Planning a beautiful life, with scenario planning
Scenario Planning, Tools
“This essential tool for planners and policymakers will encourage replication of exploratory scenario planning processes in many more communities.”
— Jennifer Minner, Associate Professor, Department of City and Regional Planning, Cornell University
Why does your city need exploratory scenario planning? Because we need to move beyond reactionary responses to crises and develop desired Tomorrowlands. Our society may love dystopian and survivalist narratives in our mythology, but these individualist potboilers lead to structures and infrastructure that lose all the advantages of city life. Dystopian focuses on individual survival regardless of destruction because systemic change is untenable. Dystopian accepts the horrible situation. It is acquiescing. This purview only benefits those who bathe in the fountain of power and oppression. I have associates who exclaim regularly, “we’re all going to die and no one cares.” This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if only because the proclaimer inadvertently declared that they also do not care. No one wants to hear that they are going to die, that’s a bummer. These friends are well-read and can discuss at length cautionary tales like “Lord of the Flies,” “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” “A Scanner Darkly.” I used to question their comprehension skills, but now I question mine. The average person doesn’t look at nightmares and gets motivated. It’s not how humans operate.
“Nightmare scenarios are depressing, and depression immobilizes those one hopes to mobilize.”
— Dr. George McCarthy, President Lincoln Institute, 2020
A real-life version of the “Lord of the Flies” had a very different ending. Six boys from Tonga “borrowed” a fishing boat for a joyride to Fiji. After a storm, they were washed ashore on a deserted island and survived for 15 months before being rescued. They established guidelines, worked in pairs to minimize danger, used ‘time outs” to de-escalate conflicts, and maintained signal fires. And they survived and flourished by working together.
I am going to bet they did a version of scenario planning. Co-operation works.
Scenario planning is a strategic planning method that some organizations use to make flexible long-term plans.
In Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” he discusses a psychological response called the dam effect. To summarize, people under the dam are the most certain that it won’t fail, even with insurmountable evidence presented to them, because they live under the dam. If it fails, they die, so they have a powerful motivation to believe it will not happen. You don’t have to be this person. You do not have to wait to die or get evicted. You do not.
A marvelous future is possible, but sometimes, in order for people to see what is possible, they need support in the visionary stage. In the past, World’s Fairs often provided inspiration and the Fairs of the mid-twentieth century were replete with bright visions of the future. NYC in 1940: Building The World of Tomorrow, Chicago in 1940: American Negro Exposition, Brussels in 1958: A World View: A New Humanism, Seattle in 1962: Man in the Space Age, NYC in 1964: Peace through Understanding, Montreal in 1967: Man and his World, and Osaka in 1970: Progress and Harmony for Mankind. Entirely private ventures like Disney’s Tomorrowland & Epcot Center had enormous impacts on a positive vision of the future.
I may be critical of some of the automobile-centric visions they presented, but that they provided a positive, achievable dream of a better world and just society is laudable.
How do you support people to move them into action? This can be done in many ways— fiction, movies, plays, songs, and scenario planning.
Scenario planning is how you dream.
“[Scenario planning] is ordering one’s perceptions about alternative future environments in which one’s decisions might be played out.”
—Michael Fitzsimmons, “Scenario Planning and Strategy in the Pentagon,” 2019
Think of the lessons taught about friendship, racial equity, and cooperation in Sesame Street. I can still sing “Co-operation making it happen! co-operation making it great!”
Scenario planning supports how our brains organize the world to make the world around us make sense. When people can understand that they are an integral part of the larger system, they are more likely to take part in the system in a pro-social manner. And this is a major problem not only in the United States, but around the world. From State’s Rights to political borders, we isolate ourselves into self-sentenced prisoners in prisons of our own making and going to war with “other” selves in K - Block.
Scenario planning is the language and framework of planning and development. To advocate for your community, you need to understand how scenario planning works. Learn how to work together. Learn the tactics of power.