little while ago, Marta Nieto-Romero spent a few months at Leuphana to write her Master’s thesis. With her work on scenario planning she tried to go one step further than many projects do – asking what happens next, once you have a nice set of scenarios? The work is now published in Land Use Policy, and I try to summarise some its most important points here.

Four scenarios for Southern Transylvania.

Four scenarios for Southern Transylvania.

Scenario planning is increasingly popular in landscape ecology. With more and more people including scenario planning in their papers and grant proposals, one important questions remains: so you construct nice scenarios … and then what?! To answer this question, we used four scenarios that we had constructed for Southern Transylvania (see above and previous work by Jan Hanspach here) – and we took them back to different stakeholder groups.

Marta asked them which scenarios they would prefer, and which would be their second most preferred scenario; and she also asked them what compromises they might be willing to make if they can’t have the ideal scenario. Moreover, she checked if people were actually working towards the scenario they had identified as ideal – or, if they were not, Marta tried to find out about why not.

Three things were interesting from this work (and probably many others, but let’s start with three!). First, stakeholders from a range of backgrounds agreed on a preferred scenario. This scenario was perhaps overly “naïve” or optimistic, but still, we found it interesting that it clearly attracted everybody’s attention, and that everyone felt it was a vision worth working towards. So, point one: Scenario planning can help to develop a shared vision among stakeholders.

Most stakeholders we interviewed preferred this vision for Southern Transylvania.

Most stakeholders we interviewed preferred this vision for Southern Transylvania.

Second, despite having a preferred vision, stakeholders did not necessarily agree on what compromises they would be willing to make along the way. Some stakeholders strongly valued environmental protection, and others strongly valued the well-being of the community. Depending on these underlying values, stakeholders were willing to compromise on one or the other system property. So, point two: Even if there is a shared vision, there may be disagreements among stakeholders about how to get close to that vision.

Third, on its own, scenario planning clearly does not lead to action. Many stakeholders perceived various barriers to actively working towards the change they were actually hoping for. Among the most common types of barriers were a perceived lack of government support, perceived lack of community cohesion, and perceived lack of human or financial resources to bring about change. So, point three: Having a vision is necessary, but on its own, insufficient to bring about change.

With this work, we hope to encourage others who use scenario planning to reflect on why they apply it (rather than just because it is topical and everyone else does it); what they hope to achieve with it; and what perhaps could be done as a follow-up to scenario planning to encourage desirable changes actually taking place.

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