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Jan Kuiper

Stockholm Resilience Centre

Stockholm University

www.stockholmresilience.org 

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Why is scenario planning important? 

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Scenario planning is a systemic method for thinking creatively about possible complex and uncertain futures that is used to understand the diverse relationships between people and nature. The central idea of scenario planning is to consider a variety of possible futures that include many of the important uncertainties in the system rather than to focus on a single forecast of the future. 

 

The presence of many social and ecological uncertainties in social-ecological systems has lead to an increased interest and use of scenario planning. Social-ecological scenarios frequently use participatory processes to develop shared understanding of how different actors might respond to future challenges to collaboratively develop new understanding and strategies to navigate uncertain futures.

More elaborated explanation of participatory scenario building (history, present need to include social aspects in scenario building, potential of future use etc.) 200-300 words

Imagining the future is existential to life. However, in the Anthropocene, people and nature are entangled in more, stronger, and novel ways.  Resilience is the capacity of social-ecological systems to adapt or transform in the face of these dramatic changes. Building resilience in a world that is inherently uncertain and unpredictable requires methods that bring multiple futures into today’s decision making.

Social-ecological scenario planning is an approach that can combine imagining the future with resilience thinking.  Scenarios are plausible descriptions of how the future may develop based on a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about key driving forces and relationships. By envisioning how alternative futures unfold, scenarios can help to better understand complex systems, identify policies and actions that will be robust across a range of potential future outcomes, and promote desired outcomes. Importantly, scenarios can draw on the power of human imagination, to help us rethink and re-feel our affiliation with the biosphere and envision a desirable future.

The development of social-ecological scenarios typically involves stakeholder participation, to elicit values, preferences and objectives of stakeholders, and include local knowledge of the system. A combination with biophysical- and ecosystem service modelling allows for quantitative exploration of alternative futures, exposing tradeoffs and their implications.

The perceived benefits of social-ecological scenarios are numerous and diverse. Yet the potential impact of a scenario planning is context dependent, making it difficult to synthesize and generalize successful applications. Methodological progress in scenario research has been relatively slow. Much published research focuses on results rather than methods, and many scenario methods experts are consultants whose methods are private. This situation, combined with little systematic assessment and comparison of scenario methods, means that it is difficult for scenario practitioners to discover appropriate methods for their situation. There is a need to better understand how and when scenario planning can make a tangible contribution to sustainable development. A comparative analysis of published case studies can provide valuable insight.

·   How does participatory scenario building works in a broad sense?

We see scenario planning consists of a number of interacting stages in which a small team of researchers, ecosystem users, policy makers, and other stakeholders explore through a series of workshops. It begins with identification of a central issue or problem. This problem is then used as a focusing device for assessment of the system; assessment is combined with the key problem to identify key alternatives. Alternatives are then devel- oped into actual scenarios. Scenarios are tested in a vari- ety of ways before they are used to screen policy. Al- though this overview presents scenario planning as a linear process, it is often more iterative: system assessment leads to redefinition of the central question, and testing can re- veal blind spots that require more assessment.

·   Contribution: Short text about why people should contribute and how it works

The practice of participatory scenario planning would be improved by building a community of practice that uses a portfolio of common methods, addresses shared issues, and shares results, methods, and challenges in a comparative way to improve the ability of PSP to bridge across scales and cases. The field of PSP is emergent, and connects many diverse actors across, within, and outside of academia. Building such a community of practice should enable access to tools, ideas, and people. As such, scenario practitioners should work on making their methods and results accessible, open access, and nontechnical, but also be aware of other uses of participatory scenario planning.  We hope that by contributing to this database practitioners can let others know about their own work, discover similar work, and help build a community of practice.

How to use scenarios

We see scenario planning as consisting of six interacting stages that a small group of research scientists, managers, policymakers, and other stakehold- ers explore through a series of workshops. It begins with identification of a central issue or problem. This problem is then used as a focusing device for assessment of the system; assessment is combined with the key problem to identify key alternatives. Alternatives are then devel- oped into actual scenarios. Scenarios are tested in a vari- ety of ways before they are used to screen policy.

 

Scenarios have been recognized as a powerful tool for exploring the dynamics and uncertainty in complex systems (Peterson et al 2003, Kahane 2012). Scenarios are plausible descriptions of how the future may develop. They are based on a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about key driving forces and relationships, and are often supported by data and model simulations. Scenario studies typically organize complexity and key uncertainties into a limited set of contrasting stories of how the future might unfold. Note, unlike forecasting, the purpose of scenarios is not to predict the future or to assign a likelihood to future events, but to explore and anticipate a range of different possible trajectories to make well-considered decisions for the future today (Star et al 2016).

