Scenario Planning

What is Scenario Planning?

Scenario planning is used to develop long-term plans that are resilient under a variety of potential future conditions or scenarios. Planners consider a range of scenarios, and then select the plan that is most robust across several or all scenarios.

In brief, scenario planning can be broken into three steps:

  1. Identify the relevant variables or future conditions. For example, relevant variables for land trusts would include anticipated development patterns or the potential spread of invasive species.
  2. Develop scenarios for each of these variables. These scenarios are essentially stories or predictions about what would happen if different future conditions came to be. For example, if a particular invasive species reaches a land parcel, how would that impact the value of that piece of land?
  3. Select a plan based on the scenarios. Since it is not possible to predict how future conditions will unfold, planners should select the plan that is most resilient under a variety of scenarios. For example, land trust planners might choose to protect the parcel of land that is both easiest to protect from invasive species and least likely to be negatively impacted by future development patterns.

Applying Scenario Planning to Land Trust Practices

Many land trusts already use scenario planning. For example, when deciding upon a piece of land to protect, a land trust might consider several variables, such as:

  • anticipated land development patterns around the candidate parcel(s);
  • invasive species;
  • road construction;
  • potential sources of land degradation.

Land trusts cannot eliminate uncertainty. But, by considering the impacts of potential variables, land trusts are able to identify parcels that are a good choice in a wide range of future conditions. Scenario planning helps land trusts plan for uncertainty, and select resilient parcels for protection.

Using Scenario Planning to Develop Climate Change Plans

When planning for climate change, it can be easy to get entangled with the details of specific projections. But, for the purposes of land conservation, it is often more useful to focus on the broad implications of climate change for a particular region, area or land parcel. This allows land trusts to develop scenarios for various climatic conditions, and to then apply those scenarios to land conservation planning.

Potential scenarios to consider when planning for climate change include any climate change impacts that are projected to affect the land trust’s region, such as:

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