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FHWA Scenario Planning Guidebook

Phase 3. Who Are We and Where Do We Want To Go?

Establish future goals and aspirations based on values of the state, region, community, or study area.

Phase 3 focuses on identifying values, goals, and aspirations with input from stakeholders. Values suggest priorities and help to clarify the study area's unique or distinguishing factors. Goals and aspirations focus on what stakeholders hope to change in the future. Later in Phase 6, these values, goals, and aspirations will be enhanced and refined to create a blueprint that expresses how stakeholders want the study area to look and function in the future. The values, goals, and aspirations can also provide a framework for developing indicators to analyze scenario impacts. Overall, Phase 3 represents a first step toward developing a comprehensive regional vision that depicts the region's long-term desired transportation and development patterns for urban, suburban, and rural settings. The process of enhancing and refining the vision occurs in Phase 6.

An important aspect of Phase 3 is to consider how stakeholders, including the public, will be involved in defining values and creating goals and aspirations. Building common ground among stakeholders early on is crucial to help agencies obtain broad support for the comprehensive regional vision and the scenario planning process as a whole.

Some agencies have used scenarios to identify future goals and aspirations rather than as building blocks for the scenarios. Examples of each approach are provided later in Phase 3. When determining which approach to take, agencies should consider various factors, including schedules and available resources. It is important to note that, depending on previous work and the effort's objectives, Phase 3 might require significant time and funding. For example, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the regional planning organization for northeastern Illinois, spent about 18 months on the visioning stage of its scenario planning effort.

Scenario Planning and Public Involvement

Public involvement is an important and integral aspect of scenario planning. Agencies can involve the public in scenario planning through use of visualization tools, polling or surveying techniques, or workshops, focus groups, and other events. In addition, scenario planning analysis tools (e.g., CommunityViz, MetroQuest, INDEX software) can help to translate scenario outcomes to enable the public to more easily understand them. Often, these types of tools use GIS-based software to overlay data on maps.

Scenario narratives are powerful tools for making complex, multifaceted interactions more concrete. They are devices that allow the public to weigh in on desired actions, policies, and investments that support statewide, community, or regional goals.

Meaningful public engagement throughout a scenario planning process can help to build a vision and the broad support needed to achieve that vision. Through scenario planning, the public can offer perspectives on changes that might occur, assess how changes might impact the study area, and identify tradeoffs and priorities.

For example, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) provides local and regional planning assistance to the City of Charlottesville and five surrounding counties in Virginia.* TJPDC also houses the Charlottesville-Abermarle MPO. TJPDC adopted a scenario planning approach in the early 2000s to address regional livability issues.

As part of the approach, TJPDC worked with the public to develop an extreme urban development scenario that introduced questions such as whether it was desirable to increase the height of existing buildings, thus diminishing tree cover and changing the city's historical character to accommodate growth. In this case, the technique helped participants to understand the importance of considering tradeoffs and compromises that maintained the region's overall quality of life.**

* For more information about TJPDC, see
** For information on outcomes from the TJPDC's scenario planning effort, see

There are several steps to Phase 3. Agencies should:

Each step is listed below, along with associated key questions that agencies can consider. Some steps provide examples of additional issues or questions for further consideration.

Step 3.1: Brainstorm and document key values and priorities for the state, community, region, or study area.

Approach A: Using Scenarios to Identify Regional Goals

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), the regional organization of local governments in the Washington, DC region, conducted a one-day "scenario thinking" exercise in 2008 as part of its Greater Washington 2050 initiative.* The initiative, led by MWCOG and a coalition of public and other stakeholders, focused on fostering consensus on key issues and strategies to improve the quality of life for residents over the next several decades.

From discussion with focus groups that included MWCOG and Greater Washington 2050 staff, MWCOG developed four scenarios. These scenarios described how key global and national trends could affect the region over the next 30 to 40 years. Scenarios were presented to approximately 90 regional leaders who attended a one-day workshop in November 2008. Workshop participants identified possible strategies to help the region adapt to the circumstances presented in each scenario.

From these responses, MWCOG crafted a set of Ten Big Moves, which include "pursue transit-oriented development" and "strengthen regionalism." The Ten Big Moves are building blocks for policies that the region could adopt to address varied challenges and opportunities.**

* For more information on MWCOG and the Greater Washington 2050 initiative, see and
** For information on outcomes from the scenario exercise, see

Step 3.2: Compile preferences into a set of working principles. These principles can be refined and enhanced during Phase 6.

Approach B: Using Regional Goals to Develop Scenarios

TJPDC used the Sustainability Accords, a set of 15 principles developed in the 1990's, as a basis for creating scenarios and conducting public outreach.* These principles included "conserve energy," "retain forest and farm land," and "promote appropriate scale for land use."

During initial scenario planning public workshops, TJPDC asked participants to identify suggestions to improve the region's livability with a focus on achieving the principles outlined in the accords. Participants' suggestions were developed into three distinctly different scenarios: dispersed, urban core, and town centers. Indicators relating to the principles were also developed to assess scenario performance. Indicators are illustrated and described in more detail in Phase 5.

Phase 3 Outputs

Possible outputs of Phase 3 are working principles that document the broad values, goals, and aspirations expressed by state, community, regional, or study-area stakeholders. The principles provide a basic framework for scenario development, analysis, and the comprehensive vision resulting from Phase 6.

Updated: 10/20/2015
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