 

Scenario approaches and the resulting types of scenarios are numerous and diverse (Alcamo and Henrichs 2008, McKenzie et al 2012). Exploratory scenarios describe a range of possible futures based on plausible trajectories of indirect drivers, such as economic changes, or direct drivers, such as climate change. They are often used for awareness raising and agenda setting purposes (IPBES 2016) and to stimulate creative thinking (Kok et al. 2011), as they help people imagine a wider range of possible futures and “be better positioned to take advantage of the unexpected opportunities that will come along" (Schoemaker 1995). Normative scenarios, including visions, target-seeking scenarios and policy-screening scenarios, are used to move towards or away from different normative future end-points (Bai et al 2016, Pereira et al 2017, Tallis et al 2018). They inform decision-makers by evaluating and comparing benefits, barriers and tradeoffs of different policy, management or development options (IPBES 2016, Rosenthal et al 2014, Arkema et al 2015). Scenario types can also be combined to evaluate the robustness of policy options in the face of changing drivers or surprises (Börjeson et al 2006; Acosta et al 2016). When presented as compelling stories or artworks, scenarios allow for easy communication and digestion of complex information (Dahlstrom 2014) and be persuasive, drawing on the power of human imagination and hope (Braddock and Dillard 2016, Galafassi et al 2018).

Stakeholder participation and collaboration are key features of social-ecological scenario planning processes. Scenario planning often informs decision- and policy-making processes that affect a broad range of people (Oteros-Rozas 2015) and becomes political when results reveal an uneven distribution of costs and benefits (Lucas and Wilting 2018). Describing plausible futures of social-ecological systems requires acknowledging the plurality of values and perspectives among people regarding their relation with nature, and the existence of alternative knowledge systems (Tengo et al 2017, Falardeau et al 2018; Nieto-Romero et al 2016). Hence, stakeholder input increases the quality of scenarios by enhancing the relevance, legitimacy and credibility (Akcakaya at al 2016, Johnson and Karlberg 2017). 

 

Stakeholder participation and collaboration are key features of social-ecological scenario planning processes.

In addition, the process of participation and co-creation itself can be instrumental in fostering change (McKenzie et al 2012, Oteros-Rozas et al. 2015, McBride et al 2017), for example, by offering participants a safe environment to experiment with creative thinking, to break with conventional patterns (Nevens et al 2013, Hebinck et al 2018). Likewise, participatory processes can raise people’s awareness and promote dialogue (Faysse et al 2017, Johnson and Karlberg 2017), help identify and articulate shared values and views (Hajer and Pelzer 2018; Ford et al 2018), build consensus (Wollenberg et al 2000), facilitate social learning (Johnson et al 2012) and foster collective action (Cobb and Thompson 2012). The process is often as important as the product, that is, the scenarios (Van Notten et al 2003).

 

Why use scenarios

propose that scenario planning, a technique for mak- ing decisions in the face of uncontrollable, irreducible un- certaintcentral idea of scenario planning is to consider a variety of possible futures that include many of the impor- tant uncertainties in the system rather than to focus on the accurate prediction of a single outcome. are constructed to provide insight into drivers of change, reveal the implications of current trajectories, and illumi- nate options for action

a forum for thinking creatively about and discussing uncertain futures

In environmental assessments scenarios are used to focus scientific investigation, integrate different models and data and evaluate policies.

  1. to coordinate and align scientific analysis by defining a diverse but limited set of future trajectories to use as inputs for scientific analyses. Sce- narios can define inputs to models, policy analyses or comparisons, ensuring that different analyses are compa- rable and address a minimum shared set of issues.

  2. Scenario development is an iterative process that can be used to integrate multiple disparate data sources, knowl- edge systems and models. Scenarios can integrate quantitative models of climate and ecological dynamics with qualitative analysis of processes that are not modelled or well understood, such as shifts in values, diets, or gover- nance. Scenario development methods that use participa- tory modelling and mapping can also bring ILK into assessments

  3. Scenarios can be used to analyse the consequences of distinct and different choices or policies. Such analysis can assess the strengths and weaknesses of existing and future policies, as well as their robustness to future uncertainty.

 

Who are using scenarios?

The presence of many social and ecological uncertainties in social-ecological systems has lead to an increased interest and use of scenario planning. Social-ecological scenarios frequently use participatory processes to develop shared understanding of how different actors might respond to future challenges to collaboratively develop new understanding and strategies to navigate uncertain futures.

 

Imagining the future is existential to life. However, in the Anthropocene, people and nature are entangled in more, stronger, and novel ways.  Resilience is the capacity of social-ecological systems to adapt or transform in the face of these dramatic changes. Building resilience in a world that is inherently uncertain and unpredictable requires methods that bring multiple futures into today’s decision making.

 

Online

Resources

Scenario hub

ScenarioHub.net is a resource center developed by World Wildlife Fund and the Natural Capital Project, where scenario researchers and practitioners can learn more about spatial mapping and scenario analysis, find appropriate scenario tools using a tool database, and use the Scenario Generator Workspace for creating spatial scenario outputs. 

 

Wayfinder

Wayfinder is an online guide for resilience assessment. Wayfinder provides a six phase process for resilience practice, including instructive videos, activity sheets and discussion guides. Exploring alternative futures is a key step in navigating towards more sustainable futures. 

International Futures Forum Practice Centre

The Practice Centre of the International Futures Forum offers a selection of resources to support transformative innovation, including a guide for using the Three Horizons framework for transformative thinking about the future. 

H3Uni

The University of the Third Horizon presents tools and practices that combine cognitive and social art to support collaborative thinking about complex messy challenges, often found at the heart of transformation.

 

IPBES Methodological Guidance on Models and Scenarios

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) provides methodological guidance on the use of scenarios, explaining different types of scenarios and the roles they can play in the major phases of the policy cycle, which are (i) agenda setting, (ii) policy design, (iii) policy implementation and (iv) policy review.