Scenario planning: a tool for conservation in an uncertain world

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Peterson, Garry D., Cumming, Graeme S., and Carpenter, Stephen R.

Conservation decisions about how, when, and where to act are typically based on our expectations
for the future. When the world is highly unpredictable and we are working from a limited range of expectations, however, our expectations will frequently be proved wrong. Scenario planning offers a framework for developing more resilient conservation policies when faced with uncontrollable, irreducible uncertainty. A scenario in this context is an account of a plausible future. Scenario planning consists of using a few contrasting scenarios to explore the uncertainty surrounding the future consequences of a decision. Ideally, scenarios should be constructed by a diverse group of people for a single, stated purpose. Scenario planning can incorporate a variety of quantitative and qualitative information in the decision-making process. Often, consideration of this diverse information in a systemic way leads to better decisions. Furthermore, the participation of a diverse group of people in a systemic process of collecting, discussing, and analyzing scenarios
builds shared understanding. The robustness provided by the consideration of multiple possible futures has served several groups well; we present examples from business, government, and conservation planning that illustrate the value of scenario planning. For conservation, major benefits of using scenario planning are (1) increased understanding of key uncertainties, (2) incorporation of alternative perspectives into conservation planning, and (3) greater resilience of decisions to surprise.


Peterson, G. D., G. S. Cumming, and S. R. Carpenter. 2003. Scenario planning: a tool for conservation in an uncertain world. Conservation Biology 17:358–366.