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National Scenario Planning Peer Exchange Report - July 8-10, 2012



This report summarizes proceedings of a national scenario planning peer exchange held as part of the TRB Summer Meeting on July 8-10, 2012, at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering in Irvine, California.

The peer exchange convened 80 participants from State departments of transportation (DOTs), metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), councils of government (COGs), transit agencies, and private sector organizations. The peer exchange provided opportunities for attendees to discuss scenario planning best practices, challenges, and success factors, as well as to showcase noteworthy examples. It sought to allow agencies newer to scenario planning to learn from peers with experience in this area. Finally, the peer exchange aimed to develop a community of practice for scenario planning practitioners and help guide future directions of the FHWA and FTA scenario planning program.  

The event was sponsored by FHWA, FTA, and TRB. In addition to these agencies, staff from AASHTO, AMPO, NADO, and APTA helped plan the peer exchange agenda and identified peers to participate.


Scenario planning provides a framework for analyzing various forces that affect transportation and assessing alternatives to see how well they address an area's future needs. Through the process of building and assessing scenarios, a State, community, region, or local area can better identify its long-term priorities, envision its ideal "future self," and determine a combination of policies, strategies, or actions that could best realize a desired future state. Scenario planning practitioners typically assess scenarios using qualitative or quantitative methods and engage in extensive public involvement to solicit feedback on current trends, scenarios, and analyses. Proactive and engaged public involvement can ensure broader buy in to scenarios and confirm that the vision and goals established through the process align with those established by stakeholders.

While these are common features of scenario planning, they do not always define the approach. There are multiple versions of scenario planning; not all utilize a visioning component, not all rely on public involvement, and not all focus on transportation and land use scenarios. For example, some scenario processes may involve internal staff rather than the public to explore and discuss scenarios. Scenarios may focus on transportation or a wide variety of topics that include fiscal investments, climate change, energy availability, and other issues.

FHWA and FTA view scenario planning as an approach that enhances, not replaces, traditional transportation planning processes. To promote the use of scenario planning, FHWA and FTA established a scenario planning program in 2004. Through this program, FHWA and FTA organize regularly occurring webinars, sponsor customized training workshops, and produce and distribute scenario planning guidance, case studies, and other resources, all available on the scenario planning website.1 As part of the program, FHWA and FTA also produced a Scenario Planning Guidebook, which provides a suggested, step-by-step framework for the process that agencies can tailor to their own needs (see Figure 1). Recent passage of the Federal surface transportation legislation known as "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century" (MAP-21)2 also affects scenario planning efforts. MAP-21 contains specific language related to scenario planning and supports both the development of scenarios and performance measures to help communities, States, and regions create effective scenarios for the future.3

FHWA and FTA's scenario planning program falls under the broader Transportation Planning Capacity Building (TPCB) Program. The TPCB program provides a range of resources to help transportation practitioners develop skills and promote further understanding of transportation policy guidance and regulations. Additional information on the TPCB program is available on its website.4

The figure shows a framework image that illustrates the six key phases that agencies are likely to encounter when implementing the scenario planning process:
Figure 1. FHWA/FTA Six-Phase Scenario Planning Framework.

FHWA, FTA, TRB, AASHTO, AMPO, NADO, and APTA developed the peer exchange agenda to correspond with the Scenario Planning Guidebook framework. Following this framework, the peer exchange first presented on collaboration and scoping efforts in scenario planning, discussed ways to develop effective scenarios, presented helpful tools for scenario planning activities, provided examples of scenario assessment and evaluations, and offered ways to bring scenario planning forward into implementation. Opportunities for discussion were provided through question and answer periods held during many of the sessions, a panel session, moderated breakout sessions, and informal discussions during breaks. Additionally, a one-day tools showcase was held where participants engaged in dialogue with peers who had experience utilizing scenario planning analysis tools. 

The 2012 TPEA awards ceremony was also held as part of the peer exchange. TPEA, a biennial awards program jointly sponsored by FHWA and FTA, recognizes outstanding examples of transportation planning from across the country. An independent panel comprised of ten representatives of transportation agencies, including MPOs and national transportation organizations, selected nine winners and six honorable mentions on the basis of several criteria, including attention to community and public involvement, use of context-sensitive solutions, and demonstrated results. Appendix D provides a complete list of 2012 TPEA winners and honorable mentions.

Presentations from the peer exchange, including video recordings, are available on TRB's website.

Key Observations

The peer exchange highlighted noteworthy examples of scenario planning approaches, tools and data used, outreach methods, and success factors. Additionally, the participants identified areas of scenario planning that could benefit from additional exploration or research, as well as next steps to encourage and sustain a scenario planning community of practice. Key observations related to these and other topics are detailed below.

The second approach involves testing the effects of multiple trends (including, but not limited to, transportation and land use issues) on many outcomes. In this approach, scenarios spark dialogue among stakeholders, but they are also tools to identify robust strategies that address multiple sets of plausible future conditions. This approach leans away from identifying a "preferred future" and instead focuses on strategies that could work well given many possible futures. Examples shared by peers suggested that this approach is still emerging in the public sector and has not yet been fully explored by many planning agencies, particularly MPOs.

The peer exchange highlighted many new ideas and approaches for scenario planning. As a result of discussions held during the exchange, FHWA and FTA identified several areas of future exploration and strategies to help to advance the scenario planning state-of-the-practice. These include gathering new examples of scenario planning across the country to highlight best practices and lessons learned experienced by a range of agencies, including State DOTs, MPOs, and transit agencies. FHWA and FTA also plan to update and leverage existing resources to continue assisting agencies in conducting scenario planning activities.

1 The website is available at The FHWA program contact is Rae Keasler (; 202-366-0329). The FTA program contact is Jeff Price (; 202-366-0843).

2 To learn more about MAP-21, please visit:

3 See Section 20005 Metropolitan Transportation Planning of MAP-21. For the full text of MAP-21, please visit:

4 The TPCB website is available at:

Updated: 1/31/2017
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