IEA Training Manual - Module 6

7. Developing scenarios – A complete process

While there are many different processes that have been used to develop and analyse scenarios, most involve a common set of steps. While recognizing that there are benefits and drawbacks to following the specific approach outlined here, in order to provide a coherent training module, we felt it was easiest to present one process. For those interested in exploring other alternatives, we suggest reviewing Alcamo (2001), Galt and others (1997), and other papers cited in Section 3, above.

The following process is proposed as a useful framework for an IEA if a complete scenario development is to be carried out. It follows the GEO approach in three ways:

  1. It is explicitly policy-relevant;
  2. It is intended to be comprehensive enough to allow the scenario team to incorporate a broad range of issues that arise in sustainability analyses; and
  3. It is presented as a participatory, stakeholder-driven process. Furthermore, it is a built upon the scenario processes used in earlier GEOs, and also adopted (with some modifications) in the first GEO Training Manual (Pinter and others 2000).

The steps of the scenario process can be grouped as follows (see also Figure 4). As they relate to similar stages in the process, the steps in each group will often be pursued in parallel. There is no single best way to undertake each of the steps; still, suggested approaches for each are presented in some detail below. Finally, although Communication & Outreach is identified as a separate group, such activities should take place throughout the process and not just at the end of the exercise, as discussed in detail in Module 3.

Clarifying the Purpose and Structure of the Scenario Exercise

a. Identifying stakeholders and selecting participants.
b. Establishing the nature and scope of the scenarios.
b. Identifying themes, targets, indicators, and potential policies.

Laying the Foundation for the Scenarios

d. Identifying drivers.
e. Selecting critical uncertainties.
f. Creating a scenario framework.

Developing and Testing the Scenarios

g. Elaborating the scenario narratives.
h. Undertaking the quantitative analysis.
i. Exploring policy.

Communication and Outreach

Figure 4: Seeing the scenario
development as part of the whole
IEA process

Not all of these steps are required in every scenario process. Some exercises forego the quantitative aspects, while others have little or no narrative element. Also, it has become common practice to use existing scenario studies as the starting point for developing new scenarios. This can be due to resource limitations, as some of the steps can be carried out very quickly building on the prior analysis. For example, if a national scenario process builds on the GEO-4 scenarios, the main drivers are identified in the global stories, although at the national level there could be additional driving forces that have to be considered. It may also be useful if the exercise is meant to link with scenarios being developed at other scales (see box), or if the primary purpose is to test the robustness of specific policies across a range of futures that is already well represented in an existing set. Ideally, though, since scenario development aims to be an exploratory exercise, it is preferable to not use existing scenarios, as this might inhibit the recognition of other relevant signals of change, leaving the policy-maker vulnerable to developments that were not anticipated in the scenarios adopted.

Box 7: Recognizing the significance of developments at other scales for a national scenario process

Although the focus here is on national IEA processes, a study might be complemented by the development of scenarios on other levels: global, regional and local. The challenge then is to conceive scenarios that are consistent on all the levels. To illustrate: the pattern of rising sea levels described in global scenarios should be consistent with its impact as addressed in scenarios at lower scale levels, namely flooding in low-lying regions such as Bangladesh, the Netherlands and the Seychelles. The integration of multiple geographical scales is still subject to methodological development, as in such scenario studies as VISIONS and GEO-4. In both cases, the respective scenario teams worked to integrate global and regional information. Global developments served as input for regional scenarios, and regional developments were used to enrich and refine the scenarios at the higher scale level.

Box 8: Seeing the scenario development as part of the whole IEA process

The IEA process as a whole is described in Module 2 of this resource book. The scenario development is nested within the overall IEA process, with planning of the scenario sub-process in stages 3 and 4. In step 2, there is reference to and discussion of stakeholders, which also is of relevance to the scenario process. Indeed, it is most likely that each stage of the IEA process would use the same set of stakeholders for identification of priority issues, development of indicators and scenario analysis. Also, the scenario process often will be based on or informed by the state of the environment analysis and ex post policy analysis (Module 5).


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