Beyond Plans: Scenario Planning as a Tool for Regional Capacity Building

Stephen Averill Sherman, Arnab Chakraborty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Problem, research strategy, and findings: Previous studies of the impact of scenario usage in regional planning have shown limited results: Municipalities may not follow recommendations of the regional plan, and regional agencies themselves may ignore unpopular contingent futures. Though helpful, studies on scenarios and their direct impact on local plans may overlook important but less noticeable ways in which scenario planning can shape local and regional planning practice. To address this gap, we investigated scenario planning processes in three U.S. metropolitan areas with varying types of regional planning agencies and different scenario planning histories. Our work involved a review of three regional plans, 52 local plans, and nine confirmatory interviews. We found that the normative and exploratory scenarios common in regional planning rarely influence local comprehensive plans, especially in suburban municipalities. However, we also found that the regional scenario plans influenced planning practices and norms across the regions in ways that did not appear in plan documents. Our findings suggest that regional scenario planning can help practitioners identify new challenges, creatively engaging the future and shaping regional agencies, but such outcomes require institutional coordination, potentially executed by the regional agency performing technical assistance. Takeaway for practice: Planners should consider how the groups that guide scenario plans can be de facto political bodies, advocating for better planning practices. To make the regional scenario plan effective at the local level, regional agencies should institutionalize local partnership building.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)524-536
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022


  • institutions
  • plan evaluation
  • regional planning
  • scenario planning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Urban Studies


Dive into the research topics of 'Beyond Plans: Scenario Planning as a Tool for Regional Capacity Building'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this