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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.19

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.20 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.21 22

By design, the MWCOG one-day workshop differed from most traditional transportation planning uses of scenario planning:

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.23

Workshop Structure

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:

Key Findings

The following are key findings from MWCOG's efforts:


The following were outcomes from the one-day scenario thinking workshop:

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:

MWCOG noted several challenges in implementing the exercise:

Key Documentation

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

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

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

23 For additional details on scenarios, view the Big Moves report at

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

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.

Updated: 10/20/2015
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