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FHWA Office of Real Estate Services Research Results: 2006 Preferred Future Scenario for Public Sector Real Estate


As mentioned above, the primary purpose of the Think Tank was to make recommendations for critical policies, procedures, tools, technologies and best practices for providing public sector real estate services in the years 2006-2030 based on plausible futures scenarios. This section focuses on the key results of the Think Tank - those recommendations - and the process followed in developing the scenarios and gleaning the recommendations from the scenarios.

Before being broken up into teams and getting down to the task of developing plausible future scenarios, Think Tank participants engaged in several exercises as a group. These exercises prepared the group for the kind of long-range thinking required to develop the type of scenarios envisioned under the Preferred Future Scenario Development Method. These exercises are detailed in Section 3 of this report.

Section 2.1 focuses on the process followed in building the plausible future scenarios (the actual scenarios are presented in Section 3.3). Section 2.2 discusses the images for the future that each scenario building team considered preferable. Section 2.3 highlights the preferred future elements found to be common between the scenario teams. Finally, Section 2.4 presents the specific recommendations for HEPR policies and actions that the teams identified as necessary in order to bring about the preferred future common ground elements.

2.1 Building Plausible Scenarios

Participants were assigned to specific tables upon registration. Each of the four tables - identified as yellow, red, blue and green - operated as a scenario development group from this point in the Think Tank to the end.

The first step in developing plausible scenarios was to review expected future events, trends and developments (see Section 3.2) in order to identify the trends that are so likely as to be considered "pre-determined elements" and others that are uncertain, but critical. The "pre-determined elements" by nature identify a direction, e.g. population will increase or funding will decrease. The "critical uncertainties", as the name implies, could go either of two directions, but will directly impact the future of public sector real estate either way. This formed the basic information for scenario creation.

The pre-determined elements and critical uncertainties identified by the Think Tank participants included:

Pre-Determined Elements

Critical Uncertainties

For the purpose of building the future scenarios within a day and a half Think Tank environment, the list of twelve pre-determined elements had to be reduced in number. The group reviewed the list and voted on the five most important elements to public sector real estate. These elements became the five circumstances that would definitely be involved in any possible future. The consulting team then developed each of the "critical uncertainties" into their two possible directions (therefore ending up with eight items), and randomly assigned a set of two critical uncertainties to each of the four groups. As summarized in Exhibit 2-1, this set of five predetermined elements and expanded critical uncertainties guided the development of the future scenarios.

Exhibit 2-1 Circumstances Guiding Scenario Development

Five Most Important Predetermined Elements

  • Greater diversity and aging of the U.S. population
  • Public sector funding will not be sufficient to meet transportation or other public project needs
  • Deteriorating and obsolete public infrastructure
  • More severe environmental events, leading to population migrations and increases in demand for public funding
  • Rapid technology advances

Expanded Critical Uncertainties:

  1. Two national disasters occur - terrorist attack and earthquake
  2. Two national disasters occur - pandemic flu and severe sea level rise
  3. Severe limitations placed (through legislative actions) on the definition of "public use" on which eminent domain can be used
  4. No significant change (through legislative action) in the definition of "public use" on which eminent domain can be used
  5. Legislative and policy changes occur that encourage Public-Private Partnerships
  6. Legislative and policy changes occur that discourage Public-Private Partnerships
  7. Chinese and Indian markets significantly open to U.S. goods and services
  8. Chinese and Indian markets significantly limited to U.S. goods and services

The groups then spent approximately two hours developing a timeline-based scenario, in outline form, noting both external trends and developments and responses and trends within public sector real estate. The goal of each team was to develop a plausible future to the year 2030. At the end of the first day, the scenarios were presented.

2.2 Preferred Future Images

At the beginning of the second day of the Think Tank, the scenario teams came together and designed a preferred future for public sector real estate assuming that their scenario was the actual future. They asked themselves, "In this scenario, what would be preferred responses in the public sector real estate community in terms of policies, practices, tools and technologies?" Each team developed a long list of ideas that are presented below. More importantly, the teams, though working under four different scenarios, ended up with a number of common ground elements - overlapping ideas of what the preferred responses in the public sector real estate community would be. These common ground elements are detailed in section 2.3.

The teams developed the following sets of ideas.

Blue Team Preferred Future

Red Team Preferred Future


People and Skills, Professional Development, Training:



Asset Management:

Green Team Preferred Future

Yellow Team Preferred Future

2.3 Preferred Future Common Ground

Each scenario development team was given a few minutes to present their preferred future to the group. The participants, working as a group, reviewed the preferred futures and identified the common themes. These were areas that, regardless of the circumstances occurring in the future, the public sector real estate community need to address in some fashion. These themes became the heart of the recommendations for public sector real estate and the consequent strategic directions for HEPR.

The preferred future common ground themes included:

2.4 Strategic Issues for FHWA Office of Real Estate

In a final round of discussion, the Think Tank participants looked nearer term and more specifically at the kinds of policies, practices, tools and technologies that they would recommend the FHWA Office of Real Estate Services pursue in order to achieve at least some of the elements identified to be part of the preferred future. In order to accomplish this, participants asked, "What should HEPR do, learn, or prepare for in the coming years?"

Updated: 9/5/2014
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