Scenario Planning Overview

Worldwide, communities and regions have a long history of planning to make and keep great places for people to live. Scenario planning is a unique methodology for any community to better prepare for its future. It offers powerful analytical tools to estimate how well existing or potential plans and strategies will do in meeting important local and regional needs given different assumptions about the future. Scenario planning also provides a way to evaluate how well communities are prepared to deal with new issues and changing circumstances such as rising energy costs and changing demographics.

What are the Benefits of Scenario Planning?

The reasons to embark on scenario planning are many; however the primary benefit is to uncover better information about future conditions to help communities, cities, states and regions make decisions. This is done using powerful new tools to estimate likely effects of growth and development patterns over the next 20-25 years. Information from these tools can help local governments evaluate how well existing plans will do in meeting a community’s needs and the likely results from implementing these plans. Scenario planning will help identify issues or needs and explore options for refining plans to ensure the community and citizens are better off in the future.

The world is changing rapidly in a number of respects, such as climate, technology and economy. These are forces that will greatly affect communities in the future and to which little attention has been paid in most areas. We have a substantial challenge ahead of us and community action will play an important part. Scenario planning gives communities a way to assess where the path they’re following leads, how it intersects with emerging trends, and changes they may consider to cope with and perhaps benefit from those changes.

What Will Scenario Planning Accomplish?

While the applications of land use and transportation scenario planning are plentiful, the specific use will vary depending on the region, city or community itself, what challenges are present, and what outcomes are desired. Topics might include measuring greenhouse gas emmissions, understanding traffic circulation patterns, advancing regional economic development strategies, measuring resource use and air quality impacts, or addressing concerns about meeting a diversity of housing needs.

Scenario planning is helpful at both regional and local levels, enabling communities in metropolitan areas to work together to consider how regional needs and issues affect individual communities. A discussion among all local jurisdictions about their goals and visions provides everyone in the region a comprehensive look to see where there are matching or conflicting goals and visions. Scenario planning helps local decision-makers and the public understand local and regional impacts of different choices, providing an opportunity for regional dialogue on issues of mutual interest, to better coordinate local planning decisions. The greatest benefit scenario planning offers is more informed decision making.