Scenario Planning

The Energy Infrastructure Working Group realizes the complexity and uncertainty associated with the future of energy for transportation. As such, we are undertaking Peter Schwartz's Art of the Long View Scenario Planning. Schwartz and his colleagues practice a form of scenario planning first undertaken in the early 1970s.The following lays out the journey we are undertaking.

·       Identify the focal issue or decision.

·       Shape a question.

·       Review all specific, local factors that affect issue.

·       Identify and rank the driving forces. Which factors are most important; most certain, or will remain constant throughout any scenario.

·       Analyze how driving forces relate to your situation. Look at how driving forces shape the environment including how that might change.

·       Generate at least three distinct possible futures. Build each scenario around a specific unifying logic or plot (note the examples that follow). Use plots to organize scenario details, events and characters.

·       Scenario building team members engage individual specific research about your situation. This ongoing research is discussed within the group in order to generate new possibilities during subsequent discussions.

·       Group members must suspend disbelief to generate different futures. Devise plots that try out various choices.

·       Brainstorm as a team to identify the plot logics that fit your focal issue and flesh out the story. Work through each scenario’s driving forces, predetermined elements, and critical uncertainties.
·       Focus on details such as exactly who is involved, how, why, the individual actors and their interactions? How do the plots shift and why. 
·       Remember that few historical trends continue without modification. Draw on history. Take a specific period of historical change and work back 10 years. What clues hinted that a given change was going to happen? What could you have done to prepare for this change?
·       Consider each scenario’s implications collectively. What have you learned through these scenarios? Which decision appears sound in which possible futures? Where are they flawed or dangerous? Beware of a decision that works in only one possible future, since you can’t be certain that future will happen.

·       Finally, complete your scenario building by identifying a few signs to watch for as signals that a given future is coming into being.

Situational Framework



Winners and losers plot depicts a zero-sum future, where one group wins (survives, gets rich) and the other loses. This plot dominates economics and politics (only one candidate can win), creating a binary world with strategic, often overt alliances.

Demographic Shifts: The retiring Baby Boomers, or grey tsunami and the increasing minority population will change the composition of the work force and mobility preferences.

Challenge and response plot in which one side generates a challenge, the other side shifts or grows in reaction. This plot often begins as a zero-sum, winner-and-loser plot that ends as a mutual gains plot.

Environmental Considerations: Social acceptance of environmental concerns continues facing challenges of beliefs, resources, and entrenched interests.

Evolution plot follow a biological path where continual change occurs in a given direction, either growth or decline. Once you identify these slow-developing scenarios, planning for them is relatively easy. An example might be creating a new robotic machine. People must learn to use it and integrate it before it becomes useful.

Vastness of the West: There are long distances between communities in the west that challenge the provision of infrastructure for competing alternative energy sources.

Revolution plots changes everything in response to a specific event, such as the 1929 stock market crash. Such changes are rare, but important, because they shift how people see the world going forward.

Thresholds and Cascades: While government organizations, policies, preferences for oil, and human adaptation to technology change slowly, they have a relatively high probability of having a threshold past which change will occur quickly.

Cycles plots are common in economics. If you’re in a cyclical field, learn to read cues that tell you when the elements in your cycle will change direction. For instance, when the money supply increases, interest rates drop, people borrow more, so they spend more and interest rates go back up.

Views of Society: Broadly, there are different views of society as the Great Society or the Capitalist Society.

Infinite possibility plots make events inevitable and seem as if anything could happen. Some demographic bulges have their own drive such as My Generation in the 1960s based on a sense of identity.

Competing Interests: Fixed resources present either/or decisions such as bio-fuels or food supply.

Lone Ranger plotlines pit a single heroic individual against a system.




Generational Expectation: Different generational expectation informed by pop culture for older and hyper interconnectedness for younger generations. These different expectations are changing future decision makers.

All the Above: The current broad acceptance that all alternative energy sources are needed for the future appears viable unless oil companies stop diversifying.

Economic and Political Accountability: Increasing attention is being paid to economic and political accountability while exploring new revenue sources such as fuel tax, vehicle miles traveled, cap and trade, among others.

Regime Change: Elections that change political ideologies at all levels of government influence policy development and implementation.

Enabling and Scuttling Policies: There are enabling and scuttling effects of different policies in terms of environmental implications and political influences. Many will want to correct past wrongs.

The Great Recession: The Great Recession likely change how some people act and behave and we are not sure how that will affect the now or when another recession occurs.

Great Expectations: There is wide variability in alternative fuel technologies including the range in expectations for new and innovative technologies (wow factor).

Technological Leaps: We are experiencing an escalation in technological leaps and acceleration in the time between these leaps.

Showing Progress: Human nature is impatient and influenced by T.V., movies, and the media suggesting the need to continually show progress.

Beta verses VHS: Businesses often seek a competitive advantage by introducing proprietary products for similar functionality.

Mutually Beneficial: Economic development pressures and homegrown renewable power generation can be mutually beneficial pursuits.