IEA Training Manual - Module 6

7.1 Clarifying the purpose and structure of the scenario exercise

Careful planning and thinking in the early stages will significantly improve the quality of any scenario exercise. Some of the most important questions to ask right away are why you are doing the exercise, who should be involved and what are the key elements required to structure the process. In some cases, the steps described in this phase have been done at the start of a scenario exercise, but in a fairly informal and ad hoc manner. In other cases, they are only really treated explicitly once the process is well underway and the scenarios are already (partially) developed. This can lead to problems later on in that it can be difficult to use the scenarios developed to address the issues of interest in the detail desired. At the same time, there should be enough flexibility for revisiting each of these steps, as much will be learned throughout the process. Thus, the outcome of what is presented in this phase should not be seen as set in stone for the whole length of the exercise.

a) Establishing the nature and scope of the scenarios

To establish a clear view of the scenario process to be used.

The output or outputs from this step should be a clear overview of and plan for the scenario process. The specific details of the plan will depend on the type of scenarios chosen and other factors, e.g. available resources. This includes such factors as, time horizon, balance between narrative and quantitative elements, nature of policy analysis and available resources for exercise.


  1. The core team running the exercise, perhaps in consultation with the funders and key stakeholders, should ask themselves the following questions (please note that the second and third of these are very slight modifications of the questions discussed in the previous section on policy analysis).

    • What are the issues we want addressed in the scenario project? If it is part of a larger assessment, how are these addressed in the other sections of the assessment?
    • Are there existing policies we wish to explore as part of the exercise? Are the effects of these of such magnitude that they would fundamentally alter the basic structure of the scenarios?
    • Do we have a preconceived end vision, or at least some aspects of a vision, such as specific targets, for the scenarios?
    • Why is scenario development the appropriate approach for dealing with the problem?
    • Who is the audience?<>
    • What types of scenarios are needed to address the problem and to communicate to the audience? Would a backcasting or forward-looking approach be better?<>
    • What time frame should be considered? Should the scenarios be narrative and/or quantitative?
    • How are the scenarios to be developed connected with scenarios developed for higher levels (e.g., regional or global)?
    • What do we want to have achieved by the end of the scenario process (e.g., new policy options, better understanding of a particular issue, better understanding of a region’s most pressing concerns for the future)?
    • What resources (e.g., time, money, people) are needed to achieve the goal and is it possible/desirable to make that investment?
    • What is the expected role of the scenario team, and what are the expected roles of other stakeholders and participants?
  2. If not done so originally, the above questions should be revisited in consultation with the participants selected to take part in the scenario exercise.

This step provides clarity and focus for the scenario team, a strong reasoning to support the approach adopted and valuable context material for those subsequently engaged in the process.

See Exercise 6.7.1 a

b) Identifying stakeholders and selecting participants

To ensure that the scenario process benefits from the input of a cross-section of society, thus increasing the likelihood that the scenarios have buy-in from the appropriate actors. This improves the usefulness of the scenarios to the end-user (note: identification of stakeholders is also covered in Modules 2 and 3).

A list of participants and alternates.


  1. Identify who (i.e., which organization or institution) is convening this scenario exercise. This is one audience, and it might be important to consider participant(s) from this group.
  2. Identify other audiences for the scenarios by deciding whom the scenarios are intended to reach. It might be important to consider participants from these audiences. The audience for scenarios could well be the same as for the national IEA as a whole, as discussed in Module 3.
  3. Identify other key stakeholders. Consider who has an important stake in the country’s future, who are the decision-makers (determining both public policies and private behaviours), and who are the people directly affected by such decisions.

Policy-makers and others who will make use of the scenarios should be included in the scenario team2. If they cannot participate, it is important that their views are canvassed to establish what issues are most pressing and how they view their interests unfolding over the scenario time frame. Once the participants are chosen, they need to be involved in the subsequent activities, preferably in face-to-face meetings, with sufficient time to have detailed discussions and to reach consensus where possible.

See Exercise 6.7.1 b

c) Identifying themes, targets, potential policies and indicators

One of the most daunting aspects of any scenario exercise, particularly one that is intended to consider a range of issues in an integrated fashion, is identifying the key issues or problems of concern. It is important to be clear about a number of factors, such as:

  • what are the key themes upon which the scenarios should focus;
  • what, if any, are the key targets and/or goals that should be considered in evaluating the scenarios;
  • what are the most useful indicators for describing the system of interest; which can help us to see if targets are being met; and
  • what, if any, are the key policies we wish to explore as part of the scenario exercise?

As these four aspects are intricately related, they are best treated at the same stage in a scenario exercise. Some exercises will start with identified themes, which in turn suggest targets and policies for consideration; in other cases, the targets or the policies may themselves be the starting point for the exercise. In all cases, the indicators need to be able to accurately represent these targets or policies in the scenarios. Thus, there is no correct answer as to which of the following should be done first, or if they should be done together or as separate steps. For the purposes of clarity, we describe them one at a time.

Identifying themes

To determine the important themes on which the scenario exercise will focus.


Figure 5: General scenario themes
Source: Gallopin and Raskin 2002.
An initial list of themes with brief explanations.


  1. Telling the story of the present (how we got here, and topics that are of interest). This provides background to the scenarios, and illustrates the seeds of the future in the present.
  2. Identifying issues that are important with respect to your country’s future. If you were to write a comprehensive “history of the future,” consider what topics you would need to discuss.
  3. Thinking about the broad range of future possibilities, the participants should discuss their hopes and fears for the future of their country. Think broadly. Think near and long term. If you are concerned about sustainability, think, for example, about ecosystem services (not just resources and extraction) and equitable well-being (not just economic growth).
  4. Define the time horizon, choosing a length of time that is, on balance, long enough to be appropriate to the themes you have identified.

Figure 5 summarizes some general themes to consider (see Gallopin and Raskin, 2002). It may be necessary to identify a number of sub-themes to satisfy the needs of the scenario exercise.

Figure 6: Trends in indicators in
four GSG scenarios.


See Exercise 6.7.1 c

Figure 6 summarizes an exercise in which a number of key issues are profiled for each of four GSG scenarios, upon which the GEO-3 and GEO-4 scenarios were based (Raskin and Kemp-Benedict 2004). This semi-quantitative analysis not only provided a valuable starting point for the modeling exercises, but also provided valuable insights and consistency checks for the comparison of the narratives with the quantitative outputs.

See Exercise 6.7.1 d

In reality, for a national GEO there may be no separate scenario team. The team that is in charge of the assessment as a whole would lead the work on all sections, including the scenarios.


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