Advancing Transportation Systems Management and Operations Through Scenario Planning
Section 2: Understanding Scenario Planning and Its Use in Transportation
What is Scenario Planning?
Scenario planning is an approach to strategic planning that uses alternate narratives of plausible futures (or future states) to play out decisions in an effort to make more informed choices and create plans for the future. From a transportation systems management and operations (TSMO) perspective, a future state or condition might include narratives that prompt planners and stakeholders to consider what kind of TSMO response might be appropriate to different types (or frequency) of significant weather events, a future that assumes a more significant shift in traveler behavior to non-auto modes, or a future where 30 percent of the vehicles on the road are essentially "driverless." Considering scenarios like these can result in the identification of new technology or data needs, new technology investments, more communication and coordination across emergency response stakeholders, new multimodal TSMO strategies, and other insights that can be factored into both short- and long-term TSMO plans and programs.
Scenario planning helps participants to consider the "what-ifs" of tomorrow, whether those are desirable or undesirable states. The simple task of imagining a different future can help to challenge the status quo and encourage creative thinking, which ultimately can lead to the development of more thoughtful and resilient plans. Scenarios are developed to enable participants to test out possible decisions, analyze their impacts given the conditions in each scenario, and come to an agreement on a preferred course of action.
There are many definitions for scenario planning throughout literature and there are several variants on how to develop and use scenarios. Despite these variations, there are commonalities that provide structure to scenario planning. Scenarios are seen as "an internally consistent view of what the future might turn out to be—not a forecast, but one possible future outcome."1 This definition combines three key characteristics of scenarios:
Scenarios are neither forecasts nor predictions for a given point in time; instead, they represent alternative possible futures. They enable planners to consider a range of possible consequences the spectrum of possible future conditions. Scenario planning "formalizes the consideration of uncertainty in the planning process."2
Peter Schwartz, an international leader in the field of scenario planning, describes scenarios as "the best tool I know to allow the conversation to reflect different perceptions of the situation (differentiation), but in such a way to create room for people to consider these different viewpoints and gradually align on what needs to be done, and what they want to do (integration)."3
Scenario planning supports a dynamic planning process that can help demonstrate the causal relationships of different variables and how they combine to create different outcomes. This gives people the freedom to imagine that conditions could change in the future if given enough time. In the public sector, scenario planning is often applied to provide a forum for engaging diverse stakeholders, illustrating comparisons and discussing tradeoffs, and encouraging systems-level thinking that breaks down the silos of specialization to address challenging public policy issues. It helps people to envision not only what the future might be but also what kind of future people actually want. Scenario planning is a more deliberate process that uses empirical data and quantitative analysis to develop plausible scenarios.
The Origins of Scenario Planning
The origins of scenario planning in modern America are attributed to military planning methods that were developed during World War II and extended into the Cold War and beyond. The Air Force and other branches of the military would routinely envision possible combat scenarios and devise strategies to overcome their opponents.4 In the 1950s and 1960s, the RANDÂ® Corporation helped to pioneer the science of scenario analysis, which relies on game theory. By the late 1960s, scenario planning was being applied regularly in corporate settings and has remained a common practice in business today. One of the seminal scenario planning efforts occurred in the 1970s when Royal Dutch Shell used scenario planning to prepare for potential events causing oil prices to change. In part due to that effort, Royal Dutch Shell was able react quickly to the fuel shortage and high oil prices set off by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' oil embargo of 1973.5 The company continues to practice scenario planning to this day.6
Scenario Planning in Transportation
In transportation, scenario planning began taking hold in the United States in the early 1990s as a method to help support alternative analysis practices developed under the National Environmental Policy Act and the "3C" (comprehensive, continuous, coordinated) systems planning requirements of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962.7 In the early 2000s, the Transportation and Community and System Preservation Pilot Program (TCSP) resulted in the creation of some of the early tools and processes for incorporating scenario planning into the development of long-range transportation plans. These early efforts focused almost entirely on examining alternative land use and transportation futures that emphasized desirable stories and narratives for how communities wanted to grow. As a result, many of the early scenario planning processes resulted in public policy shifts that enabled much stronger links between land use and transportation planning.
