Scenarios as a decision-making tool help us to better understand the implications of a wide range of future possibilities considering existing development, strategies, and global interdependencies. Scenarios should be co-produced with their users, most often planner and decision makers.

In a typical scenario building process, users together with researchers create alternative versions of future governance set-ups and respective socio-economic development with respect to a jointly framed problem. They have to navigate areas where they can effectively make decisions and develop policies, and areas where they need to agree on most important but uncertain drivers.

Visioning and pathways © Willaarts et al. 2018

Visioning and pathways

The IIASA-CRS participatory scenario planning tool consists of four essential steps

Here we outline the practical aspects of the four steps in more detail.

Step 1 “Building an understanding of the system and current situation” requires a combination of desktop research and participatory consultations. Desktop work will include a review of available information on the case study area and preliminary stakeholder mapping. Consultations can be bi-lateral (e.g., interviews, phone calls) in the first place to refine the mapping of stakeholders, followed by a multi-stakeholder interaction (e.g., workshop) to understand stakeholders’ perspectives about the system, its boundaries, data available and priority needs.

Step 2 “Developing visions and pathways under business as usual”, requires a participatory approach to develop the vision and identify pathways by means of backcasting (understood as) that will contribute to materializing the proposed vision.

Step 3 ”Developing basins visions and pathways to desired futures”, involves the same process as in step 2, but here the desired futures start from clear, ambitious, yet realistic visions of what can be achieved. Since different stakeholders have different values and priorities, it is legitimate to explore a diverse set of desirable futures instead of a single one and based on their value preferences.

Step 4 “Improving the robustness of pathways”, requires considering undesired global scenarios. Alternative global scenarios are introduced with a set of externally imposed challenges along the analyzed regional pathways, e.g. the IPCC Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (O’Neill et al., 2013, 2017) to provide a global context and delimit the sphere of uncertainty.

The four steps of the IIASA-CSR scenario tool. © Barbara Willaarts

The four steps of the IIASA-CSR scenario tool.

The four-step approach requires a set of in-person workshops (preferred) but there is a possibility of developing the exercise online (using boards such as Miro and Zoom). As a preparatory step, scoping interviews help understanding the main challenges in the region, and inform the workshop design. The first workshop corresponds with Step 1 of the process, a second Workshop 2 can cover Steps 2-4. If combined with modeling tools, a third workshop will support the presentation and validation of the quantitative scenarios elaborated based on the narratives of Workshop 2.

Participatory scenario planning has been used in several projects around IIASA, such as ISWEL, SDG pathfinding, and most recently fairSTREAM.

Guidance for online application of Participatory Scenario Planning


Wada, Y. , Vinca, A. , Parkinson, S. , Willaarts, B. , Magnuszewski, P., Mochizuki, J. , Mayor, B., Wang, Y., Burek, P. , Byers, E. , Riahi, K. , Krey, V. , Langan, S. , van Dijk, M., Grey, D., Hillers, A., Novak, R., Mukherjee, A., Bhattacharya, A., Bhardwaj, S., Romshoo, S., Thambi, S., Muhammad, A., Ilyas, A., Khan, A., Lashari, B., Mahar, R., Ghulam, R., Siddiqi, A., Wescoat, J., Yogeswara, N., Ashrad, A., & Sidhu, B. (2019). Co-designing Indus Water-Energy-Land Futures. One Earth 10.1016/j.oneear.2019.10.006.

Willaarts, B. , Langan, S. , Balkovic, J. , Burek, P. , Byers, E. , Deppermann, A., Frank, S. , Gidden, M. , Greve, P., Havlik, P. , Kahil, T. , Krey, V. , Magnuszewski, P., Mayor Rodriguez, B., Palazzo, A. , Parkinson, S. , Poblete Cazenave, M., Riahi, K. , van Dijk, M., Vinca, A. , & Wada, Y. (2018). Integrated Solutions for Water, Energy and Land Progress report 3. United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) , Laxenburg, Austria.