Best planning and implementation toolbox

Scenario Planning:

Purpose of Tool:
Scenario planning is a process in which citizens and planners analyze the major trends and forces that may shape the future of an area or region to predict possible future conditions or outcomes.  Scenario planning is not an attempt to predict the future, but rather a tool that enables planning partners to prepare for the future by evaluating multiple potential development options.  As stakeholders gain consensus on a preferred scenario, it becomes the long-term policy framework for the community’s future growth.  Participants use various techniques to assess trends in key factors such as transportation, environment, and land use to develop alternative future scenarios that reflect different trend assumptions and tradeoffs.  Scenario planning helps decision makers to make informed decisions to meet future needs and the vision of the community.  This process is dynamic and as the future unfolds, scenarios should be further refined and modified to address changing conditions.
Scenario planning can be traced to ancient Chinese and Roman cultures, where a similar decision-making style was used in a military context.  Today, it is commonly used in business and is now increasingly popular for transportation and land use planning purposes.   In this context, scenario planning is highly dependent on computerized modeling and visualization systems, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), to provide information allowing decision-makers and the public to better understand the potential impacts of each scenario.

Benefits of Using Tool:
Communities and regions can benefit from scenario planning in the following ways:
  • Helps citizens and planners understand the impacts of growth
  • Enables communities to better prepare for the future by recognizing the impact of tradeoffs among competing goals, resulting in better informed decisions
  • Narrows down goals to a defined set of possibilities
  • Allows stakeholders to realistically consider alternative approaches in shaping their future
  • Helps to manage and prioritize the use of increasingly limited financial resources
  • Facilitates consensus building among stakeholders.

  • Steps Involved to Use Tool:
    The following are suggested steps in the scenario planning process:
  • Identify quality-of-life issues that affect the region
  • Research the driving forces, growth trends, and major sources of change that will likely impact the future of the region
  • Determine how forces could combine to influence future conditions
  • Create scenarios by thinking through the different driving forces in future environments
  • Analyze the implications of each scenario developed, considering transportation, land use, public investment and environmental policies
  • Evaluate the scenarios by measuring them against each other and comparing the implications of each
  • Monitor the implications as time goes by, so that each scenario can be further fine-tuned and modified as needed as the future unfolds
  • Special Requirements to Use Tool:
    There are no specific requirements for implementing a scenario planning process.  To engage in scenario planning, adequate planning staff must be in place in order to take advantage of all of the techniques involved in scenario planning.

    Specials Resources Needed to Use Tool:
    A crucial component of scenario planning is the use of modeling and visualization tools to display and present scenarios to planning participants.  Effective displays and models can be developed using tools such as GIS software, architectural drawings, and other visualization software.  In addition, if the planning effort is to be accomplished by the local government, a planning staff that is adequately trained in the techniques and tools involved in scenario planning must be in place.

    Communities / Agencies that Have Used Tool:
    Several communities and agencies have successfully used scenario planning, including:

  • Sacramento, CA:  The Sacramento region utilized scenario planning through the Sacramento Blueprint project, which is the Sacramento area’s vision for growth.  Scenario planning was a key element in successfully engaging stakeholders throughout the region.
  • Contact:   Sacramento Council of Governments Public Information Coordinator
    A.J. Tendick, 916-340-6215
    1415 L Street, Suite 300, Sacramento, CA, 95814

  • Dallas, TX: The Forward Dallas! Comprehensive Plan created scenarios based on multiple public workshops in order to plan for the future of the Dallas region through a citywide vision, policy guide, and implementation program for future growth and development.
  • Contact:   Planning Development Services
    Peer Chacko, 214-670-5088
    1500 Marilla Street
    Dallas, TX, 75201.

    Metrics to Use to Monitor Tool Effectiveness

    Scenario planning has no specifically defined metrics.  However, a scenario planning effort can be considered successful if the process is used to help the community develop a consensus-based blueprint for their future. 

    List of Resources to Obtain Additional Info

    For additional information, please see:

    After identifying values important to the area, planners, working in close coordination with community leaders, businesses, local officials, the public, and other stakeholders, could undertake the steps above to develop scenario-based plans. Source: Federal Highway Administration

  • Scenario planning flow chart, FHWA Scenario Planning Initiatives Presentation, Frankfort, Kentucky, March 6, 2007.
  • Steps in Scenario Planning graphic, from “Scenario Planning,” Sherry B. Ways and Cynthia Burbank, September/October 2005 Public Roads.
  • Sacramento Region Blueprint,
  • Forward Dallas! Comprehensive Plan,
  • “Integrating Land Use Issues into Transportation Planning: Scenario Planning, Summary Report.” Keith Bartholomew, University of Utah College of Architecture and Planning.