More recently, scenario planning in transportation has begun to examine a broader range of variable relationships beyond just land use and transportation. These include scenarios that take into account goals and objectives related to housing affordability, economic competitiveness, adapting to climate change, water conservation, fiscal sustainability, public health, and energy conservation. This broadening of factors is generating more integrated plans and policies as communities gain a better understanding of the connections between factors such as housing affordability and transportation accessibility or reductions in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and better public health outcomes.
Scenario planning is making a difference in areas where it is used as part of transportation planning efforts. Scenario planning can help agencies to convey critical information to policy makers and elected officials who make investment decisions. For example the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) addressed the linkages between funding and system management performance in its 2035 statewide plan by constructing three investment scenarios, each of which forecasted anticipated performance based on investment levels. Given forecasted revenues, pavement condition would deteriorate to the point at which only 25 percent of roads would be in good/fair condition, while congestion would increase to 70 minutes of delay per traveler. CDOT developed alternative revenue scenarios to demonstrate the "cost to sustain current performance" and the "cost to accomplish [a] vision" that had been laid out in the statewide long-range plan. This valuable information helped decision makers to clearly understand how funding shortfalls would affect system performance.
Scenario planning helps agencies to build relationships and forge partnerships that can strengthen their effectiveness and build their capacity. For example, the Champaign-Urbana Urban Area Transportation Study (CUUATS), the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for a university town in Illinois, has applied scenario planning techniques to a series of studies that engaged an ever-expanding array of interest groups and agency stakeholders. The resulting strong relationships with various local and State agencies and other organizations (including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) have been critical to CUUATS for obtaining data, developing innovative technical analysis tools, leveraging transportation investment funds, and building political support for regional initiatives. Long-range planning and scenario planning processes have worked smoothly in significant part because of the high degree of collaboration and coordination among local agencies.
Scenario planning can help transportation practitioners and policymakers better prepare for the future by encouraging an examination of different future conditions that get beyond just an extrapolation of current trends. As explored in the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 750: Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, there are several key trends that will significantly impact transportation in the coming decades. Scenario planning can be a useful tool for better understanding the potential impacts of those trends and planning accordingly for system resiliency, shifts in travel behavior and travel demand, and the rapid advances in technology.
Federal Highway Administration Scenario Planning Framework
In 2011, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) published the FHWA Scenario Planning Guidebook, which outlines key phases associated with transportation scenario planning, as illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Illustration. The Federal Highway Administration's Six-Phase Scenario Planning Framework.9
The guidebook offers a structure for scenario planning that aligns well with traditional transportation planning processes. The guidebook focuses primarily on how to apply scenario planning on a regional scale; however, these same phases and steps can be applied to statewide, corridor-level, or neighborhood-level approaches and across short-term or long-term planning horizons. Per FHWA, these are suggested phases, but each location using scenario planning has unique situations, and these phases can be adjusted to fit each community's individual needs. For example, some communities might be much further along in their data collection efforts and could skip Phase 2.
This use of scenario planning has several benefits as well as costs in terms of a lead organization's human and technical resources as shown in Table 1.
Using Scenario Planning in Performance-Based Planning and Programming
Scenario planning is an important tool for performance-based planning and programming and is specifically encouraged by Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) for the development of metropolitan transportation plans.10 The passage of the MAP-21 in 2012 created requirements for performance-based planning and programming (PBPP) within metropolitan, statewide, and nonmetropolitan decisionmaking. PBPP applies performance management principles to transportation planning and programming to achieve desired performance outcomes for the multimodal transportation system. This is accomplished by incorporating goals and objectives, performance measures and targets, and regular progress reporting into transportation decisionmaking.
Scenario planning can be used at multiple points within the PBPP process to help stakeholders determine their desired strategic direction. Starting with a baseline analysis ("where are we now?"), scenario planning enables stakeholders to establish future aspirations based on their values. This process can involve a specific discussion of goals, supporting objectives, and performance measures based on these values.
