Intro to Scenario Planning

A typical Scenario Matrix. Illustration copyright Global Business Network.

What is Scenario Planning?

Scenario planning provides a framework in which multiple plausible futures are used to evaluate the outcomes and consequences of different decisions or strategies that need to be made in the face of uncertainty.

Most scenario planning begins by identifying driving factors for a system, usually the future state of these driving factors will be highly uncertain. Participants then develop quantitative or qualitative scenarios about the state of these factors in the future. These scenarios provide story lines for evaluating the performance of different decisions under the alternative futures. Again, this step can be quantitative, qualitative, or both.

Scenario planning can be used to develop decisions that would perform well under multiple scenarios, such that our outcomes are robust to the uncertainty in future conditions. Additionally, scenario planning can be used to brainstorm novel management options and formulate flexible long-term plans.

Scenario planning is one tool that managers can use to develop climate smart conservation strategies. Guidance for this process is the subject of numerous publications, websites, workshops, and tools. Here we introduce some of these to help you consider how scenario planning might contribute to your conservation work.

How to do Scenario Planning: Guidance Materials

Resource Type Title Description
Guidebook Considering Multiple Futures: Scenario Planning To Address Uncertainty in Natural Resource Conservation This guide from the USFWS presents a broad synthesis of scenario planning concepts and approaches and includes examples of how natural resource professionals are using scenario planning to consider the direct and interacting effects of climate change on conservation goals and actions.
Handbook Using Scenarios to Explore Climate Change: A Handbook for Practitioners Developed under the National Park Service Climate Change Response Strategy, this guide is part of an interdisciplinary, cross-cutting approach to addressing climate change.
Handbook Scenario planning for climate change adaptation: A guidance for resource managers This step-by-step guide, published by Point Blue Conservation Science and the CA Coastal Conservancy, helps natural resource managers, planners and others to take future possible climate change impacts and other important uncertainties into account.
Journal article Scenario planning: a tool for conservation in an uncertain world An introduction to scenario planning in the context of general conservation.
Journal article The Adaptation for Conservation Targets (ACT) Framework: A tool for incorporating climate change into natural resource management The ACT framework is an example of incorporating scenario planning into climate change adaptation.
Journal article Scenarios that illuminate vulnerabilities and robust responses A detailed discussion of developing and using scenarios with an emphasis on climate change.
Journal article Modeling climate change impacts on tidal marsh birds: Restoration and conservation planning in the face of uncertainty An example of using quantitative scenarios to develop management options that are robust to uncertainty.
Journal article Supporting adaptation decisions through scenario planning: Enabling the effective use of multiple methods An discussion arguing for stronger connections between researcher-driven and participatory approaches in scenario planning for climate change adaptation and policy.
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