IEA Training Manual - Module 6

7.3 Developing and testing scenarios

With the foundation established, it is now possible to more fully develop the actual scenarios, as well as undertake more detailed policy analyses. Depending upon the choices made, greater or lesser emphasis will be placed on the narrative and quantitative aspects in developing the scenarios. In addition, the nature of the policy analysis desired will affect both the development and use of the scenarios.

g) Elaborating scenario narratives

To create a detailed, compelling description of the scenario.

A (several page long) scenario narrative.

For each scenario do the following steps.

  1. Current state and trends. Lead a discussion among the stakeholders of aspects of today’s world that seem to represent characteristics of the particular future scenario being developed. Explore each to identify as many “seeds of the future” as possible. These will help flesh out a plausible picture of how our current world could evolve into the future depicted in the scenario.
  2. End picture. Lead a discussion among the stakeholders of the end vision of the scenario. Once the critical uncertainties have been resolved, what would the world look like? Add detail and texture that will help round out the end vision of the scenario, and create an integrated, self-consistent snapshot of the end state. Consider each theme and driver, and provide some detail. Consider what aspects of life have changed for better or worse. Consider what challenges have been resolved, and what challenges have emerged and still lie ahead.
  3. Timeline. Lead a discussion to connect the current state to the end picture through a plausible historical route. Consider the interactions among the themes and how they would evolve together in a self-consistent manner. You might want to draw on a poster paper or whiteboard a timeline spanning the period from present to the time horizon of the scenario, and have the group brainstorm events occurring at specific times. Consider each theme and each driver. (You might want to draw several parallel timelines to keep track of different themes or drivers.) Consider the challenges that have been resolved or that have emerged, and reflect these in events on the timeline.
  4. Using the current state, the end picture and the timeline, your group can now expand these to create a coherent narrative. Add detail and texture that will help round out each scenario and create an integrated, self-consistent and compelling storyline. Your group might want to consider describing crises and shocks, or branch points where two scenarios diverge because of different societal decisions or key events. Your group might also want to use novel and compelling ways of presenting information within the narratives, such as news stories, advertisements, memoirs and “day-in-the-life” vignettes.
  5. While developing your scenario narratives, create a name for each scenario. Try to find a name that captures the essence of the scenario and differentiates it clearly from the others. It is also useful if there is some link across the set of names that helps to capture the key differences between the scenarios.

See Exercise 6.7.3 a

h) Undertaking the quantitative analysis

To enhance and elaborate the scenario narrative with quantitative information.

Specific, scientifically defensible quantitative information.

The quantitative analysis supports and complements the scenario narrative, and can help highlight and remove internal inconsistencies within these. Steps in a quantitative analysis are:

  1. Determine the approach to be used for quantification (e.g., which tools and models to use, how these will be linked to each other, and how these will be informed by/inform the narratives).
  2. Assemble the necessary data and relationships.
  3. Use the tools and models to produce the quantitative estimates.

For quantification, it is best to use models that are as simple as possible without being simplistic, are transparent, rely on widely available data, and can be applied and compared across widely differing circumstances. Quantification ideally will provide much more policy-relevant information than qualitative descriptions alone. It can provide a measure of the magnitude of the challenge and the scale of the needed policy response.

Models that can be used interactively are advantageous because they can be used in working sessions to provide quantification, leading to a revision of the narrative and a next round of quantification. In any case, iterations between storylines and models are an important part of a scenario process including quantification.

The selection of models to be used in the quantification depends on the issues emphasized in the scenarios. For GEO-3, for example, initial quantification for two of the scenarios was done using the PoleStar software tool (Raskin and others 2002). While PoleStar offers a flexible and easy-to-use accounting framework for organizing economic, resource and environmental information for alternative scenarios, the scenario authors agreed that the analysis needed to be complemented by further information on environmental impacts. This could only be provided by other, more spatially explicit and process-oriented modelling tools. Therefore other models (i.e., IMAGE from RIVM, WaterGAP from CSER, AIM from NIES) were introduced to make the data more consistent across regions and with the narratives, and to harmonize input data (e.g., growth rates of GDP per capita). Bakkes and others (2004) show how the quantification of the GEO-3 scenarios was carried out and describe the tools that were used. This is also in line with what was done in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and has been done in GEO-4.

The Africa Environment Outlook (UNEP 2006) used two tools to provide quantification of their scenario narratives: the Polestar software tool developed by the Stockholm Environment Institute (; and T21, a tool for integrated, comprehensive development and policy planning developed by the Millennium Institute (see In the latter case, the existing T21-Malawi Model was customized to enhance its environmental modelling capability for the production of the case study.

Box 9: Linking narratives and numbers in scenario development

The results of the quantification process should provide additional, complementary information about the scenarios, specifically regarding the major themes and drivers for which indicators had been selected. If some of the results conflict with the narrative description of the scenario, these should be examined carefully. It might be the case that results of the quantification reflect complex interactions more correctly, particularly where large numbers of calculations are needed to go from assumptions to conclusions; alternatively the models used may not have captured key relationships described in the narrative, particularly where these are not amenable to traditional methods of modelling. Thus, those developing the quantification and the narrative need to explore important differences, and both should be prepared to revise their respective representations of the scenarios being developed.

See Exercise 6.7.3 b

i) Exploring policies

To explore the feasibility, appropriateness, effectiveness and robustness of various policies.

Identification of further potential policies beyond those elaborated in step c (Identifying Themes, Targets, Potential Policies and Indicators), and information about the feasibility, appropriateness, effectiveness and robustness of particular policies (including combinations) in shaping and/or coping with the range of scenarios.

As discussed in the previous section, the nature of policy analysis can differ markedly across and sometimes within scenario exercises. In some cases, the introduction of policies into the scenarios will occur at a very early stage, e.g., they may represent one or more of the key uncertainties defining the scenarios. In other cases, the exercise may involve developing scenarios which, from the standpoint of the users, are ‘incomplete’ in that they do not include specific policy assumptions, and are only finalized with the introduction of potential policies. In either case, it is important to reflect upon and analyse the feasibility, appropriateness, effectiveness and robustness of particular policies. This should be done, in part, by comparing the scenarios as defined by key indicators, against key goals and targets, with and without the inclusion of specific policies.

See Exercise 6.7.3 c


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