The scenario planning approach helps visualize and articulate, in both qualitative and quantitative terms, how the combination of strategies would help meet public policy goals and performance targets. It allows for the consideration of how various factors, such as revenue constraints, demographic trends, economic shifts, or technological innovation, can affect a State or region and its transportation system performance. The analysis may allow stakeholders to explore the trade-offs between future scenarios, assess the impacts of external factors such as the economy and growth, and select a future vision and investment priorities that bring them closest to their desired performance outcomes.
Through the use of scenario planning, metropolitan, statewide, and other planning organizations are able to take a comprehensive approach to PBPP by exploring multiple potential futures and making a well-informed selection of a preferred alternative with the most potential for supporting priorities and performance targets.
The following text box provides two examples of scenario planning applied to broader planning contexts in which TSMO is one of multiple solutions brought together to address a problem or achieve a vision.
There are many contexts in which scenario planning can be used to advance TSMO. In the Plan Bay Area and National Capital Region "What Would it Take?" planning efforts, the scope included TSMO as one of many transportation strategies. Alternatively, scenario planning can be used to look exclusively at TSMO and answer the questions necessary to create TSMO-oriented plans or make decisions about how to move ahead with TSMO goals, objectives, strategies, and investments. This primer will discuss several opportunities and hypothetical illustrations of using scenario planning for TSMO. As a preview, Table 2 provides a sample of the TSMO contexts for scenario planning use that will be covered in later sections.
1 M. Porter, Competitive Advantage (New York: Free Press 1985). Return to note 1.
2 J. Zmud, Transportation Research Board Webinar, "Applying Scenario Methods to Transportation Planning and Policy," October 23, 2014. Slides available at: http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/webinars/141023.pdf. Return to note 2.
3 P. Schwartz, as quoted in Kees van der Heijden, Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation (New York: Wiley and Sons, 2005). Return to note 3.
4 C. Caplice and S. Phadnis, NCHRP Report 750: Strategic Issues Facing Transportation, Volume 1: Scenario Planning for Freight Transportation Infrastructure Investment (Washington, DC: National Cooperative Highway Research Program, 2013). Available at: http://www.trb.org/main/blurbs/168694.asp. Return to note 4.
5 Ibid.. Return to note 5.
6 Shell Global, "40 years of Shell Scenarios," Web Page. Available at: http://www.shell.com/global/future-energy/scenarios/40-years.html. Return to note 6.
7 K. Bartholomew and R. Ewing, Integrated Transportation Scenario Planning, Metropolitan Research Center, University of Utah. July 2010. Return to note 7.
8 U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, FHWA Scenario Planning Guidebook, FHWA-HEP-11-004 (Washington, DC: FHWA 2011). Return to note 8.
9 U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Scenario Planning Guidebook (Washington, DC: FHWA, 2011). Available at: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/scenario_and_visualization/scenario_planning/scenario_planning_guidebook/. Return to note 9.
10 23 USC Section 134(i)(2)(C). Return to note 10.
11 Association of Bay Area Governments and Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Plan Bay Area – Performance Assessment Report, July 2013. Available at: http://onebayarea.org/pdf/final_supplemental_reports/FINAL_PBA_Performance_Assessment_Report.pdf. Return to note 11.
12 Ibid. Return to note 12.
13 Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Transportation 2035. Available at: http://www.mtc.ca.gov/planning/2035_plan/FINAL/T2035_Plan-Final.pdf. Return to note 13.
14 Ibid. Return to note 14.
15 Association of Bay Area Governments and Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Plan Bay Area – Performance Assessment Report, July 2013. Available at: http://onebayarea.org/pdf/final_supplemental_reports/FINAL_PBA_Performance_Assessment_Report.pdf. Return to note 15.
16 Ibid. Return to note 16.
17 M. Bansal and E. Morrow, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, "Meeting Transportation Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals in the National Capital Region: A 'What Would it Take' Scenario," July 2010. Available at: http://www.mwcog.org/clrp/elements/scenarios/whatwouldittakeTPB_TRB_Resubmit.pdf.Return to note 17.
18 Ibid., p. 10. Return to note 18.
19 National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, What Would it Take? Transportation and Climate Change in the National Capital Region, Final Report, May 2010, p. vii. Available at: http://www.mwcog.org/uploads/committee-documents/kV5YX1pe20100617100959.pdf. Return to note 19.
20 Ibid. Return to note 20.
United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration