Scenario planning for urban planners: Toward a practitioner's guide

Arnab Chakraborty, Andrew McMillan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Problem, research strategy, and findings: Scenario planning has promise as a planning tool when compared with more common approaches, yet planners have had limited success with scenario planning in part because of the complexities of the scenario-planning process itself. We address these issues by constructing the key building blocks of a scenario process for public sector planners. We review and synthesize 63 articles and 25 projects from 2004 to 2014 to construct a planning typology with nine components that capture the important variations in scenario projects, such as the project scope, desired outcomes, and the types of scenario construction and evaluation tools used by planners. Although the typology is based only on a select set of projects from the industrialized world in English, we nevertheless further use our review and synthesis to characterize the key subcomponents or possibilities within each component and discuss the overlaps and connections among them. We then use the typology to code a subset of the reviewed projects to identify the associations among the subcomponents of different components and to explore whether planners should promote or avoid these associations. Finally, we offer some instructions on how planners may use the typology to create a better scenario-planning process.Takeaway for practice: Our typology illustrates the combination of variables that comprise a scenario-planning process and the tradeoffs planners make when choosing one set of factors over another. Planners can use our typology to construct a variety of scenario processes that are participatory, transparent, and future oriented and are an improvement over traditional planning approaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-29
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2015


  • future
  • plan making
  • scenarios
  • typology
  • uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Urban Studies

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