The Scenario Planning Process Using Envision Tomorrow

There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for scenario planning. Although the steps are presented linearly, it might make sense to do steps in a different order, to omit some steps, and/or to repeat some steps in an iterative process. Planners are encouraged to innovate and adapt these recommendations to fit local conditions and the latest information.

Create a Framework for Your Scenario Planning Process

To get started, first identify key planning issues in your area. Then you can define the geographical scope, identify leadership and potential funding sources, and prepare your public involvement strategy. Another key element of your framework will be to develop a set of guiding principles. The guiding principles will help to prioritize the evaluation criteria you select for analyzing your scenarios later in the process.

1.1 What are the key, motivating values and guiding principles of the public / stakeholders?

  • The core values and guiding principles identified will be referenced throughout the process.
  • They will help identify which indicators to focus on for communicating scenario results.

1.2 What do you want to have happen? Why?

1.3 Who needs to be involved?

  • Stakeholders: Core group formation; Stakeholder mapping and formation of stakeholder group. Include equity partners; Stakeholder group meeting schedule.
  • Public: How and when will you engage with the public? How will you communicate? How will you reach those who don’t typically attend meetings?

1.4 What is our timeline?

  • Develop project schedule

1.5 What is our specific study area?

  • Small area, city-level or regional?

Select Evaluation Criteria

This step involves making decisions about outcomes you want to measure to objectively compare a range of possible futures. Generally, evaluation criteria should reflect adopted community goals – including those in existing plans. Evaluation criteria may also address new or emerging community goals or issues: such as public health, household transportation costs,or energy consumption. Use the evaluation criteria to communicate the benefits, impacts and tradeoffs of different policy choices and investments within each alternative scenario.

Set Up for Scenario Planning

Step 3 involves collecting data and developing building blocks. Compile data from existing plans and depending on local conditions, this may also involve some new data collection. Building blocks, used by Envision Tomorrow as the basis for its scenario development, describe the different types of land uses that exist, or are planned for the future, within the planning area. Each building block is comprised of a mix of different types of buildings along with development character assumptions such as the amount of land devoted to streets, parks, and civic areas. The building blocks represent the places people are familiar with, such as main streets, town centers, and residential neighborhoods. Comprehensive plan land use categories can help to inform the building blocks.Click for full view of flow chart

3.1 Prepare Your GIS Data

  • Gather necessary GIS data (see data list)
  • Create a buildable lands layer: By combining multiple layers together you can develop a layer that can be used for scenario painting. e.g. vacant buildable lands, plus redevelopable lands, minus environmental or policy constrained lands equals your buildable lands layer.
  • Install Envision Tomorrow Plus to be used with ArcGIS 10.x

3.2 Prepare your scenario building blocks

  • Brainstorm building library. Library should include a mix of existing and aspirational building types – remember that we are planning for a future that has not been decided yet.
  • Conduct market research to inform building library. Internet resources, such as RS Means for construction cost data and Zillow or Loopnet for recent sales prices, and developer interviews provide sufficient information for local calibration of costs and rents.

Create a Current Conditions Base Case and a Reference case

The best feedback the public, stakeholders, and decision makers can receive to help make decisions about the future is to understand where they are today and where they are headed in the future. This step involves using Envision Tomorrow to document existing conditions and then estimating the likely outcomes from existing plans and recent development trends. The results of these analyses can help the community identify needs and issues, and determine whether or not current trends or plans will meet important community goals. (e.g. GHG reduction targets, desired housing mix, or energy consumption reductions)The analysis can also provide benchmarks for comparison that might be further explored through the alternative scenarios.

4.1 What is the market demand for my community, today and in the future?

  • How many new housing units and jobs by type and price point do we need in the future – both short term and long term?
  • What are the affordable housing needs in my community? (Housing Assessment – Jim Wood)

4.2 Development feasibility analysis: What types of buildings are feasible to build today?

  • What range of building types currently “pencil” given today’s market conditions? (ET Building-level Return on Investment)
  • How market-friendly is my current zoning? (ET Building-level Return on Investment)

4.3 Community and site assessments: Where might we focus our planning attention?

  • Where are your regional job centers? Which areas are more housing rich? Areas with a high imbalance of jobs or housing, such as high income residential areas with few career wage jobs, have more frequent and longer vehicle trips. The ET Jobs-Housing Balance App can help you identify the areas of your region that are balanced or imbalanced, and what types of development you might consider for scenarios to improve the balance in these areas.
  • Within focus areas, what parcels are ripe for redevelopment now and in the near future? (ET Redevelopment Candidate App)

4.4 What have recent development trends been like and what happens if they continue?

  • An evaluation of several years of permit data can be useful for determining recent growth trends. These trends can be continued in one or more of the alternative scenarios.
  • Design a “trend” scenario that is simply a continuation of the recent trends identified in the analysis of recent permit data.

4.5 What will our future be like if our current plans are realized? (ET Predictive Growth Model)

Engage the Community and Stakeholders

Step 5 captures the essence of scenario planning; engaging the public, stakeholders and decision makers in a discussion about different options for the area’s future. It involves clear communication about the analysis from Step 4 and any relevant issues and concerns that were identified. This is also when alternative scenario “themes” will begin to emerge based on feedback from the public and key stakeholders. A theme will explore the selection of an action or policy (or set of actions and policies) to test in the alternative scenarios.

