New Trends in Transportation and Land Use Scenario Planning
Appendix C. Case Studies
Case Study 3: Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG)
The MWCOG is the regional organization of local governments in the District of Columbia (D.C.) area. MWCOG is comprised of 21 local governments in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (see Figure 1) and serves an approximate population of five million. MWCOG was established in 1957 as a voluntary association of local governments. In 1965, MWCOG was designated to provide staff to the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) when it was established as the region's metropolitan planning organization (MPO).
Figure 1. Map of the MWCOG region.
MWCOG has used scenario planning several times in the past. The agency conducted a one-day scenario thinking exercise in November 2009 as part of a larger regional visioning initiative. This exercise, which comprises the focus of this case study, demonstrates an innovative example of scenario planning that differs from traditional scenario planning efforts.
Overview of MWCOG Scenario Planning Effort
The purpose of the one-day workshop was to conduct a thought exercise to identify strategies that would serve the region well under several plausible alternative futures. Scenarios were chosen as a tool to help MWCOG members think more creatively about the future of the region. The scenarios were also developed to encourage group discussion on long-term risks while building consensus among regional leaders on robust strategies related to growth and development.
The workshop also served as a framework for the Greater Washington 2050 initiative. This initiative seeks to develop a regional growth vision while fostering stronger regional leadership and policies that could implement components of the vision. The 2050 effort is led by a coalition that includes MWCOG and public, business, civic, and environmental stakeholders.
By design, the MWCOG one-day workshop differed from most traditional transportation planning uses of scenario planning:
- The effort was not designed to incorporate a sustained public participation element as in other types of scenario visioning projects (e.g., Envision Utah or Sacramento Blueprint).
- The workshop was designed to demonstrate an example of""outside-in" thinking: how scenarios focused on global or national issues could help consider impacts on regional or local systems.
- Scenarios were used primarily to build consensus around public policy directions that will serve the region well, regardless of how external forces of change might evolve and change.
- The exercise was not part of a mandated transportation planning process.
- The workshop was intended to be a qualitatively focused event that encouraged new thinking on "out of the box" futures. Quantitative data were not used to develop or analyze scenarios. Future, more quantitative work will be needed to set specific goals, policies, and/or performance measures to assess progress.
MWCOG noted that it has used more traditional data-driven, trend-line forecasting to help project future needs/conditions, but forecasting is based on the status quo while scenarios can be "wild cards" that promote innovative and creative thinking.
Scenario Development and Descriptions
Scenarios were developed prior to the workshop with the assistance of a consultant. To develop the scenarios, the consultant conducted interviews with local leaders and focus groups consisting of MWCOG staff and other professionals within the field. The stakeholders then provided input on the key forces of change in the region. Experts in climate change and economics reviewed the scenarios to ensure that they were valid. The scenarios were designed to represent plausible—though unlikely—futures.
Four scenarios were developed. A brief description of each is listed below.
- High Tech Green – a scenario in which green infrastructure investments help foster financial growth and create new "green" jobs. The focus is on clustered growth in transit-oriented activity centers with challenges such as declining exurban areas and lack of affordable housing in activity centers.
- Federal Government Dispersal — in this scenario, "Federal facilities slowly disperse outside the Washington region, driven by high rents... security concerns, and technological innovations."
- Hot and Gridlocked — this scenario is characterized by recession and falling oil prices that derail strong climate policies. "Adapting to climate change is now as important as quickly reducing CO2 emissions."
- Cooperation in Hard Times — this scenario focuses on aging population, a shrinking labor force, high health costs, and energy prices, as well as government debt. "The region and the nation focus on finding the most cost-effective ways to move forward. Regional cooperation expands to pool resources for common goals."
MWCOG invited approximately 100 individuals to participate in the workshop, including local leaders and representatives of the public/business sectors. The stakeholders represented a cross-section of age, gender, race, and subject matter expertise. Other components of the workshop are detailed below:
- The workshop began with presentations from subject experts. These presentations helped provide context for the scenarios and gave all of the participants a common set of knowledge to use in their analysis.
- Participants then gathered into groups, and each group was assigned a scenario to consider. Visualization tools were not used during the exercise; scenarios were presented on paper, and participants were encouraged to voice their reactions (a scribe was assigned to each group to record the group's thoughts). A consultant facilitated the group dialogue.
- Each group then reported the strategies that their group identified. A consultant facilitated a discussion to identify strategies that were effective for all of the scenarios presented. This set of strategies represents robust strategies for the region to pursue.
The following are key findings from MWCOG's efforts:
- Identification of broad strategies to address emerging trends. MWCOG's scenarios offer a model for thinking of issues and trends not traditionally considered in scenario planning as well as strategies that will be effective for several plausible futures. The exercise also generally helped to raise awareness about specific emerging issues, including climate change and the importance of setting greenhouse gas reduction targets.
- While the specific forces of change might differ, other MPOs and transportation agencies could use MWCOG's scenarios as a model to develop their own. Other MPOs could also consider a similar type of visioning event to "kick off" a larger scenario planning process or raise awareness among stakeholders about key regional issues.
