Scenario-based methods

Scenario planning is one of the most well known and most cited technique for thinking about the future. Scenarios are stories (or narratives) set in the future that explore how the world would change if certain trends were to strengthen or diminish, or various events were to occur. Scenario planning does not attempt to predict what will happen, but through a formal process identifies a limited set of examples of possible futures that provide a valuable point of reference when evaluating current strategies or formulating new ones. This method questions assumptions about the future and creates confidence to act in a world of uncertainty (GCPSE & UNDP 2014). Building scenarios would be the suitable tool for planners to think about and influence the future towards more effective planning practices. Furthermore, scenarios emphasize a process of change, or a way of thinking about future. This would be a helpful tool by which policy makers can peer into the future, and inform the processes of decision making at present.

Scenarios focus attention on relationships between events and decision points. As a rule, scenario construction is particularly useful in situations where the past or present is unlikely to be a guide for the future. Scenarios help direct attention to driving forces, possible avenues of evolution and the span of contingencies that may be confronted. Thus they are particularly useful when many factors need to be considered and the degree of uncertainty about the future is high. Most useful scenarios try to illustrate trade-off between policy-aims under dispute. While one scenario may explore “what if” economic growth and job creation play a paramount role, others scenarios may assign the same political relevance to social equity or environmental values. Since the end purpose of scenarios is policy-support, the choice of scenarios must be politically relevant. Different type of scenarios can be drafted depending on the purpose of the foresight exercise:

  • “Baseline Scenario” as the one where actual policies change only marginally
  • “Prospective Scenarios” -as possible but still realistic futures
  • “Most likely Scenarios” –according to mainstream thinking
  • “Worse-case Scenario” –against predefined aims
  • “Best Scenario” –to fulfil a set of predefined aims
  • “Desired Scenario”, or “Normative”, or just “Vision”, that is shared and achievable by a given set of policies.

The literature frequently divides scenario techniques basically into the “explorative” and the “normative”. These two poles also stand for two basic, ideal-typical stances regarding scenario method techniques.

When used in connection with techniques, the appellations “explorative” and/or “descriptive” designate sets of possible events regardless of their desirability. Such techniques pose “What-would happen- if” questions and take the present as their starting point. They then use considerations regarding developments, driving forces, and possible consequences to work out a conceptual future. The primary function of such techniques is to lay bare the unpredictability’s, the paths of development, and the key factors involved.

There is an obvious need to customise scenarios to the specific characteristics of the city and the region being investigated. Nowadays, urban scenarios are however embedded into similar values worldwide. Cities aim to become smart, safe, healthy and inclusive. The definition of urban scenarios need to be comprehensive and integrate together with physical elements (e.g. land uses and intensities, infrastructure networks), socioeconomic, environmental and political dimensions.