Tuesday 6
Using scenarios to explore plausible social-ecological futures
Garry Peterson
› 15:40 - 16:40 (1h)
› JOFFRE 1-1
Developing robust strategies for resilient policies; a combined backcasting and exploratory scenarios methodology.
Mathijs Van Vliet  1@  , Kasper Kok  2@  
1 : Wageningen University, Public Administration and Policy group  (WU)  -  Website
2 : Wageningen University, Soil Geography and Landscape group  (WU)

Exploratory scenarios are often used to deal with uncertainty, and show different plausible futures, each depicting a different socio-environmental system. Backcasting aims to design strategies to reach a desired objective. A novel methodology has been tested that combines exploratory scenarios with backasting. The main advantage of combining exploratory and normative scenarios is in the identification of robust actions, which tend to be more resilient to the explored uncertainties.

In the methodology a normative objective (e.g. adaptive water management) is backcasted within the context of exploratory scenarios that sketch four different futures (Economy First, Policy Rules, Fortress Europe, and Sustainability Eventually). This makes it possible to identify the robust actions; those actions that are effective in the different socio-environmental contexts.

This paper has two objectives: (1) to present the methodology, focussing on its novel aspects (2) to analyse and evaluate the results of several workshops, in order to study the impact of the exploratory scenarios on the backcasting results and the added value of robust actions. The methodology was successfully tested in 10 participatory workshops in a water project (SCENES).

The robust strategies produced in the workshops show how the participants wanted to adapt to the global and regional changes depicted in the exploratory scenarios. Results show that a combination of different types of strategies is needed, with attention to technical, environmental and governance aspects. The combined methodology gave rise to:

  • Backcasts that include a large number of elements (including environmental, social and economic opportunities and threats) from the contextual scenarios.
  • Backcasts that introduce elements of sustainability in otherwise negative futures.
  • Generally more surprising types of strategies than would have been produced by working only with exploratory scenarios, or only with backcasting.
  • A list of robust strategies in face of fundamental uncertainty that could not have been produced by only exploring or only backcasting

The small number of robust strategies (compared to all developed strategies) shows which strategies are most likely to be effective in the future. This makes it easier to communicate the results, which increases the chance that results are used in decision-making processes.
As time was limited in the workshops, the backcasts did not reach the level of detail that would be needed to feed directly into water management decision processes. More attention should be given to further develop the robust strategies, for instance by quantifying their impacts in the follow-up process. The list of robust strategies included both technological and social/organisational strategies, highlighting the need for an integrated approach, which should be maintained in the follow-up quantification phase. Increasing the attention to governance aspects in the exploratory scenarios can help to increase the attention to the need for different governance arrangements in different social contexts.

The approach shows high potential, but as the methodology is in its infancy more research is needed, particularly in methods to facilitate and monitor information flow between exploratory scenarios and backcasts, and to further integrate the process with on-going policy processes.


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