- Low-cost effort. The effort relied on previous analysis and policy work, so that the workshop was a relatively low-cost effort. MWCOG estimated $50,000 as a total cost for the one-day workshop, including $16,000 estimated for consultant assistance and $30,000 to $40,000 estimated for staff costs to develop the workshop in the months leading up to the event. Volunteer facilitators were used to support MWCOG staff and consultants. MWCOG's use of expert discussion on regional futures helped frame the scenarios and prepared all of the workshop participants to feel comfortable analyzing them.
- Qualitative analysis. The qualitative analysis used in the one-day workshop was sufficient to create some consensus and provide direction for future strategies and policies. This could be a good model to follow for those MPOs or agencies that do not have the quantitative data (or financial) resources available for more "high-tech" scenario planning efforts.
The following were outcomes from the one-day scenario thinking workshop:
- Identification of regional priorities. The scenario thinking workshop helped the members of the Greater Washington 2050 committee identify regional priorities. These priorities, called the "Ten Big Moves," will guide the regional growth vision to be included in the Greater Washington 2050 effort. The big moves address regional issues such as developing opportunities for transit-oriented development, a "green" economy, affordable housing, public education, and health.
- Development of targets and performance measures. The workshop helped provide a framework for the thought process used to develop performance measures to include in Region Forward Greater Washington 2050 effort report. These performance measures focus on short-, mid-, and long-term regional goals. Reports will be developed every three to four years to measure the region's progress towards these goals. A survey will also be commissioned every three to four years to solicit public feedback on progress towards these goals.
- Connection to regional long-range plan. MWCOG solicited TPB's feedback when creating the four scenarios for the workshop. Now, MWCOG is working to develop language to include in the Greater Washington 2050 report based on TPB's comments. MWCOG is also using TPB's work as a foundation for the transportation piece within the 2050 plan.
MWCOG reported that it would use scenario planning in the future to assist with policy visioning. The agency reported that the workshop had "raised the bar" for more broad-based scenario thinking that could be used as a model for future efforts.
Benefits and Challenges:
MWCOG noted several benefits from the scenario thinking exercise:
- The exercise helped to build consensus among local leaders in the region with varied priorities and interests about how to respond to external challenges.
- The workshop encouraged innovative and creative thinking on solutions to complex issues and the qualitative approach kept the conversation high-level.
MWCOG noted several challenges in implementing the exercise:
- Data were not obtained to support each scenario; however, the exercise was not intended to be quantitatively based. MWCOG believed it would likely be difficult to know how to obtain specific data—and which data to obtain—to illustrate how each scenario might "play out" in a specific region or corridor.
- MWCOG reported that there is a trade-off between developing "big thinking" scenarios and providing geographically specific data points. A discussion regarding how the exercise could be more quantitatively based in the future has not yet occurred at MWCOG.
- Some participants were not sure how the outcomes of the exercise would be used or how the exercise could be translated into policies/strategies.
- This effort took place outside of mandated or Federally funded transportation planning. It is not clear whether this type of effort could be accomplished using Federal transportation planning funds.
- It was difficult to know whether a sufficiently large group participated in the event. MWCOG attempted to invite a diverse range of stakeholders but suspected that some perspectives in the region were not represented.
- Results from the scenario thinking workshop were presented to the public but on a limited basis (via the MWCOG website). The agency reported that the effort would have benefitted from more extensive media coverage.
The following documentation provides additional information on MWCOG's scenario thinking workshop and related efforts:
Big Moves, the report documenting the Scenario Thinking Workshop:
Draft Region Forward document, the report documenting the Greater Washington 2050 initiative and vision:
19 Map from 2006 MWCOG report available at http://www.mwcog.org/uploads/pub-documents/9ldeXw20080205170003.pdf.
20 The Greater Washington effort was modeled on the Urban Land Institute's Reality Check exercise, which was a more traditional scenario planning visioning effort. Reality Check participants identified the need for a stronger regional vision and a compact between local jurisdictions in order to change trendline development patterns.
21 For more information on the Greater Washington 2050 effort, see http://www.greaterwashington2050.org/home.html.
22 Region Forward is the plan documenting the 2050 regional growth vision. The plan also outlines broad regional growth goals related to land use, transportation, climate/energy, the environment, and others. The plan is currently being updated with public input. For additional information on Region Forward, see http://www.greaterwashington2050.org/Reports/GW2050_LastUpdatedv2.pdf.
23 For additional details on scenarios, view the Big Moves report at http://www.mwcog.org/gw2050/Reports/GW2050_Big_Moves_Report.pdf.
24 The exercise did not intend to develop specific targets/performance measures to address these issues, such as the GHG reduction targets included in the 2050 Region Forward report.
25 The Big Moves document is available at http://www.greaterwashington2050.org/Reports/GW2050_LastUpdatedv2.pdf.
26 For example, one goal related to accessibility was to develop transit-oriented mixed-use communities in regional activity centers that will capture new employment and household growth.