5.1 Share your research with the community and stakeholders

  • Where are we today?
  • Where are we headed?
  • What are some constraints (market demand and development feasibility)? Note that these research findings are not intended to be deterministic. Dynamics can change depending on many factors, including the outcomes of this process, however this is the short- to medium-term reality.

5.2 Values ranking and voting

  • If necessary, participants can priority rank the values identified early to focus the process more clearly.
  • Use the values research (and ranking) to develop guiding principles and key evaluation criteria (scenario indicators).

5.3 Hands-on public engagement workshops (mapping exercise)

  • What areas are off the table for change? Examples could be stable areas where little change is desired or future parks or open space.
  • Where should we focus our effort? Assessments in previous steps can provide good guidance.
  • What do we want this place / these places to become in the future? Market demand and development feasibility assessments from earlier steps can provide good context for what’s possible, at least in the short to medium term.

5.4 Digitize workshop input

  • Digitize the workshop map results in ArcGIS. Frequency analysis can help patterns and themes that can form the basis for one or more scenarios.
  • Compile and synthesize notes and other written input.
  • Prepare the scenario results in a presentation to be shared with public. It is important to tie the scenarios, and ultimately the plan, back to the public or stakeholder input.

Experiment and Learn: Scenario Planning

Scenarios involve different combinations of changes to land use and the transportation system. Land use options include accommodating expected growth in different parts of the planning area or in different types of development, such as the amount of mixed use or single-family development. Transportation options include varying assumptions about the level of transit service, roadway expansion, and incentives for use of alternative modes. Envision Tomorrow is then used to estimate outcomes of the scenarios.

6.1 Alternative scenario creation and experimentation

  • Explore building-level scenario options: What zoning or development regulation changes have the most significant impact on development feasibility? Are any of the buildings that are not currently feasible important enough that you want to experiment with financing tools to make them happen? (ET Leveraging tools within ROI model)
  • Explore land use scenario options: What are the themes that came from the public workshops or specific community goals identified at the beginning of the planning process? What scenarios are required to meet specific policy objectives? Affordability? Transportation efficiency? Air quality?

6.2 Evaluate scenarios across a broad range of indicators

  • Use Envision Tomorrow evaluation indicators and apps

Communicate Scenarios to the Public and Key Stakeholders and Get Final Input

In this phase of public engagement, the community will have an opportunity to review the evaluation results of the alternative scenarios, give their feedback and preferences, and identify policies or actions they feel are popular and effective in achieving community goals. This public input will be used, along with the results of the alternative scenario evaluations, to refine alternatives and inform the development of a preferred scenario, if one is necessary. In lieu of a single preferred scenario, some processes will result in a set of preferred strategies instead.

7.1 Communicate scenarios and evaluation indicators to stakeholders

  • Keep it relevant: communicate scenario outcomes in terms of values and key evaluation criteria determined earlier
  • Keep it visual: use pictures instead of text, bullets instead of paragraphs. Use photo simulations, simplified vision maps

7.2 Gather input from stakeholders

  • Allow stakeholders to evaluate and weigh in on different aspects of the scenarios.
  • Although it's not necessary to pick a single winner, it is important to get feedback on what elements people like and don’t like about different aspects of each scenario. This feedback will inform the preferred strategy or selected set of strategies.

Create a Final Vision

The preferred scenario or selected set of strategies should capture the vision of the community. This vision can be communicated in a vision document and vision map. The illustrative vision document captures the community goals expressed during the planning process, and describes the anticipated outcomes based on the preferred scenario and/or selected strategies. It moves from the detailed analysis of the scenarios into general concept and descriptions of places and outcomes.

8.1 Create a Vision Scenario

  • Using the public and stakeholder input, create a vision for the planning area.
  • Create a narrative story that explains the Vision for the area, including maps, pictures and evaluation indicators – and how it is consistent with values!

Develop an Implementation Plan

Appropriate actions to make the vision a reality will vary depending on the preferred scenario or selected strategies. While the preferred scenario should identify changes to land use and transportation plans that are needed to realize the scenario, the implementation plan should present and prioritize feasible actions to move the planning area toward the desired vision. The implementation plan should also include a set of immediate first steps towards implementing the vision.

Besides a clear description of recommended programs and improvements, the implementation plan should identify what departments or organizations will have lead responsibility, and what potential funding sources may be available. Ongoing discussion around priorities will not only help allocate limited public funds, but will also yield better project definition and clarity. Project cost, both from public sources and from private investment, will be a factor in this phase. The implementation plan should consider funding sources, timing, and investment strategies and develop an intergovernmental coordination plan that involves local and regional entities, as necessary. A communication strategy and public education plan should also be included in the implementation plan to ensure ongoing public involvement in future planning efforts.

9.1 Identify key short-term actions with immediate pay-offs.

9.2 Identify other short- and long-term actions various stakeholders and/or responsible agencies can take.

9.3 Identify potential public-private partnerships to get catalytic projects off the ground quickly.

9.4 Leverage public dollars to ensure successful implementation.

  • Evaluate capital budgets (transit, streets, storm water) to align projects with the goals of the new plan.
  • Plan goals can become the framework for evaluating future projects for funding priority.

9.5 Identify policies, actions or issues that need further study.

9.6 Help inform other plan updates as necessary.