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Special - Spatial Planning and Energy for Communities in All Landscapes Town and Country Planning Association European Union

Knowledge Pool

Scenario technique


Problem analysis, future, strategy development


Scenario planning – a glimpse into the future

A scenario describes a future situation which is the result of a combination of data, information, experience, opinion and estimates. Scenario methods are used in the construction of different possible models of the future; their purpose is to generate a body of orientational knowledge which can serve as a compass for lines of action in the present. However, various views or ways of understanding the relationship between the future and the present and past are possible. Stated in ideal-typical form, three different views can be distinguished. In turn, the respective understanding of the future has a decisive effect on the way in which we attempt to grapple with the future from our present position.

Participants are given a direct opportunity to exchange and discuss their points of view and make recommendations regarding a particular local, community issue with experts and decision-makers (politicians). Essentially, a Scenario Workshop is a tool encouraging dialogue among ordinary citizens, policy-makers, and experts. As a result, community involvement is produced by managed and facilitated discussions between a number of groups with a mixed composition of participants from the same living area.  Scenario Workshops increase the chance of timely intervention and control of a present or anticipated problem.



  • for team development,
  • for strategy development,
  • for concept development,
  • for all activities with the aim of facing the future and preparing for the future and its challenges
  • starting point of each scenario is a societal problem to be solved (the problem area has to be limited in terms of facts, time and space.
Expiry of the method

1. Problem analysis

At the start of each scenario a problem (crisis) is considered which can in principle be solved and for which there are a number of possible solutions. The goal is to describe the problem or crisis situation in detail in order to define the scope of the problem which then has to be resolved.

2. Analysis of drivers

In the second step all drivers and influencing factors which directly impact on the problem are identified. These are ranked according to their importance. The participants determine the drivers and factors through a spontaneous and intuitive idea generation process (e.g. brainstorming).

There are some factors which can be influenced by actions and strategies and some which can not be controlled but which play an important role in describing the scenario. Factors which can be influenced have a greater relevance. All these factors must be reduced to a manageable number. The result of this step is an overview of the most important influencing factors.
Scenarios are further developed and simplified by means of listing the variables for the most important influencing factors in a table. The presented table is called a morphological box or Zwicky box. The most important influencing factors are listed in the left-hand column. The individual variables are recorded in the remaining columns.

3. Development of scenarios

With the help of this table it is now possible to combine the separate factors into a scenario. There are an infinite number of permutations. Not all combinations are sensible and many are mutually exclusive.
It is not necessary to develop several scenarios. It is enough to have two extreme scenarios which are free of contradictions and which clearly differ from each other. It is important that the extreme scenarios are very dramatic but not implausible. By combining the variables one can describe the scenarios.

The Scenario Funnel (Fig. 1) shows the features and characteristics of the scenario building method. The present lies at the narrowest point of the funnel. The further one moves along the time scale into the future, the wider the funnel and hence greater the uncertainty over future developments.

Figure 1: The Scenario funnel.

Three basic scenarios are created using the scenario funnel. The trend scenario describes a continuation of the current state into the future without considering any particular drivers. It doesn’t play any role in scenario planning as this scenario scarcely differs from the present. Much more important are the two extreme scenarios at the edges of the funnel. The best possible development is described as positive (best case scenario) and the worst by the negative extreme scenario (worst case scenario). Every imaginable state can be classified within these two extreme positions.

4. Development of strategies and actions (strategic implications)

Possible actions are derived and developed from the scenarios which have been created. The influencing factors are referred to again to find out which strategies or actions affect the scenario’s development. In doing so, one should concentrate on the influencing factors which one can influence oneself. The result of this step is a catalogue of actions in the form of a priority list.


1,5 to 3 hours (requiring a high degree of flexibility)

  • As thinking model for policy, enterprises, science as well as well as for civil society to stay capable of acting and taking decisions
  • 20 to 30 people
Prerequisite for success

There are some scenario-specific criteria for the evaluation of scenarios. In the following, some process criteria will be mentioned. Although scenarios are always hypothetical in nature, this by no means makes them arbitrary. Therefore a good scenario should have the following characteristics:

In relation to scenarios (cf. e.g. Greeuw et al. 2000; Wilson 1998), plausibility means that the possibilities of development which are presented must at least be regarded as possible developments.

“Consistency” with regard to scenarios means that paths to the futures and images within a scenario must be consistent with one another, i.e. their aspects may not be mutually contradictory or even go so far as to exclude each other for reasons of logic and plausibility.

Consistency and plausibility are the decisive conditions for assessing scenarios as credible.

Comprehensibility & traceability
In relation to scenarios, comprehensibility means that the developments and conceptual futures which are presented must be traceable. This in turn means on the one hand that they must be detailed enough to be comprehensible, while not combining so many dimensions and key factors on the other hand that they suffer a loss of comprehensibility due to their complexity.

Distinctness, i.e. the quality of being clearly distinguishable, means that the selected, alternative scenarios differ from one another clearly enough that they can be interpreted and compared with one another as separate and distinct sketches of the future.

During the process of their development, scenarios go through an entire series of assumptions and choice decisions, e.g. in answer to the central question of which key factors are to be studied and how possible salient characteristics in future are to be defined and determined. As a means of increasing the degree of verifiability and legitimacy, the assumptions made and the processes by which decisions are reached should be laid open: Who decided or carried out what, why, how?

Degree of integration
Since scenarios generally do not focus on detailed issues but are rather employed to study the causal relationships between different dimensions and factors, a further criterion of a good scenario is the question of the extent to which it integrates the interactions of developments on different levels. For example, does it take note of and study the causal relationships between social, economic, ecological and institutional developments? Important in this regard is not only vertical integration, that is, the chain of cause and effect within a topic area and/or sector, but also horizontal integration, that is, the interaction of different sectors and themes. In most scenario fields, moreover, an interdisciplinary approach is indispensable in the process of scenario development in order to achieve a certain degree of integration.

Scenario processes also differ in the types of persons who participate in their development or evaluation. Depending on the degree of involvement, three rough types of participants may be distinguished:

  • Scientists / consultants
  • (Internal and/or external) experts or persons actively involved, stakeholders with a personal interest
  • “Those affected“: citizens, consumers, employees, etc.

Time and effort involved
In general it must be concluded that scenario processes are work-intensive and time-consuming; that is, they require time, money and personnel resources. The time and effort involved in a scenario process increases proportionately to the degree of inclusion and integration; this in turn has to do with the number of developments and key factors under study, the breadth of the geographical space, the chronological horizon, and the number of participants. In addition, scenario processes also differ very much in the quantity of materials and the number of techniques which find implementation in them (ranging from pencil and paper to computer software). A further central factor is the question of how much prior work and knowledge has already been carried out or established and how much is still required.

Required materials


  • Pencils
  • Paper
  • computer
Principles, relevant parameters to be considered

One must be aware that the drop out rate can be rather high.
To have the minimum number of participants (16) it is recommended to have a firm agreement of at least 20 people willing to participate.