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Scenario Planning for Smaller Places

Aligning Methods and Context

Robert Goodspeed and David DeBoskey

January 2020, English

Empirical studies of the use of scenarios in planning processes have often focused on projects that are relatively atypical of broader professional planning practice, such as large, novel, complex regional visioning projects completed for major metropolitan areas. As a result, it is not well known how scenario methods have been apply by practitioners for different typical planning contexts. This paper reports the empirical comparison of ten case study planning projects in three categories where the use of scenario methods has been relatively understudied: neighborhood or district plans, medium-sized city comprehensive plans, and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) serving small (less than 200,000 population) and medium (200–500,000 population) sized regions. Within each category, the paper presents short case studies of projects that use scenario planning as well as those which use alternative planning approaches (vision- or forecast-based plans). These case studies were developed from a close analysis of plan documents and interviews of ten professionals involved in the plans. The cases illustrate how scenario methods have been applied in contextual ways, including: scenarios focused on different uncertainties, the specific composition of the scenarios, the use of scenarios to foster coordination among parallel or sequential plans, and the use of scenarios to analyze specific policies or infrastructure projects. Our interviews also captured a rich variety of impacts on decisions and implementation activities, but the diversity of projects we are not able to generalize more broadly about the effectiveness of scenario planning methods. Although falling loosely within existing scenario typologies, the cases illustrate the importance of adapting planning methods to meet local planning goals.


Development, Housing, Land Use, Land Use Planning, Planning, Scenario Planning, Stakeholders, Transportation, Urban